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The New York State Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) on May 30 issued a certificate of completion for the Competitive Power Ventures (CPV) power plant in Wawayanda.
Several elected local politicians have called for all of the permits for the project to be revoked because there were bribery convictions connected to the permitting process. The project was pushed forward despite the obvious taint of corruption.
More significantly, the project pushed forward despite health complaints lodged by neighbors once the plant began to operate. State Senator Jen Metzger’s officer performed a health survey of 79 residents in the area of the plant and discovered numerous complaints. “The most frequent issues reported were chronic headache and cough,” she wrote in a press release.
The environmental group Protect Orange County also conducted a health survey, this one involving 167 residents near the power plant, which concluded in March 2019. This survey also gathered many complaints including burning eyes and throats, headaches and nausea.
The CPV plant is fueled by natural gas piped in from Pennsylvania, and while it’s true that burning natural gas does not create as much carbon dioxide (CO2) as burning coal or oil, it still produces about half as much CO2. More importantly, it also produces other harmful pollutants.
As the Union of Concerned Scientists explained in a blog, (www.bit.ly/CPVTRR) “The main pollutants resulting from natural gas electricity generation are nitrogen oxides, or NOx. Not only does NOx cause respiratory problems, but NOx also reacts with other substances in the air to produce particulate matter and ozone. Particulate matter and ozone cause the extensive list of adverse health outcomes you hear at the end of a prescription drug commercial: shortness of breath, heart attacks, premature death; the list goes on. In short, NOx is bad news for human health.”
Just about all agencies agree that air pollution leads to a certain number of deaths every year, and therefore a goal of U.S. agencies has been to reduce air pollution from power plants and other sources. Research published in Atmospheric Chemistry and Physics in 2018 (www.bit.ly/CPVTRR2) shows that early deaths caused by air pollution dropped from an estimated 135,000 in 1990 to 71, in 2010. The authors attribute this to air quality improvements and stricter regulations. These improvements came despite the increase in the use of automobiles and population during the same period.
Heading in the same direction, the administration of President Barack Obama adopted the Clear Power Plan (CPP), which was designed to further reduce emissions from power plants and other sources. Under President Donald Trump’s administration, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is currently in the process of trying to repeal the CPP. When EPA announced the move in August 2018, the agency estimated the change could result in an additional 1,400 early deaths per year. Now, according to a report in the New York Times, the EPA wants to change the way it calculates the relationship between early deaths and particulate matter to make its plan more palatable to corporate interests.
Aside from health, there is also the concern that the CPV plant will contribute to greenhouse gas emissions responsible for global climate change. Natural gas is essentially methane, which is a much more powerful greenhouse gas than carbon dioxide. If enough of it leaks into the atmosphere in its mining and pipeline transport, the pollution benefit of switching from burning coal or oil to natural gas to create electricity is entirely lost.
Further, the amount of natural gas deposits that can be accessed by the process of hydraulic fracturing already contains too much carbon to keep atmospheric carbon below the level agreed to in the Paris Climate Agreement of 2015. So, if we burn all the natural gas that may be available to us, the climate will heat up by more than two degrees centigrade, which most analysts say would come with catastrophic results.
The CPV plant, and other proposed fracked-gas power plants in New York will lock in the burning of fossil fuels for decades to come. Climate activists say we need to stop building all fossil-fuel infrastructure now and switch 100% to the use of renewables. A report by Oil Change International (www.bit.ly/OilChangeInternational) reads, “Given the barriers to closing down infrastructure ahead of its expected economic lifespan, it is critical to stop building new infrastructure, the full lifetime emissions of which will not fit within Paris-aligned carbon budgets.”
The issuance of the permits for the CPV is evidence that officials in Albany are not paying enough attention to the health of humans and the health of the planet.