DiNapoli rips plan for administration control of oil spill fund
State Comptroller Tom DiNapoli has voiced his strongest opposition yet to a state budget proposal that would wrest control of New York's oil spill fund from his office and put it in the hands of the Cuomo administration's Department of Environmental Conservation.
"There are real threats to New York communities if an oil train derails and the state doesn't have the money to rapidly respond and properly clean it up," DiNapoli said in a statement Wednesday. "We need to boost the money flowing into the oil spill fund to deal with spills, and the management of the money should stay with the Office of the State Comptroller."
DiNapoli's comments came in response to a renewed push by environmental advocates to increase funding for the fund and keep it under the control of the comptroller's office.
"As the state's watchdog and accountant, we have the expertise to make sure the money is managed to clean up our communities and not diverted for other purposes," DiNapoli said.
On Wednesday, a coalition of environment and clean energy groups renewed their demands that the state more than double the $40 million fund. The groups argue current funding levels are insufficient to manage anticipated spills, largely from oil trains.
"The $15 million increase in the fund cap to $40 million proposed by the Executive and Assembly budgets could and should be increased," Riverkeeper, the Sierra Club, Environmental Advocates of New York and the Adirondack Council said in a joint statement. "In today’s dollars, the $25 million fund created in 1977 would be a $96.4 million fund today. Thus, we urge 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."
The domestic natural gas and oil boom have propelled the issue of oil train disasters to the forefront of energy debates in the U.S., and in New York specifically. Hydrofracturing in the Marcellus and Bakken shales has relied heavily upon oil trains to ship fuel east as pipeline capacity is insufficient to manage the flow. Pipeline expansion, though, tends to face opposition from environmentalists and local community groups.
Earlier this year, four oil trains were involved in spills and explosions in North America within a one-month span at the same time federal and state regulators in the U.S. and Canada are scrambling to tighten restrictions and safety precautions. The Wall Street Journal reported earlier this month that the four derailments involved newer, supposedly safer rail cars.
State officials said earlier this week that oil spill fund was not designed to pay the entire cost of cleanup in the case of a derailment.
"In the case of a large crude oil spill, the state would hold the responsible companies accountable to pay for response and cleanup activities," said Cuomo spokeswoman Emily DeSantis. "Raising the cap for the spill fund will allow first responders to be better prepared in the case of a large spill. The spill fund proposal in the budget is just one of dozens of actions undertaken by the governor over the last year to better protect New Yorkers from the dangers of transporting crude oil."
Among those actions is a plan to hire eight new employees at the D.E.C. and six at the Office of Fire Protection and Control whose jobs will focus on oil spill planning and response.
CORRECTION: The original version of this article identified Emily DeSantis as a D.E.C. spokeswoman. She left the department and is now a spokewoman for the governor.