Coast Guard, EPA Agree to Analyze How Oil Spill Cleanups May Affect Endangered Species of Hudson River

For Immediate Release

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Mollie Matteson, (802) 318-1487

Coast Guard, EPA Agree to Analyze How Oil Spill Cleanups May Affect Endangered Species of Hudson River

STATEN ISLAND, NY - In response to a lawsuit filed by the Center for Biological Diversity, the U.S. Coast Guard and Environmental Protection Agency have agreed to analyze how oil-spill response actions in the Hudson River and New York Bay may affect endangered wildlife like Atlantic sturgeon and green sea turtles.

“The dramatic rise of crude oil transport along the Hudson River makes a devastating oil spill almost inevitable," said Mollie Matteson, a senior scientist at the Center. “If a spill happens, we shouldn’t add insult to injury by hurting fish, turtles and other endangered wildlife during the cleanup.”

In the past three years the Hudson River has become a major corridor for transporting crude oil by rail and ship. The rapid increase in oil train traffic poses new risks for the 17 endangered species that make their home in the river or bay. These species are not only at risk from the spills themselves but also from actions needed to respond to any spill, such as booming, dredging and use of chemical dispersants. These and other actions for responding to spills are dictated by what is known as an “area contingency plan.”  

The Center filed suit earlier this year seeking review of this plan and its impacts on the region's endangered wildlife. In response to the suit, the Coast Guard and EPA have now initiated consultation with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and National Marine Fisheries Service to ensure that actions specified under the plan do not jeopardize the survival of any species in the Hudson, shoreline areas of New York Bay, and the near-shore marine environment. Such consultation is required by the Endangered Species Act. In addition to sturgeon and sea turtles, protected wildlife in the area include several whale species, piping plovers, roseate tern and sea beach amaranth. The Center has requested dismissal of its lawsuit, contingent on future court oversight if the consultation process is not completed in a timely manner.

“We’re gratified the federal government will now be taking a closer look at how to make oil-spill response less harmful to endangered wildlife, but ultimately the solution to the threat of massive crude oil transportation is to transition our culture away from our fossil fuel dependency," said Matteson.

Consultation with wildlife agencies is necessary because of the potential harm that oil-spill response can cause to protected species, on top of the harm caused by an oil spill itself. Atlantic sturgeon, for example, depend on clean and undisturbed river bottom habitat for successful spawning and survival of young sturgeon. Heavy crude oils, such as Canadian tar sands that may soon be traveling by rail along the Hudson from Albany southwards, sinks to the bottom of water in the event of a spill. While the heavy oil is toxic to aquatic life, cleanup efforts, such as dredging, can also be very destructive of river bottom habitats.

Since 2007 the amount of crude oil transported by rail in the United States has increased by orders of magnitude, going from virtually no rail cars filled with oil in 2008 to more than 400,000 today. Much of the oil originates in the Bakken shale region of North Dakota and eastern Montana.

Bakken crude has become notorious for its flammability and ability to permeate soils; more than a half dozen explosive derailments of oil trains in the last year have demonstrated the danger this oil poses to public safety and the environment. Increasingly, heavy crude from western Canada, also known as tar sands, is also being shipped by rail to ports and refineries. While not as flammable as Bakken crude, tar sands are polluting and persistent if spilled in water, and are enormously expensive to deal with in clean-ups. Recovery rates for tar sands spills rarely exceed 5 percent of the spilled material.

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At the Center for Biological Diversity, we believe that the welfare of human beings is deeply linked to nature - to the existence in our world of a vast diversity of wild animals and plants. Because diversity has intrinsic value, and because its loss impoverishes society, we work to secure a future for all species, great and small, hovering on the brink of extinction. We do so through science, law, and creative media, with a focus on protecting the lands, waters, and climate that species need to survive.

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