Pace Environmental Clinic Study: Coast Guard blocked public access to information in Hudson Anchorage controversy

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Pace University press release: The Environmental Policy Clinic of the Dyson College Department of Environmental Studies and Science at Pace University has charged the Coast Guard with circumventing its own procedures to the benefit of the shipping industry when the agency launched a proposal to create 43 anchorages for oil barges on the Hudson River.

letter authored by Pace students in the Clinic, sent today to Coast Guard Commandant Paul F. Zukunft, called for the immediate withdrawal of the proposal by the commandant as the only way to initiate the agency’s proper procedures. In June, the Coast Guard published the shipping industry proposal in the Federal Register as an “Advanced Notice of Proposed Rulemaking” (ANPR).

According to the Clinic, before publishing the ANPR, the Coast Guard should have completed two major studies addressing river hazards and impacts, conducted public sessions with mariners, environmental groups, and government, and provided all members of the public the opportunity to change the proposal, or even prove it unnecessary.

The Clinic further charges that “the premature publication of the proposal triggered a Coast Guard rule that effectively shielded the agency from having to communicate with the public or participate in numerous government forums.” The Clinic letter cites the Coast Guard’s July 2015 “Waterways Management Anchorage Management Tactics, Techniques, and Procedures” (WWM) as the basis of its allegations.

“This is one of the most egregious violations of public transparency and public trust I have seen in four decades working on Hudson River issues,” said John Cronin, senior fellow at the Dyson College Institute for Sustainability and the Environment at Pace, and one of the faculty leaders of the Clinic. “I suspect the Coast Guard knew the proposal would not survive the level of public scrutiny its own procedures require. The Clinic is therefore calling on the Coast Guard to scrap the proposal and start over, despite the imminent December 6 deadline for public comment.”

Pace student clinician Christina Thomas coordinated the 13-student team that participated in the research. “The shipping industry has gained a distinct advantage over the public in the regulatory process,” she said. “The Coast Guard was able to decline repeated invitations to public meetings from government officials because once it published the industry proposal, its own rules conveniently barred it from talking to the public.”

The Clinic petition concludes, “It should come as no surprise to the Coast Guard that its decision to forgo its own procedures has caused one of the largest Hudson River controversies in recent history, and at a substantial cost to the Coast Guard in public faith. The only viable remedy is for the Coast Guard to withdraw the proposal and begin the proper public process.”

“The research into the Coast Guard practices was a sad revelation for our student clinicians,” said Cronin. “But at Dyson College we put a premium on the ability of our students to focus on information-based solutions, and learn professional skills by entering the public fray. The work of our students is a prime example of what we call the Dyson Advantage of the Pace Path, which provides students the opportunity to apply classroom theory directly to real-world experience.”

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