Guest written by New York Program Assistant, Jhena Vigrass.
New York Governor Andrew Cuomo has just signed into law legislation that gives the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) the power to prevent the siting of anchorages in the Hudson River. This bipartisan legislation is a major victory against fossil fuels, and for all New Yorkers who depend on the Hudson for drinking water, recreation and its natural beauty.
Specifically, this legislation gives DEC, in consultation with United States Coast Guard, the Board of Commissioners of Pilots, the Department of State, the Office of Parks, Recreation and Historic Preservation, and local elected officials, the power to determine how petroleum-bearing vessels operate on the Hudson, and to establish “tanker avoidance zones” near waterfront communities, critical aquatic habitats, and other sensitive areas in and along the river. We turn now to the implementation process where we look forward to working with state officials to ensure that the Hudson is fully protected from the threat of oil barges.
The signing of this bill comes in response to significant public outcry over the United States Coast Guard's review of a proposal to expand the number of barge anchorages in the Hudson River. As we’ve previously written, the original proposal would have established 10 new anchorage grounds—an area for a ship to anchor—that could fit up to 43 additional barges, and could dramatically increase fossil fuel transport on the river. The proposal has since been withdrawn.
Preventing increased fossil fuel traffic on the Hudson River is critical to protecting waterfront communities, water quality, and sensitive aquatic habitats. When it comes to fossil fuel infrastructure, we know that accidents are inevitable – such as the tanker that ran aground in the Hudson this past spring. Although that tanker was carrying gasoline and did not leak, it could easily have been carrying tar sands crude oil, known to be extremely difficult to clean up when spilled. Increased barge traffic and potential spills could ruin the beauty and character of waterfront communities, the drinking water of thousands of New Yorkers, and stress already endangered species like the shortnose and Atlantic sturgeon.
Despite the withdrawal of the original anchorage proposal, the threat of fossil fuel transport on the Hudson River remains. NRDC was invited and will be participating in the Coast Guard’s Hudson River Ports and Waterways Assessment (PAWSA) process, a risk assessment to measure potential waterway safety hazards and mitigation techniques.
Thank you to Governor Cuomo, and bill sponsors, Senator Sue Serino and and Assemblymember Didi Barrett, for their leadership in protecting the health of the Hudson and communities up and down the river for generations to come.
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The Hudson River cannot afford to be sacrificed to perpetuate our dependence on fossil fuels.