ALBANY — Located at the corner of Green Street and Fourth Avenue in the South End, the Rev. McKinley Johnson’s church is just a few hundred feet from a crude oil terminal at the Port of Albany.
“We smell things all the time from over there,” said Johnson, pastor to about 150 people who belong to the St. John’s Church of God in Christ, one of the city’s oldest African-American churches.
On Tuesday, Johnson stood with about three dozen other people in front of the governor’s mansion to demand that Gov. Andrew Cuomo take immediate steps to halt a surge of crude oil coming into the port on massive trains from the Bakken fields of North Dakota.
“If there is any kind of explosion over there, we would be gone,” he said. “We have not had anyone, from the railroad, from the government, come to us with a plan on how we should evacuate if something happens.”
Johnson’s son, Mark, an associate pastor at the church, said that even though officials did not tell the church about a 100-gallon spill of crude oil at the port rail yard this month, “we could smell it, really smell it, and knew that something was going on over there.”
The elder Johnson had some strong words for the governor, who this spring got a report from several state agencies that found the federal government, not the state, carries primary authority and control over such oil shipments, which arrive at the port nearly every day on the way to coastal refineries.
The governor was attending an event in the Adirondacks on Tuesday. When asked about the rally, he said crude oil shipments were a federal commerce issue. “No state can make regulations that would impede federal commerce, for obvious reasons,” said Cuomo. He added the shipments are “a safety issue … we have taken a lot of precautions. But we cannot do anything inconsistent with federal policy.”
Albany’s port has become a major transshipment point for Bakken crude from North Dakota to refineries along the East Coast, with Massachusetts-based Global Partners, and another company, Houston-based Buckeye Partners, permitted by the state to handle up to 2.8 billion gallons of crude oil a year.
The state Department of Environmental Conservation is reviewing a proposal by Global Partners to add a crude oil heating facility at the port, which some opponents fear will allow the company to handle Canadian tar sands oil.
“The presence of dirty and dangerous oil trains right next to the South Albany community exemplifies environmental racism,” said Johnson, a 77-year-old native of the South End. “For the governor or any elected official to permit this reflects callous indifference toward people of color.”
Johnson was among representatives from a dozen groups outside the mansion to announce a petition calling on Cuomo to order a halt to the shipments.
Others included such local groups as the tenants association of the Ezra Prentice Homes, a city-owned housing project next to the port; a South End neighborhood group A Village Inc., People of Albany United for Safe Energy, Save the Pine Bush, Solidarity Committee of the Capital District, Strong Communities Work, and No Extreme Energy Extraction, as well at the Capital Region chapter of climate change group 350.org, and the state Green Party.
Bakken crude is a part of man-made climate change driven by greenhouse gases from fossil fuels, said Capital Region 350.org spokesman Kevin Buckland. His group is part of a project called Seachange, in which about a half-dozen personal watercraft — handmade out of paper — will leave Troy on Saturday on a trip to New York City for a United Nations conference on climate change. Buckland said the boats are made out of craft paper, wood glue, wood and varnish.
The launch is set for between 9:30 and 10:30 a.m. at Riverfront Park near the Farmers Market. The 160-mile trip is expected to take about two weeks.
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