Oil slick impact, anger felt in Capital Region

Bicknell’s thrush summers in the Adirondack mountains and other parts of the Northeast. But the rare

Bicknell’s thrush summers in the Adirondack mountains and other parts of the Northeast.

But the rare, migratory songbird winters in the Caribbean, which it reaches by flying south from Massachusetts.

This year, John Sheehan wonders exactly what sort of habitat the Bicknell’s thrush will encounter when it heads for its winter home.

“Our environment is connected with theirs,” said Sheehan, a spokesman for the Adirondack Council, an environmental group dedicated to protecting the Adirondacks.

Sheehan said other migratory birds that summer in the Adirondacks are likely to encounter oil-polluted seas, wetlands and rivers when they fly south. “Where the oil spreads and how far it spreads could have an impact on what birds come back to us,” he said. “Our loons spend time in the South. They go to the Carolinas, to Florida. There are a lot of water birds that live in wetlands and rivers. Great blue herons like warmer temperatures.”

For environmentalists such as Sheehan, it’s difficult to watch the disaster unfolding in the Gulf.

“It’s terribly depressing,” Sheehan said.

Laura Haight, senior environmental associate for the New York Public Interest Research Group, said, “We all feel helpless watching this disaster unfold.”

Estimates of the size of the oil spill continue to grow, which means that the oil is likely to travel farther away from the site of the oil rig explosion in the Gulf of Mexico, and threaten more birds, fish and other wildlife.

Late last week revised figures released by the government showed that between 25,000 and 30,000 barrels of oil — more than twice the government’s previous estimate — are gushing from the ruptured oil well owned by BP each day. Under these estimates, between 40 million and 100 million gallons of oil have poured into the Gulf since the explosion on April 20.

Haight and others say angry New Yorkers should channel their energy into urging legislators to do more to reduce dependence on fossil fuels and fight climate change. They say the oil spill is a cautionary tale that will hopefully convince the state to rethink its energy policies. Some activists are planning rallies.

The Capital Region chapter of MoveOn.org, the liberal advocacy organization, is sponsoring two protests: At noon Monday protesters will gather outside the offices of Sen. Charles Schumer, Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand and Rep. Paul Tonko at the Leo O’Brien Federal Building in Albany and urge them to support legislation that promotes clean energy and oppose legislation that would cap the amount BP has to pay to clean up the spill.

On Thursday at 6 p.m., protesters will gather at Rep. Scott Murphy’s office in Saratoga Springs with the same message.

“We want to make sure this never happens again, and the way to make sure this never happens again is to end our addiction to oil,” said Joe Seeman, a member of MoveOn.org. He called on lawmakers to support legislation to curb greenhouse gas emissions and reduce dependence on oil and other fossil fuels. “We want a clean energy bill,” he said. “We need clean, renewable energy. We need the same type of program as when Kennedy said, ‘We need to put a man on the moon.’ ”

Seeman said it’s also important to make sure the government doesn’t bail out BP, and urged the government to ban offshore drilling. “We want to make sure our entire political system is not run by big energy companies,” he said. “We’ve handed our government to lobbyists and corporate billionaires.”

Directing anger

People are upset about the oil spill, but they don’t know what to do, Seeman said. “People feel overwhelmed. This oil blowout is such a catastrophe that it will be years before we know the extent of the damage.”

Haight said NYPIRG is pushing the state to pass legislation that would require the state Department of Environmental Conservation to establish limits on greenhouse gas emissions, which cause global warming. The bill, which has passed the state Assembly, would require the emission limit to be less than the level of emissions for 1990, and decrease by an additional 10 percent every five years, beginning with a reduction of 20 percent by 2020.

“A lot of people are not environmental activists, and they’re horrified by the spill and they feel helpless,” Haight said. “To those people, I want to say, ‘Call your senator and tell them to support the global warming bill.’ That’s where I’m directing my anger.”

Katherine Nadeau, the water and natural resources coordinator for the Albany-based Environmental Advocates, said she hoped the oil spill would cause the state to think twice about allowing companies to drill for natural gas in the Marcellus shale, an underground rock formation that stretches from the Catskills through the Southern Tier and south into Pennsylvania and West Virginia.

Such drilling would be done using a technique called hydrofracking, which uses chemicals and water to break apart underground rock formations that contain gas. Environmental groups argue that hydrofracking is untested, risky and could cause environmental damage. Nadeau said the state’s proposed rules fail to provide necessary protections.

“What’s going on in the Gulf needs to be a wake-up call to leaders in the Capitol,” Nadeau said. “My organization is not going to organize cleanup efforts in the Gulf, and most New York residents are not going to be able to go to the Gulf. But we can look at what’s going on in our own backyard. What can we do to make sure this never happens again?”

Categories: Schenectady County

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