The Shift: Resist the Pilgrim Pipeline

(Wikimedia Commons)

(Wikimedia Commons)

I’m beginning to remember with fondness the good old days, only a few years ago, when we were worried we’d run out of oil. The Transition Town Initiative movement spread around the globe, telling us how to prepare ourselves to live well without what oil makes possible (pretty much our entire industrial civilization). Some of us embraced it, with attitudes ranging from resignation to enthusiasm. Others went into diagnosable denial, accompanied by gloom and/or anger. A future without oil was looking like the only option.

But who would have guessed that the problem would turn out to be that we won’t run out of the stuff? What with tar sands and fracking, we’re going to be able to keep the circus going indefinitely! So what’s the problem, besides the inevitable environmental degradation, which I guess people can ignore as long as it’s happening in somebody else’s backyard?

We all know the answer, of course. Our level of use of fossil fuels is trapping excessive amounts of carbon in the atmosphere. The resultant global warming, if it isn’t checked soon, is going to change the way and the numbers in which we live on our planet in some pretty traumatic ways.

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So you’d think that the plan to build a pipeline to carry oil up and down the Thruway, right though Saugerties, would be viewed as part of the problem, symptomatic of anachronistic ways of doing business and sending money and resources in the wrong direction. But the project is very much alive and entering its second-stage assault phase in the process of becoming part of our landscape.

You may remember the reporting done by this paper a few months ago when the company behind Pilgrim Pipeline was contacting landowners along the Thruway, sometimes in an intimidating manner, to get permission to access their property for the purpose of conducting a survey. A Saugerties team joined pipeline opponents in 59 cities and towns in New York and New Jersey to form the Coalition Against Pilgrim Pipeline (CAPP). Many town and city boards voted to oppose construction of a pipeline through property in their jurisdictions.

In a nuanced but less emphatic move, Saugerties’ town board passed a vote of “no confidence” in the company, citing its failure to appear at a board meeting to present its plans to the citizens of Saugerties. In fact Pilgrim canceled the presentation — understandably, perhaps, as they had not been met with cordiality at meetings in other towns.

Flash forward to the present. The climate-changing juggernaut snuck back into town in November via a letter from the New York State Thruway Authority to all “involved agencies” (municipalities that lie along the Thruway, which is the chosen route to transport Bakken crude oil between Albany and the New Jersey refineries) requesting approval as lead agency in the environmental review required before construction of the pipeline can be approved. That’s “snuck” because Pilgrim filed for a “use and occupancy permit” with the Thruway Authority on August 17, a fact not made public until the aforementioned letter of November 21, leaving little time for responses. But 29 cities and towns along the Thruway did respond, however, with letters saying, in a word, no.

On December 21 a second letter arrived, suggesting that the Thruway Authority and the Department of Environmental Conservation share responsibility for the environmental review as co-lead agencies. This was followed by another round of objections. Some say the Thruway Authority is too interested a party in the process to play any part as lead agency and want the DEC as sole lead. Local environmental watchdog and activist agency Riverkeeper adds that dual lead agencies are not the optimal way to set up a review, says Sue Rosenberg, Saugerties CAPP leader. Lead agency status is still unresolved at this writing.

According to Rosenberg, a team of environmental lawyers is now in the process of reviewing a number of environmental and legal issues raised by the process of considering Pilgrim’s filing for right-of-way. Even the determination of a lead agency is open to dispute. The best hope will be to influence the scope of the Draft Environmental Impact Statement which will be prepared by the lead agency, as Pilgrim’s proposal is considered to be inadequate in many ways, and to task the DEC to follow the letter of the law in conducting the review. Furthermore, only 70-80 percent of the proposed pipeline route is in the Thruway’s right-of-way, leaving 20-30 percent crossing private property. So what are property owners’ rights if they decide against having a pipeline on their property? And do localities have authority to prevent an accident-prone pipeline from running through their cities and towns?

These questions put me in mind of the power of corporations, under the various global trade agreements, to override local decisions about quality of life and political decision-making. Furthermore, without dwelling on the controversies surrounding seizure of property by eminent domain, restrictions in place should disqualify Pilgrim from any rights to it. Seizure of property by eminent domain is required to benefit the public good, but the oil to be shipped back and forth by this pipeline will not benefit the communities that lie along it. Now that the ban on export of crude oil has been lifted by Congress, it couldn’t be clearer where the pipeline oil will end up.

Pilgrim says that a pipeline is environmentally safer than the barges in use now to carry the oil up and down the Hudson, but it doesn’t say that they won’t be used anymore. In fact the prospect of profiting by exporting oil will make it desirable to ship as much as possible by any means available. And no one, not even Pilgrim, suggests that the (mostly unsafe) train cars filled with this explosive product will stop rumbling through our towns and backyards.

Communities are ramping up organized resistance as the potential of the pipeline becoming reality looms larger, says Rosenberg, who also noted that governor Andrew Cuomo, whose stated policy is pro-clean energy and anti-fracking, can be expected to respond to public opinion. So if you have any concerns, get in touch with CAPP by contacting rosenberg.sue@gmail.com or calling her at 246-3449. You can also get more information at www.stoppilgrimpipeline.org.

So how are we supposed to heat our houses and generate electricity without oil? Check in next month for information about a couple of renewable solar projects getting under way in Saugerties, which will go a long way toward moving us into a bright and comfortable future.