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Summary: NYS legislation to protect Hudson from oil barges

Following is a summary and Memorandum of Support from Riverkeeper on legislation passed this week by overwhelming votes in the Assembly and Senate: A.6825-A (Barrett) and S.5197-B (Serino).

Bill Title: An ACT to amend the environmental conservation law and the navigation law, in relation to consideration of environmental conditions when permitting petroleum-bearing vessels to enter navigable waters

Summary of Proposed Legislation

The proposed legislation would amend the Navigation Law to allow the Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) to take into account environmental and other considerations when establishing 1) regulations setting forth minimum conditions under which petroleum-bearing vessels may enter navigable waters of the State; and 2) tanker avoidance zones. It would also allow DEC to consult with the Department of State (DOS) and other entities when taking those actions.

Statement of Support

Riverkeeper strongly supports Bills S.5197-B (Serino)/A. 6825-A (Barrett), which would allow DEC to take into account environmental and other considerations when regulating petroleum-bearing vessels. While the current Navigation Law allows DEC to regulate the conditions under which those vessels may enter State waterways, it only requires that the agency consider conditions such as visibility, tide, wind, and weather. This legislation would require DEC to also consider environmental conditions, such as the existence of designated Significant Coastal Fish and Wildlife Habitats, proximity to waterfront communities, and the location of remediation sites. Furthermore, it would recognize the need to incorporate additional agency expertise into the process of regulating petroleum-bearing vessels, including that of DOS. It also allows DEC to consult with the Board of Commissioners of Pilots and at least one licensed Hudson River pilot.

In June 2016, at the request of the tug and barge industry, the U.S. Coast Guard issued an advance notice of proposed rulemaking to establish 10 new anchorage grounds on the Hudson River. As a basis for its request, the industry cited an anticipated increase in crude oil transport due to the lifting of the export ban. In addition to increased crude oil transport, the environmental impacts associated with the proposal include increased barge and vessel traffic; scarring and scouring of the river bottom; air, noise, and light pollution; and viewshed obstructions.

This legislation is necessary to protect Hudson River from the threat of reindustrialization posed by potential new anchorage grounds, especially to the extent that they would be used by vessels transporting crude oil. Increased transport of crude oil leads to an increased risk that a devastating spill could occur; disturbances to the river bottom from anchors and chains could potentially harm endangered sturgeon habitat; and other impacts associated with the proposal could undermine investments in local waterfronts and alter the character of the Hudson Valley.

The Navigation Law has historically allowed DEC to regulate petroleum-bearing vessels on State waterways. Given the increased risks associated with potential new anchorage grounds and increased crude oil transport, DEC should take into account environmental conditions and consult with the appropriate agencies in order to better safeguard the State’s natural resources and more effectively exercise the State’s concurrent jurisdiction over navigable waters.

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