Pace Environmental Clinic Study: Coast Guard Blocked Public Access to Information in Hudson Anchorage Controversy

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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.

Government Officials Join Clinic Students in Asking Commandant to Withdraw Shipping Industry Proposal

Charging that the the shipping industry is benefiting from the Coast Guard’s circumvention of its own procedures, including two major river studies and extensive consultation with outside experts and the public, the students of the Environmental Policy Clinic of the Dyson College Department of Environmental Studies and Science at Pace University have formally requested that Commandant Admiral Paul F. Zukunft withdraw the Coast Guard’s proposal to establish 43 oil barge anchorages on the Hudson River.

In a letter that details internal Coast Guard protocol, the Clinic petitions the Commandant to restart the proper public process under the agency’s Waterways Management: Anchorage Management Tactics, Techniques, and Procedures. On June 9, the Coast Guard published an Advance Notice of Proposed Rulemaking in the Federal Register proposing the “special anchorages” spread over 10 locations between Yonkers and Kingston.

New York State Senator Terrence Murphy called the student investigation a “bombshell” at a press conference he called to announce the Clinic findings. Joining Senator Murphy in echoing the Clinic’s request were Westchester County Executive Rob Astorino, State Senator Sue Serino of Dutchess County and State Senator David Carlucci of Rockland County. In his remarks, County Executive Astorino stated, ”How amazing is it that it took students from Pace University to shame and embarrass and expose the federal government on a situation like this?”

The Clinic further charged 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.” It also allowed the agency to enable an exemption under the Freedom of Information act that can be used to deny the public internal documents, according to the letter.

“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. “The Coast Guard essentially ran a covert regulatory process in plain sight. I suspect the Coast Guard knew the proposal would not survive the level of public scrutiny its own procedures require.”

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 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.”

The Pace Environmental Policy Clinic is housed within the Department of Environmental Studies and Science of the Dyson College Institute for Sustainability and the Environment at Pace University. The Clinic trains students in professional policy and advocacy skills through hands-on casework on real-world issues. It is co-taught by Professors John Cronin and Michelle D. Land. Last May, The New York Times Editorial Board cited the Clinic for its work writing and lobbying the Elephant Protection Act, which passed unanimously in the New York State Senate.

About Dyson College Institute of Sustainability and the Environment: DCISE was established to address major issues in sustainability, resilience, the growing urbanization of the 21st century and the impact of these changes on the global environment, through multidisciplinary programs encompassing research, policy-making, education, and building greater community awareness and consensus on how to manage these issues.

About Dyson College of Arts and Sciences: Pace University’s liberal arts college, Dyson College offers more than 50 programs, spanning the arts and humanities, natural sciences, social sciences, and pre-professional programs (including pre-medicine, pre-veterinary, and pre-law), as well as numerous courses that fulfill core curriculum requirements. The College offers access to numerous opportunities for internships, cooperative education and other hands-on learning experiences that complement in-class learning in preparing graduates for career and graduate/professional education choices.

About Pace University: Since 1906, Pace has educated thinking professionals by providing high quality education for the professions on a firm base of liberal learning amid the advantages of the New York metropolitan area. A private university, Pace has campuses in Lower Manhattan and Westchester County, N.Y., enrolling nearly 13,000 students in bachelor’s, master’s, and doctoral programs in its Lubin School of Business, Dyson College of Arts and Sciences, College of Health Professions, School of Education, Elisabeth Haub School of Law, and Seidenberg School of Computer Science and Information Systems.

Contacts: Bill Caldwell, 212-346-1597, wcaldwell(at)pace(dot)edu
         John Cronin, 845-661-6961, jcronin(at)pace(dot)edu

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Cara Cea
Pace University
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