We are here in Binghamton near the hub of the extensive rail network that slices through our communities, near our homes and schools to condemn the rundown of the rail system and its use to transport dangerous materials so close to our homes and schools, endangering the lives of our children, the public and rail workers. We are demanding better safety for all. Rail fatalities are escalating out of control, said the Federal Railroad Administration (FRA) back in 2008. There were 19 rail deaths that year. The accidents, deaths, and injuries have been increasing ever since. Since 2010, there were 87 reported rail accidents, such as derailments and collisions; then last week the derailment and fire in Tennessee forced the evacuation of over 5,000 and exposed many to the flammable liquid chemical Acrylonitrile. Here in Broome County, where more than 60% of the population lives within two miles of track, mandatory evacuation, chemical exposures and deaths could be much higher in the event of such an accident in this area. • Causes – collisions, derailments, broken rails, braking failures, bridge collapses, inadequate maintenance, ‘jumped the tracks’, and engineer fatigue are among the causes cited by government agencies, such as the National Transportation and Safety Board. Railroad workers have long been fighting against the rail industry's push for: reduction in crew size, general cut-backs in staffing, reduced inspections of track and equipment, operation of excessively long and heavy trains, draconian attendance policies that limit time off work, reduced time off between work shifts, and other unsafe practices. • Impacts – deaths, injuries, massive fires, mass evacuations, highway closures, transportation disruption. • Threats to health and the environment. Many of these trains are carrying hazardous materials. We in the community are not informed of what is passing our homes and schools. In the period since 2000, the following materials have escaped from trains involved in accidents: liquid fertilizer, municipal waste, coal, ore, asphalt, chlorine, ammonia, crude oil, diesel fuel, argon gas, magnetite, vinyl chloride, crude oil from Bakken shale (STOP THE OIL TRAINS!), napthalene, and other unspecified hazardous materials. We need the following: • The full disclosure of the Broome County Health Dept. and Broome County Emergency Services evacuation and treatment plans in case of a rail emergency. • The full disclosure by all railroads passing through Broome County of their insurance coverage in the case of such accidents. • The immediate infrastructure repair of railroad structures that are controlled by the Industrial Development Authority, especially but not limited to walkways and underpasses. • We have a right to know what materials, such as dangerous and hazardous waste, pass through our community. Such information should be regularly announced in local media. • The public should be consulted on the use of this area for transporting dangerous materials. • Rail companies should recognize the Railroad Workers themselves as leaders in the implementation of health and safety standards to be paid by the companies • The enforcement and appropriate fines from OSHA, Dept. of Labor & the EPA when RR companies are found in violation of regulations. • We call on public re-investment in rail systems to provide a safe, reliable system of transportation for the public. Whatever happened to the Bullet train?? Citizens for Train Safety Contact Information: Richard Sprout, Sproutr@upstate.edu, 607-238-6892
Residents of the Town of Dryden in Tompkins County, NY, could be forgiven for thinking in February 2013 that as far as keeping the entire process of HVHF, the high volume hydraulic fracturing method of drilling for natural gas (NG) or oil – AKA fracking – away their town was concerned, it would be smooth sailing for the near future. The year before the town board had amended its zoning ordinance to include a ban on the exploration, production or storage of natural gas and petroleum, in essence banning hydraulic fracturing. In short order the Town of Middlefield in Otsego County also passed a similar ban. Lawsuits against both towns for their bans had failed. Motions by plaintiffs drilling corporation and leased landowner for re-argument had also failed. Although plaintiffs had filed appeal documents to the Appellate Division in 2012 and a date for oral argument loomed for March 21, 2013, Dryden residents went ahead and planned a series of home solar tours as part of the roll out of solar throughout the county.
But so many potential barriers to rapid conversion towards sustainable renewable energy continued to pop up that people fighting fracking must surely have felt that they were in a forced game of Fracking Whack a Mole!
Communications labeled “urgent!” would intermittently fly out. For just one example, at the near end of 2012 not only was there the pressure of writing and submitting comments to the proposed NYS DEC (Department of Environmental Conservation) regulations for fracking, with the help of Dr. Sandra Steingraber’s Thirty Days of Fracking Regs program, the NYS Public Service Commission (PSC) was discovered to have met in Albany late November 2012 to plan for the rapid and thorough expansion of natural gas service in the state including to residences/businesses already serviced with heating via electricity, presumably even if it was from solar! The initiative was introduced with an introductory statement repeatedly touting the “benefits of clean natural gas.” The agency held a technical conference and set a late January deadline for comments, which had to answer 21 “questions” strongly biased in favor of such expansion.
A low number of comments led to the PSC extending the deadline for one month, then for another month, as folks scrambled to send in comments. Whack, Whack a Mole!
Buses to the protest against the KXL pipeline included activists who took the day away from their solar tour planning and from dealing with town boards in Broome and Tioga counties that either had passed a “we trust the DEC” or “come frack us” resolution or stolidly refused to do anything. One even had gone so far as to ban during meetings any further utterance of public statements about fracking. The town supervisor had leased, become a shaleonaire millionaire and had heard enough from those against fracking. The residents had also had enough and sued, thereby bringing national attention to the town of 2400 or so residents. Whack! Whack Back!
Anti-fracking activists in New York State were simultaneously keeping a close eye on Governor Cuomo, the NYS DEC, their town, and possibly their county. Some of the counties were wont to give tax breaks (PILOTs) to a pipeline company even though it was not as if they could easily take the proposed pipeline route to a different county without causing themselves a lot of needless trouble. Gov. Cuomo’s guideline was that towns that did not want fracking would not get fracked, i.e. he would observe Home Rule, the basis of the Dryden and Middlefield cases.
But yet again, time to get out the mallet. The DEC had been reviewing the management plans of the state forests, including the state forests near the Town of Dryden itself including the possibility of planning for drilling for gas in the forests, with just one public hearing. Whack!
Meanwhile, media across New York State announced that Gov. Cuomo and his former brother-in-law, Robert Kennedy, had been having telephone conversations about the fracking issue. Knowing the tight rein that Cuomo had been keeping on his administration, including leaks, it’s beyond obvious that this information getting out to the public must have had the blessing of the governor. A controlled leak. Could anti-fracking activists breathe with relief, thinking they now had confidence that Cuomo would finally become convinced that he needed to ban fracking in the state? No, because this was a shape-shifting kind of mole with no mention of a ban, just a pause.
Also obvious was the fact that the person whom he consulted and who reported the consultation sympathetically to the media, is a family member of one of the major presidential families in the U.S. It’s well known that Cuomo has his sights set on 2016. So does Hillary Clinton. And, maybe, so does Gov. Chris Christie of New Jersey. A March 1, 2013 poll showed Christie well ahead of Cuomo. Undoubtedly, Cuomo knew of this. This is a weird kind of mole that you don’t know whether to whack it or not.
The health study that’s being used as the reason for Cuomo to further delay his decision is being touted as a “large-scale, scientifically rigorous assessment” of drilling in Pennsylvania that will look at detailed health histories of hundreds of thousands of patients who live near wells and other facilities that are producing natural gas from the same Marcellus Shale formation that New York would tap.” Unsaid is the well known fact that industry practice is to force those sickened, whose drinking water they polluted, whose animals died, to sign confidentiality “agreements” in exchange for a buy out or even simple delivery of water. Therefore, no health study can ever be rigorous while these records remain sealed. Whack! And whack again! The New York Post has an article titled “Gov just fracking around, pols say.”
Furthermore, just as the moratorium on fracking in New York State since 2006 has allowed the extension of drilling leases, a downside which members of the New York State Green Party have repeatedly tried to bring to the attention of those fighting fracking, such delay has also allowed the building of additional pipelines, such as the Millennium, and the accompanying compressor stations and metering stations, etc. The Green Party of New York at least since 2010 has been calling for a complete and total ban on fracking as the only answer to this threat and amongst Green Party and other groups, criminalization of the act of fracking. Green Party spokespeople early got a lot of pushback from those who, fearful of the power of the people, were adamant that you could not ban fracking as, supposedly, it was an unconstitutional taking of property. Since then, the takings argument has been weakened, if not debunked by the recognition that a ban on fracking does not prevent a landowner from using the land for other purposes where there is no split estate situation (i.e. the person owning the land is different from the person owning the minerals below the surface, which is a whole other discussion). Many things and processes are already banned at state and federal levels which arguably are much less life threatening than fracking. The Green Party has been well ahead on the fracking issue, pointing out early that the practice is inherently dangerous, toxic and a major threat to human, animal and planetary health, all borne out by later studies.
And, of course, with expected exportation of NG from import terminals now being converted to export terminals, the price of NG will increase to the benefit of industry and the detriment of homeowners and small businesses. The delay for the health study will also provide time for the conversion of these terminals.
NG is a grand bargaining chip in Obama’s holster (mixing metaphors, yes) when he’s dealing with Europe, Asia and Russia, a chip not to be taken away from him by the likes of activists against fracking. Perhaps. The choice therefore for activists is whether to be pawns or people.
Stay tuned and keep a Whack a Mole mallet handy.
Cecile Lawrence, Ph.D., J.D., is a member of the Green Party of New York State and ran for U.S. Senate in 2010 and county legislature in 2011.