River Deep, Mountain High

Lessons from the birthplace of modern environmentalism.

How Environmental Nonprofits Got Their Start

Hayley Carlock

June 26, 2018 09:51 AM

People love New York’s Hudson Valley for its blend of natural beauty and culturally rich towns and cities, all connected by the river that gives the area its name. As an attorney with the nonprofit Scenic Hudson, I help protect these communities and their natural resources from damaging proposals and policies. We accomplish a lot through legal battles, but day to day I’m advocating, building coalitions, and organizing concerned citizens. Scenic Hudson’s experts join allies to take on large companies—and sometimes, even, we win.

Scenic Hudson got its start in 1963, when a handful of people got the bold idea to oppose a Con Edison hydroelectric facility that would literally have cut into Storm King Mountain along the Hudson River. In 1965, the historic “Scenic Hudson Decision” issued by the Second Circuit Court of Appeals granted citizens legal standing for the first time based on a special interest in the environmental, aesthetic, and recreational effects of a given proposal—and environmental law was born.

Scenic Hudson retains this DNA, continuing our advocacy in the backyard of the nation’s largest city. We’re never short of fights to wage, as one recent tussle—seeking to prevent the Hudson from becoming a crude-oil superhighway—amply illustrates.

The Hudson provides so much: natural beauty, recreation, commercial transportation. All its benefits are important. But beginning in 2012, unprecedented transport of a uniquely dangerous material began on the Hudson, with Global Companies, LLC—a Massachusetts-based freight-logistics company—handling at its Albany terminal crude oil from the Bakken Formation in North Dakota. The facility could hold up to 2.2 billion gallons per year. Bakken crude is extremely flammable; it captured widespread attention in 2013 when a train full of it derailed and exploded in Lac-Mégantic, Quebec, killing 47.

Global Companies also proposed to extend its Albany terminal to be able to handle asphalt-like tar-sands crude, which is nearly impossible to clean up if spilled. Overnight New York’s capital had become a major transshipment hub for crude oil, turning the Hudson River into a virtual pipeline. The crude moved via 100-car trains—in the same deficient railcars involved in the Canadian disaster—down the western shore of the Hudson, and in barges and tankers.

Communities nationwide have grappled with similar hazards. Elevated crude production has brought derailments and barge and tanker accidents throughout North America, causing dozens of deaths and steep economic and environmental damage. Alongside our environmental and public-interest partners, community groups, and elected officials, Scenic Hudson took action to stem this threat. The U.S. Department of Transportation, meanwhile, was issuing regulations in an attempt to make railcars safer. Determining more was needed, Congress in 2015 passed FAST (the Fixing America’s Surface Transportation Act) to upgrade the nation’s crude rail fleet. Around the same time, Scenic Hudson and partners filed lawsuits to halt the escalation of crude coming through Albany.

While we continued to battle Global Companies in court, in early 2016 the U.S. Coast Guard issued an Advance Notice of Proposed Rulemaking, seeking to create 43 new anchorage berths for industrial barges along a 70-mile stretch of the Hudson just north of New York City. The maritime industry sought the change because of the enormous increase in crude-oil vessels—the river was being eyed, essentially, as a floating storage lot for dangerous chemicals. We rallied public officials and citizens alike to submit more than 10,000 comments during the mandated public comment period opposing new anchorages. The Coast Guard was prompted by this overwhelming response to conduct a Ports and Waterways Safety Assessment to reevaluate the need for new anchorages, resulting in a March 2018 decision not to move forward with new anchorages for the time being.

That May, Global Companies announced it was seeking a modified permit to significantly reduce the amount of Bakken crude handled at its Albany facility and would withdraw its tar-sands crude plans. Now, with far less crude being shipped on the Hudson, better railcars and no new anchorages, the Hudson Valley is substantially safer. As an environmental nonprofit, Scenic Hudson typically defends the “little guy” against much more powerful interests—meaning victory can be elusive. Only through strong partnerships with other environmental and public-interest groups, community organizations, and elected officials have we been able to make strong moves to stanch the flow of crude down a treasured American river.

Witnessing all this from the other side, companies might want to consider how to proactively engage communities in which they’re proposing potentially controversial projects. Taking the pulse of the locals, working to address their concerns, and being transparent go a long way toward lessening opposition. Soliciting stakeholder input early can help turn public opinion and enable a company to incorporate community suggestions while its plans are still in development.

Focusing solely on investor benefits, by contrast, can lead companies to be blindsided by legitimate concerns about impacts to the environment, the community’s character, and scenic natural resources. Getting feedback from stakeholders at the outset offers an opportunity to realize project goals that are more consistent with a community’s values—in the end perhaps paving the way for a smoother, shorter approval process for the project’s proponent.

Related Articles

Tampa 2022 "Lawyer of the Year"

by Best Lawyers

George F. Gramling III is honored as 2022 "Lawyer of the Year" in Environmental Law for Tampa.

Tampa 2022 "Lawyer of the Year"

A Climate Duty

by Lara Douvartzidis and Samantha Daly

Converging trends in Australia and the Netherlands: reasonable foreseeability in climate change law and other novel developments.

Climate Change Law in Australia

The Great Debate Between Agriculture, Mining and Environment

by Rebecca Hoare

Can we really have it all?  The pursuit of the harmonious intersection of Australia’s agricultural and resources industries and the environment.

Australia Agriculture, Mining & Environment

Government of the People

by Allyn Stern

A baker’s dozen tips for working with the Environmental Protection Agency

Tips for Working With the EPA

2020 Vision

by Sean Devlin

What Does Corporate Environmental Concern Look Like in 2020?

Best Lawyers Ones to Watch Canada Legal Insights

Hotter and More Intense

by Lori Tripoli

Multiple Category 5 hurricanes. Drought. Wildfires. Climate change isn’t just damaging the environment and our health. It’s impacting the bottom line.

Climate Change

Trending Articles

Announcing the 2023 The Best Lawyers in America Honorees

by Best Lawyers

Only the top 5.3% of all practicing lawyers in the U.S. were selected by their peers for inclusion in the 29th edition of The Best Lawyers in America®.

Gold strings and dots connecting to form US map

Could Reign Supreme End with the Queen?

by Sara Collin

Canada is revisiting the notion of abolishing the monarchy after Queen Elizabeth II’s passing, but many Canadians and lawmakers are questioning if Canada could, should and would follow through.

Teacup on saucer over image of Queen's eye

Best Lawyers: Ones to Watch in America for 2023

by Best Lawyers

The third edition of Best Lawyers: Ones to Watch in America™ highlights the legal talent of lawyers who have been in practice less than 10 years.

Three arrows made of lines and dots on blue background

The Best Lawyers in South Africa™ 2023

by Best Lawyers

Best Lawyers proudly announces lawyers recognized in South Africa for 2023.

South African flag

Famous Songs Unprotected by Copyright Could Mean Royalties for Some

by Michael B. Fein

A guide to navigating copyright claims on famous songs.

Can I Sing "Happy Birthday" in Public?

Announcing the 2023 The Best Lawyers in Canada Honorees

by Best Lawyers

The Best Lawyers in Canada™ is entering its 17th edition for 2023. We highlight the elite lawyers awarded this year.

Red map of Canada with white lines and dots

Wage and Overtime Laws for Truck Drivers

by Greg Mansell

For truck drivers nationwide, underpayment and overtime violations are just the beginning of a long list of problems. Below we explore the wages you are entitled to but may not be receiving.

Truck Driver Wage and Overtime Laws in the US

The Upcycle Conundrum

by Karen Kreider Gaunt

Laudable or litigious? What you need to know about potential copyright and trademark infringement when repurposing products.

Repurposed Products and Copyright Infringemen

What the Courts Say About Recording in the Classroom

by Christina Henagen Peer and Peter Zawadski

Students and parents are increasingly asking to use audio devices to record what's being said in the classroom. But is it legal? A recent ruling offer gives the answer to a question confusing parents and administrators alike.

Is It Legal for Students to Record Teachers?

Choosing a Title Company: What a Seller Should Expect

by Roy D. Oppenheim

When it comes to choosing a title company, how much power exactly does a seller have?

Choosing the Title Company As Seller

Thirteen Years of Excellence

by Best Lawyers

For the 13th consecutive year, “Best Law Firms” has awarded the most elite and talented law firms across the country through a thorough and trusted data review process.

Red, white and blue pipes and writing on black background


2022: Another Banner Year

by John Fields

Block O’Toole & Murphy continues to secure some of New York’s highest results for personal injury matters.

Three men in business suits standing in office

Caffeine Overload and DUI Tests

by Daniel Taylor

While it might come as a surprise, the over-consumption of caffeine could trigger a false positive on a breathalyzer test.

Can Caffeine Cause You to Fail DUI Test?

Announcing the 2022 Best Lawyers® in the United States

by Best Lawyers

The results include an elite field of top lawyers listed in the 28th Edition of The Best Lawyers in America® and in the 2nd Edition of Best Lawyers: Ones to Watch in America for 2022.

2022 Best Lawyers Listings for United States

Announcing The Best Lawyers in Australia™ 2023

by Best Lawyers

The results include an elite field of top lawyers and firms from Australia.

The Best Lawyers in Australia™ 2023

Announcing The Best Lawyers in Germany™ 2023

by Best Lawyers

The results include an elite field of top lawyers and firms from Germany.

Black, red and yellow stripes