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New State Oil Spill Response Funding Needed - Existing Fund Inadequate to Respond to Crude Rail Disaster

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FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE March 23, 2015

Adirondack Council: John Sheehan: 518-441-1340

New State Oil Spill Response Funding Needed
Existing Fund Inadequate to Respond to Crude Rail Disaster,
Communities, emergency responders, need the existing $25 million fund cap raised to $100 million

Albany, NY – After four recent oil-by-rail disasters in North America in less than a month, it could not be more clear that New York’s “Oil Spill Fund” must be increased so that it is adequate to cover the response costs and damages associated with loss of life and destruction of property that have been caused by rail disasters elsewhere, the Adirondack Council said today.

Last week a coalition of environmental groups issued a statement urging the state to take stronger action to protect and strengthen the fund in the face of the serious risks to safety and natural resources posed by the 4,000 percent increase in crude-oil transport over the past six years.

Riverkeeper, The Sierra Club, Environmental Advocates of New York and the Adirondack Council called on state legislators and Gov. Andrew Cuomo to do more to address the diminished size of the spill fund.

“The recognition by the Executive and the State Assembly that the fund should be increased is appreciated,” said Adirondack Council Executive Director William C. Janeway. “The Executive and Assembly budget proposals increase the fund cap to $40 million. The $25 million fund created in 1977 would be a $96.4 million fund today in today’s dollars. Thus, the Adirondack Council urges that the fund cap be increased to $100 million to bring it back to parity with the monetary protection it afforded nearly four decades ago. It should also be indexed to inflation going forward, to ensure that the fund keeps pace with economic reality.

“The current pressures on the fund are tremendous and they will only get worse if there is a spill from the thousands of oil rail cars that pass through our state each week,” Janeway said. “The total liabilities for the Lac-Mégantic, Quebec, rail disaster in July 2013, for example, could easily reach $2.7 billion over the next decade.”

In addition to calling for a more significant increase in the capacity of the spill fund to respond to a crude-oil disaster, we make the following recommendations with respect to the structure and management of the fund:

• Fund emergency preparedness separately from spill response. We welcome proposed funding for emergency response equipment, supplies and training for state and local emergency services personnel. In addition, we strongly support the Assembly’s proposed legislation which would keep that funding separate from the account that pays for remediation costs, as well as the damages associated with loss of life and property damage and economic losses suffered by individuals and businesses in the event of a spill. If maintained in a joint account, payments for emergency preparation could potentially deplete the response fund, leaving the state without the resources necessary to respond after a spill.

• Keep the Spill Fund under the fiduciary management of State Comptroller’s Office, instead of transferring it to the Department of Environmental Conservation. We commend the Comptroller’s Office for successfully managing the Spill Fund for the past 40 years, and believe that it is best qualified to continue the fund’s management. We support the Legislature’s rejection of the Executive Budget’s proposal to move the Spill Fund.

"With oil trains threatening New York's communities and clean water daily, bold action is needed. In the state budget more funds for spill prevention and emergency responder training should be provided, the oil spill cleanup fund should be increased, and the Comptroller's independent management of the fund should be continued," said Janeway. "Proposals by Governor Cuomo and the Assembly to increase funds available for emergency response and training to help address the risk of oil trains are appreciated. We hope the final on-time state budget finds the Governor, Senate and Assembly all agreeing on an increase in the spill response fund."

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