NY State Legislature Passes Bill to Regulate Petroleum-Carrying Vessels on the Hudson River
By: Zachary Berliner
On June 21, the New York State Senate passed by a 61-to-1 vote a bill allowing state authorities to consider environmental impacts in reviewing permit applications for the operation of petroleum-bearing vessels on the Hudson River. It now awaits Governor Andrew Cuomo’s signature after being passed by a similar bipartisan margin in the New York State Assembly in March of this year.
The bill allows the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation (“DEC”) to establish guidelines regulating petroleum-bearing vessels on the Hudson—specifically, how they “enter or move upon” its waters and “enter or leave any major facility, port or harbor along” the river. DEC can base these guidelines on environmental conditions such as visibility, tide and wind conditions, and the weather.
The bill also permits DEC to identify “tanker-avoidance zones” in the Hudson River—areas in which the operation of petroleum-bearing vessels is prohibited (except during emergencies). Analogous to its issuance of the guidelines mentioned above, DEC can consider a range of environmental conditions in and around the Hudson River in drawing these zones. Moreover, the bill focuses this inquiry on waterfront and environmental justice communities; it specifies that DEC can consider proximity to such communities, as well as impacts on any comprehensive plans or waterfront revitalization plans, in establishing these “tanker-avoidance zones.”
The bill’s passage has been characterized as a victory for citizens and municipalities opposed to the transportation of fossil fuels and the development of related infrastructure projects in New York. For example, the U.S. Coast Guard announced last summer, through an advanced notice of proposed rulemaking, that it was considering a proposal by the Maritime Association of the Port of New York and New Jersey to designate 43 new anchorage grounds in the Hudson River between Yonkers and Kingston in ten locations, with the capacity for large vessels such as those which carry petroleum products. The Coast Guard received over 10,000 public comments, 94% of which were in opposition to the establishment of anchorage grounds as proposed, citing potential negative impacts on the region’s environment, economy, historic resources, and recreational opportunities. Due in part to this overwhelming response, the Coast Guard recently suspended the rulemaking process pending a Ports and Waterways Safety Assessment. The New York bill adds further uncertainty to the Coast Guard’s rulemaking, especially if it is signed into law as expected and DEC establishes “tanker-avoidance zones” overlapping the proposed anchorage sites.
Signing by Governor Cuomo would commence a quick implementation schedule. If enacted, the bill mandates that DEC, in coordination with other state agencies and the U.S. Coast Guard, must submit policy recommendations for petroleum vessels on the Hudson River within 120 days.