Task Force Convenes to Save the Hudson River

The Hudson: A River at Risk transports viewers to the Hudson River to inform them of the many risks and present problems created by pollution in the Hudson River. From the Pilgrim Pipeline to PCBs there are many threats to the wellbeing of the river and the surrounding communities.

On Tuesday, April 18, the SUNY New Paltz Environmental Task Force hosted a screening and panel discussion for director Jon Bowermaster’s documentary series to raise awareness for pollution in the river.

Pollution in the Hudson has been a recognized problem since the 1970s when, according to associate professor of sociology Brian Obach, the river was perceived more as a “moving liquid dump” than a living ecosystem.

Though there has been a large — and somewhat successful — effort to clean the Hudson, there are many remnants of pollution as well as new threats on the rise.

In the first part of the documentary series, “All the Risk, No Reward,” Bowermaster highlighted the rising risk of crude oil and petroleum transportation along rail lines in the Hudson Valley.  

Approximately three billion gallons of crude oil and petroleum products are shipped along railroads from the Port of Albany yearly. Towns along the railroads hardly see profit from this transportation. Shipped in an improper container, the crude oil and petroleum are at high risk of exploding and causing damage to these towns.

“What you’re seeing that they’re doing with these ‘bomb trains’ is not sustainable,” said Michael Boms, adjunct professor of biology and co-chair of the SUNY Environmental Task Force. “They have to realize that every action they take has consequences.”

These unsustainable practices are also present in the construction — and use — of natural gas and petroleum pipelines which run throughout the Hudson Valley. Bowermaster focuses on the Algonquin Incremental Market (AIM) Pipeline, which transports natural gas, and the proposed Pilgrim Pipeline in the second part of the series, “A Beautiful Hazardous Waste Site.”

The AIM Pipeline not only presents a risk of pollution but is a danger based on its proximity to Indian Point Energy Center, a nuclear power plant in Buchanan, New York. An explosion from the pipeline, which sits only 1,500 feet from Indian Point, could be even more catastrophic if it affects the reactors.

The proposed Pilgrim Pipeline is an environmental hazard due to the infrastructure needed to construct it. Its construction is set to affect 296 distinct water bodies.

The oil industry also threatens the Hudson through proposed anchorages along the river. These anchorages would allow for the storage of crude oil in barges on the river, creating the risk of an oil spill that would impact ecosystems connected to the Hudson River.

Zephyr Teachout, a professor of law at Fordham University and panelist who was featured in the films, said that people must act out against the “fossil fuel assault.”

“People shouldn’t have to live in fear that there’s going to be a spill,” Teachout said.

The risk of more pollution in the river is concerning considering its damaged state. A large portion of the river, from the GE factory, which polluted the river with PCBs, down to the battery in Manhattan, is considered a superfund site, a polluted area designated for long-term cleanup.

Though all of these threats may seem insurmountable, the panelists agreed that coordinated environmental activism can continue to heal the river and prevent more risks to the diverse ecosystem.

“We need people to stand up and advocate for bedrock environmental laws,” said Jeremy Cherson, a panelist and advocacy coordinator for Riverkeeper. “Citizen advocates have done an incredible job, with over 30 communities in New York saying they don’t want projects like the pipelines.”