ALBANY — Albany County, along with a coalition of several environmental groups and a tenants association, announced on Wednesday, Feb. 3, that they filed a lawsuit against Global Partners LLC, for violating EPA regulations and endangering the health of county residents.
In 2012, Global obtained permission from the New York state Department of Environmental Conservation to make modifications at its Albany Terminal at the Port of Albany to enable them to quadruple the amount of crude oil shipped through the port—increasing annual flow from 450 million gallons to 2.2 billion gallons of the volatile material. Plaintiffs in the suit are claiming that Global has violated the Clean Air Act by failing to acquire necessary permits, failing to implement pollution emission standards and shipping a type of crude that emits more toxins than the conventional crude oil the company originally claimed it would be shipping.
“The polluted air makes us sick,” said Charlene Benton, a resident of Ezra Prentice Homes and president of the Ezra Prentice Tenants Association, a plaintiff in the lawsuit. A public housing development run by the Albany Housing Authority, Ezra Prentice is home to more than 400 residents, half of whom are children. The development located in Albany’s South End, is directly adjacent to Global’s Albany Terminal. Trains bearing Bakken crude run, and often sit, on tracks right next to a playground on which residents often play basketball. According to Benton, those residents have been complaining of the bad smells and suffering from headaches, nausea and dizziness.
“Dan McCoy has been out in front of this issue since day one,” said Earthjustic attorney, Christopher Amato. “The County of Albany has really set an example for how local governments can take the lead in trying to fight companies like Global that show the kind of disregard that they have for the health and safety of the people who live right next door to their facility.”
Plaintiffs are claiming that Global has violated EPA regulations by failing to obtain a permit that is required when a company is engaging in any activity that is likely to increase the amount of volatile organic compounds (VOCs), which form harmful ground-level ozone when they react with other compounds. Ozone, which can cause a variety of serious health issues, has been regulated under the Clean Air Act and the EPA has disseminated air quality standards regarding safe levels. The Capital District already exceeds those standards.
Complainants also allege that Global neglected to implement controls to ensure that its activities would produce the lowest possible emissions, nor did it obtain emission offsets to compensate for the increased emissions at the port. Additionally, they say that Global is exceeding the emissions rate for which it does have a permit. According to the lawsuit, the permit that Global received in 2012 was to transport conventional crude, which was expected to emit a certain amount of VOCs, but is instead transporting Bakken crude oil, which is more volatile and tends to emit more VOCs.
“This case is about environmental justice,” said Amato, “for the hundreds of families who have to breathe the toxic air pollution from Global’s facility on a daily basis. This facility operates 24 hours a day, seven days a week, 365 days a year and every single day it is emitting toxic pollutants into the air that the people who live right next door to it have to breathe. All the people who live, work, go to school or go to church in Albany’s South End are exposed to these pollutants on a daily basis.”
The lawsuit is seeking the immediate halt of Bakken shipments and seeks a fine of $37,000 for each day that Global has operated without the necessary permits—a potential penalty of tens of millions of dollars. “To you and I, that’s a lot of money,” said McCoy. “But to them, a Fortune 500 company, it’s lunch.”
Maintaining that Global has been in full compliance with the Clean Air Act, Executive Vice President Edward Faneuil said in a statement on Feb. 3, “We remain fully committed to operating all of our facilities in a safe, legal and environmentally responsible manner, and we will vigorously defend ourselves against any claims to the contrary.”