Dominick Calsolaro

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Letter to Governor Cuomo - Protect Residents of Albany's South End

Published on 11/20/2016 written by Dominick Calsolaro

Dominick Calsolaro
35 Clare Avenue
Albany, New York 12202
(518) 859-5219

November 20, 2016

Hon. Andrew M. Cuomo, Governor, New York State
Basil Seggos, Commissioner, New York State Department of Conservation
Matthew J. Driscoll, Commissioner, New York State Department of Transportation

Dear Governor Cuomo and Commissioners Seggos and Driscoll:

The residents of Albany’s South End, specifically those people living in the Ezra Prentice Homes on South Pearl Street and on Mount Hope Drive, are living in a toxic environment that requires you to take immediate emergency action to protect our health.

The Ezra Prentice community is a mostly low-income community of color that is a designated Environmental Justice Community. In reality, it is an Environmental INjustice community! The NYS DEC recently reported to us that the benzene monitor stationed at South Pearl Street and Schuyler Street (where our neighborhood elementary school – Giffen Memorial - is located) shows that levels of the cancer-causing pollutant benzene are among the highest in the State. A benzene level that is at unacceptable levels for exposure for humans!

The source of the benzene has not been identified. It could be any of the following: the crude oil trains (or, as we refer to them, “Bomb Trains”); the more than 1,000 diesel-engine trucks and buses that daily drive through the middle of Ezra Prentice along State Route 32 (South Pearl Street); the county sewage treatment plant; Interstate 787 traffic; activities at the Port of Albany; the recycling center located adjacent to Ezra; etc. Or, more likely, the dangerous level of benzene is a combination of these and other source-points.

We are encouraged that the DEC has announced its intention to invest $500,000 to conduct an air contaminant study in the South End starting sometime around mid-year 2017. However, we cannot wait another year or two before actions are taken by New York State to safeguard us from toxic air contaminants. We need, no, demand, that you take immediate action to protect us from environmental hazards.

What emergency action do we want you to take, you ask?
First: We demand that DEC work in conjunction with New York State Department of Transportation Commissioner Driscoll to issue an emergency order prohibiting diesel-engine vehicles from traveling north and south along Route 32 from the intersection of Route 32 with Old South Pearl Street to the intersection of Route 32 with the entrance/exit to I787 (Exit 2) just north of the Ezra Prentice playground. A health assessment survey that is currently being conducted at Ezra by resident outreach workers shows 50% of households interviewed reporting at least one family member suffering from asthma. Other health-related disorders that have been identified include emphysema, chronic bronchitis and cancers.

Second: We demand that the Commissioner of DEC issue an emergency order to limit the amount of crude oil-by-rail that both Global and Buckeye are allowed to process to the pre-2012 levels. This emergency order is nothing more than putting some teeth into the September 16, 2016 letter DEC sent Global stating that Global’s Title V Permit renewal is incomplete and that DEC intends to rescind its Negative Declaration regarding Global’s request to modify the permit to allow the heating of rail cars transporting extremely filthy and disgusting tar sands oil. If the application is incomplete as stated in your letter, then why are you allowing these facilities to operate at the increased level of crude oil, as much as 2.8 billion gallons a year?
Please don’t tell us again that NYS can’t do this because it has no control over the railroads. Global and Buckeye are not the railroad! According to the Surface Transportation Board in a decision in the case “Valero Refining Company – Petition For Declaratory Order” dated September 20, 2016, pre-emption does not exist as the City of Benicia’s Planning Commission’s decision to deny Valero’s conditional use permit for a crude oil off-loading facility “does not attempt to regulate transportation by a “rail carrier.”

The same can be said for Global and Buckeye, they are not a “rail carrier”. They are operating as off-loading facilities for crude oil, ethanol, etc., but they are not a “rail carrier”! The Surface Transportation Board went even further in their decision by offering “guidance” on preemption. The Board wrote: “If the offloading facility were eventually constructed but the EIR or land use permit, or both, included mitigation conditions unreasonably interfering with UP’s [Union Pacific Railroad Company] future operations to the facility, any attempt to enforce such mitigation measures would be preempted by Sec. 10501 (b).” Thus, only actions regulating a “rail carrier” are preempted, not actions involving a business that is not a “rail carrier”.

Furthermore, should DOT and DEC refuse to issues these emergency orders/regulations, we demand that Governor Cuomo, who has the duty under the NYS Constitution to protect the health, safety, welfare and property of the residents of NYS, to issue an Executive Order barring diesel-engine traffic along the section of Route 32 that splits the Ezra Prentice complex in half and limiting the amount of crude oil-by-rail allowed to be brought into the Port of Albany to pre-2012 levels. Governor Cuomo, as you stated in your email letter of November 18, 2016: America was built on the promise that all of us were created equal and should be treated equally.

So, Governor Cuomo and Commissioners Driscoll and Seggos, treat us equally, and take the necessary and immediate actions needed to protect our health and safety. To quote Willie White, Executive Director of AVillage: “Our lives do matter…Our kids do not know what they are breathing. Treat us like we are human beings.”

Thank you for your time and consideration in this matter that adversely affects the health of the residents of Albany’s South End. I look forward to the issuance of these emergency orders as our lives depend on them.

Dominick Calsolaro

Cc: Hon. Kathy Sheehan, Mayor, City of Albany
Hon. Neil Breslin, NYS Senate
Hon. John McDonald, NYS Assembly
Hon. Dr. Dorcey Applyrs, Common Council Member, First Ward, Albany
Hon. Vivian Kornegay, Common Council Member, Second Ward, Albany
Ms. Charlene Benton, Ezra Prentice Tenants Association
Willie White, Executive Director, AVillage
Judith Enck, US EPA Region 2 Administrator
Chris Amato, Earth Justice
Roger Downs, Sierra Club
Aaron Mair, Sierra Club
Peter Iwanowicz, Environmental Advocates