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The New York State Department of Conservation held a pair of hearings on September 26 to receive public comment about whether the DEC should renew an air-quality permit for the 650 megawatt Competitive Power Ventures (CPV) power plant in Orange County.
The DEC thus far has declined to renew it, saying CPV needs to apply for a different kind of permit, which involves a more lengthy and complicated process. Just about the only person who spoke in favor of renewing the existing permit was CPV’s senior vice president of external affairs, Tom Rumsey. He warned that further delays put the $1 billion project in financial jeopardy, and may force CPV into bankruptcy.
That revelation elicited little sympathy from the nearby residents who spoke. Debra Slattery, a member of Protect Orange, said, “All of the CPV execs knew what was going on. They forfeited their $1 billion, with their criminal activities, to get that power plant there.”
Others spoke about the negative impacts on their lives. With the plant operating there are constant fumes in the air, they said. The plant also produces a constant humming sound. The neighbors complained of negative health impacts, which experts predicted would occur well before the first shovel was in the ground on the project. It’s probably safe to say the neighborhood residents care about the $1 billion investments about as much as investors care about the health of the locals.
Now that Joe Percoco, a former top aide to Gov. Andrew Cuomo, has been sentenced to six years in prison in part because of taking bribes in exchange for helping CPV acquire the necessary permits, there are few elected officials or public figures willing to defend the project—and yet it continues to operate.
PramillaMalick, who is chair of Protect Orange County and who ran as the Democratic candidate for state senator John Bonacic’s seat in 2016, has been battling the project for years. After the Percoco verdict, she said that her group would force the closure of the plant through litigation.
Jen Metzger, who won the Democratic nomination for the seat this year, and who is also running on the Working Families line, also testified. Metzger, who is a director of Citizens for Local Power (CLP), an organization that helps communities “create a clean energy economy,” noted that Peter Galbraith Kelly, a CPV senior vice president, was also convicted of bribery charges, and said that he was involved with CPV’s effort to comply with the State Environmental Quality Review (SEQR) process.Metzger said, “The law governing SEQR requires an assessment of alternatives, and the company did not undertake a rigorous assessment of alternatives in its approved Environmental Impact Assessment. Instead, the company simply stated that ‘non-combustion alternative energy sources are not practical.’”
The Republican candidate for the senate seat, Annie Rabbitt, also testified at the hearing. She said, “I strongly urge the DEC to consider a full re-examination of all air-quality permits, and any other regulatory issues that may have been granted through what was again, without a doubt, a process corrupted by bribes and financial interests of state officials.”
It is worth noting, however, that when she was a member of the state assembly, she voted against a moratorium on fracking in 2013 because she said at the time the moratorium included conventional gas wells along with wells using hydraulic fracturing technology.
Assemblywoman Aileen Gunther was one of several elected officials who back in April signed a letter to the DEC urging it to revoke the permits the agency had issued to allow the plant to operate. She went a step further and is now pushing legislation that would require the DEC to revoke permits if there has been a violation in federal or state law in the process of gaining a permit.
Bonacic, who is retiring from the Senate, was a proponent of the CPV project until the indictments came down. Then he joined the call for an investigation of the permits. His son Scott is an Orange County attorney who helped prepare a draft environmental impact statement for the project.
The DEC is accepting written comments through October 5 on whether it should renew the permit. They can be mailed to Administrative Law Judge (ALJ) Michael S. Caruso, DEC Office of Hearings and Mediation Services, 625 Broadway, First Floor, Albany, New York 12233-1550, or emailed to ALJ Caruso at CPV_Valley@dec.ny.gov by 5 p.m. on October 5.