BROOKLYN (CN) - The Coast Guard's and EPA's response plans for an oil train derailment near the lower Hudson River or New York Harbor are legally insufficient and put public safety and the environment at risk, the Center for Biological Diversity claims in court.
The environmental group sued the Coast Guard and EPA and their directors on July 17 in Federal Court.
It claims the federal agencies violated the Endangered Species Act by their "actions and inactions."
"The Port of New York and the lower Hudson River are experiencing an unprecedented boom in the transport of oil through the region by rail and barge," the 28-page lawsuit states. "This increased transport happens in the context of a past history of catastrophic barge accidents in the area and a very recent history of deadly rail accidents throughout North America involving oil and petroleum products that have resulted in several fiery derailments and hundreds of thousands of gallons of crude oil being spilled into waterways.
"These accidents, and the subsequent fires and environmental damage resulting from crude oil releases, pose an imminent hazard of death, serious illness, and substantial endangerment to the environment, including adverse impacts to species protected under the ESA. "
On April 30 this year a train carrying crude oil derailed in Lynchburg, Va. and set the James River on fire after oil seeped out of punctured tank cars.
While no one died in that accident, a July 2013 derailment in Lac-Mégantic, Quebec killed 47 people in one of the worst rail tragedies in Canadian history.
Gov. Andrew Cuomo this year cited both disasters in a statement about his executive order to prepare for a response to a similar "catastrophic accident" at in New York.
The "unprecedented boom" in oil traffic through the region is happening with "little public scrutiny or input," the Center for Biological Diversity's senior scientist Mollie Matteson said in a statement on the day the lawsuit was filed.
"We need a spill-response plan that actually protects residents and the precious endangered wildlife of the Hudson and Northeast coast - animals like the Atlantic sturgeon, red knot and loggerhead sea turtle," Matteson wrote. "We have to take immediate action to make sure these rare and marvelous creatures aren't casualties of a reckless industry."
Under the Endangered Species Act, federal agencies must consult with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Services when carrying out any action that may affect a protected species. The Center for Biological Diversity claims the EPA and Coast Guard never conducted such a consultation about the current oil-spill response plan.
The New York and New Jersey Area Contingency Plan, as it is called, was adopted three years ago.
The Center for Biological Diversity seeks declaratory judgment that the agencies violated the Endangered Species Act and wants them ordered to "initiate and complete formal consultation" by a date certain.
EPA spokeswoman Mary Mears said the agency "will review the complaint and respond as appropriate."
The Coast Guard declined to comment.
The Center's lead counsel is Hollin Kretzmann, with the group's San Francisco office.