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Albany residents call for an end to oil trains

March 16, 2015

by Vanessa Langdon

A group of Albany residents known as People of Albany United for Safe Energy, or PAUSE, argued for an end to oil trains passing through Albany at the Common Council meeting Monday. The group spoke in favor of a summary abatement that would forbid the oil trains that run through the city on their way southward.

The grassroots group that advocates for sustainable safe energy detailed the dangers of the oil trains, which can explode and contribute to climate change. They called for the summary abatement, which is the removal of a public nuisance.

PAUSE members who advocated for the end of oil trains passing through Albany./Vanessa Langdon

PAUSE members who advocated for the end of oil trains passing through Albany./Vanessa Langdon

“Only the DEC can issue a summary abatement but we need to sing the same song,” Sandy Steubing said.

Steubing, 62, recognizes that the Common Council cannot issue the abatement themselves but believes that they need to comment on the issue in order to enact change. She wants the council  to show their support by passing a resolution to show the the state Department of Environmental Conservation that there is broad support for the end of the trains.

“This would be a gift to other communities. Summary abatement would stop trains coming from Montreal,” Steubing said.

She and other members of PAUSE have spoken at three previous Common Council meetings. Steubing has been advocating for the end of the oil trains for 14 months after she previously worked to end fracking – a fight that was won for the State of New York.

PAUSE had advocates of all ages present at the meeting; the youngest was Ben Casler, a sixth grader. Casler was attending his second meeting with his mother, 50-year-old Nancy Casler. The Casler family lives 30 feet from the train tracks in Menands.

“I believe it is the DEC’s duty to prevent water, land, and air pollution,” said the elder Casler.

Markham dressed as character Phil Anthropy to address the Common Council./Vanessa Langdon

Markham dressed as character Phil Anthropy to address the Common Council./Vanessa Langdon

She has been monitoring the train activity from her home using video equipment to keep a log of the trains that pass through each night. On average Casler has logged two trains a night. The trains logged by Casler are train cars full of oil heading south.

The group tried to catch the council’s attention through the use of a sarcastic speaker. Phil Markham spoke in character as Phil Anthropy. Markham dressed up as if he was a billionaire and spoke of the prosperity caused by oil trains.

“Trains bring money into the area to support jobs like firefighters to put out the fires caused by the trains,” Markham said.

Markham, 62, an engineer, read a lot about the issue to educate himself in the last two years. He delivered his sarcasm-laden comments during the council’s caucus 30 minutes before the meeting. This was his first time attending a Common Council meeting.

“They are a dedicated group of advocates that want to see an end to oil trains,” said Councilwoman Leah Golby, of the tenth ward.

Golby is the councilperson for the Pine Hills area. She agrees with PAUSE that the oils trains are a danger and something should be done but admits that this is out of their jurisdiction as the Common Council. The commissioner of the DEC, Joseph Martens, has stated that he will not support ending oil trains. The council has passed many resolutions within the past year regarding the dangers of the oil trains but none called for ending the oil trains completely.

Members of the Common Council during caucus Monday./Vanessa Langdon

Members of the Common Council during caucus Monday./Vanessa Langdon

The council took no action after hearing from the PAUSE speakers at the meeting. PAUSE has hired lawyers and does not plan to drop their fight anytime soon. They have written up a draft summary abatement resolution similar to what they would like the council to pass in order to end the oil trains passage through Albany.

“It’s a national issue because the major issue with the rail lines is they are a federal jurisdiction,” said Golby. “It’s not our call and it could be a good short term goal but our resolution isn’t going to make the commissioner change his mind.” -30-

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