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Summary: NYS legislation to protect Hudson from oil barges

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

Summary of Proposed Legislation

The proposed legislation would add a new section to the Navigation Law (§ 70-A) to allow the Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC), in consultation with other entities including the Department of State (DOS), to 1) establish guidelines for the minimum conditions under which petroleum-bearing vessels may enter or move on the Hudson River and/or enter or leave any major facility, port or harbor; and 2) establish guidelines for tanker avoidance zones based on environmental and other considerations, where it will be unlawful for vessels to navigate on the Hudson. The legislation would also require DEC, in consultation with other entities including DOS and the Office of Parks, Recreation, and Historic Preservation, to develop a report containing recommendations related to the movement of petroleum-bearing vessels on the Hudson River.

Statement of Support

Riverkeeper strongly supports Bills S.5197-B (Serino)/A. 6825-A (Barrett), which would allow DEC to establish guidelines regarding the movement and anchoring of petroleum-bearing vessels on the Hudson River. The current Navigation Law allows DEC to regulate the conditions under which those vessels may enter State waterways (i.e., visibility, tide, wind, and weather) and to establish tanker avoidance zones. This legislation better enables DEC to consider environmental conditions, such as the existence of designated Significant Coastal Fish and Wildlife Habitats, the location of remediation sites, and environmental justice issues, when determining where vessels should be allowed to move or anchor on the Hudson River. Furthermore, this legislation recognizes the need for additional analysis of the plans, policies, and programs that impact the movement of petroleum-bearing vessels on the Hudson River.

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.

While that proposal has been suspended for the time being, this legislation is necessary to protect Hudson River from the threat of re-industrialization posed by potential, drastic increases in anchorage grounds, especially where crude oil transport is involved. 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 a large expansion of anchorage grounds 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 and other considerations in order to better safeguard the Hudson River and surrounding communities.

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