Three elected officials joined an environmental group Monday in calling on the New York state Department of Environmental Conservation to revoke or suspend an essential permit for a natural gas power plant in Orange County. At the same time, they voiced concern about the health and safety of area residents during the testing phase of the plant.
Republican Orange County Executive Steve Neuhaus, Democratic state Assemblymembers James Skoufis and Aileen Gunther, along with Riverkeeper, stood together in calling on the DEC to revoke an air permit for Competitive Power Ventures’ Valley Energy Center in Wawayanda, which is nearing readiness for operation. The call comes following the March conviction of New York Governor Andrew Cuomo’s former top aide Joseph Percoco on bribery charges that involved state business with two companies, including the 680-megawatt CPV plant in Orange County. They sent a letter to the DEC April 6. Richard Webster is legal program director for Riverkeeper.
“But for now we’re putting our faith in the DEC,” says Webster. “We’re putting forward what we know, and we’re asking them to look at what they know and make a decision. And we expect them to make the right decision.”
A DEC spokeswoman, in an email, says, “DEC regulations outline strict conditions upon which DEC may initiate revocation of a permit for any facility in the state, and must be based on grounds set forth in New York codes, rules, and regulations. In addition, permit revocation, modification, or suspension entitles the permit holder to an administrative review, which would likely include a public hearing. After the public hearing, final decisions may be subject to judicial review if challenged.”
Webster says there is no timeline in the regulations by which DEC must respond, but there is urgency given the plant is close to becoming operational. Here’s Neuhaus.
“I know, I think of 99 percent of the elected officials that were in support of this project have run for the hills or changed their course, and it’s because of the corruption charges,” says Neuhaus.
Assemblywoman Gunther represents communities near the CPV plant, including Middletown.
“As a nurse, I know that the health of our community is vital, and I think that we’re standing together to protect our constituency,” Gunther says.
She says health and safety concerns are a separate issue.
“And here were are weeks later, and CPV is still testing their diesel fuel. This is unacceptable,” Gunther says. “We’ve seen the plumes of smoke. We’ve heard from our neighbors who have had trouble breathing, and, really, we’ve had enough.”
In response to community concerns about air quality during CPV’s initial testing period, the DEC analyzed air samples near the plant, and did not find a threat to public health or the environment. Area residents had complained about odors and visible plumes from burning ultra-low sulfur diesel, and DEC collected samples March 5. And officials said the results were typical of similar, non-urban areas in the state. Still, some communities are not convinced and are monitoring air quality themselves. Neuhaus says he’ll consider having the county join forces, referring here to Middletown.
“You see, they are now exploring their own air testing. We would also do that. I’m not going to do five different air testings but, if we need to join forces with Middletown and Wawayanda and some of the regional ones, we will do that,” says Neuhaus. “But, as you can see, a lot of people are concerned about this. And, to me, I think it’s probably the worst project to happen to this county in the last 10 years, maybe even longer. It could have permanent impacts.”
The DEC spokeswoman says the agency is continuing the state's on-site monitoring of all operations and air emissions to ensure that there continue to be no adverse impacts to the surrounding community or the environment. Meantime, Republican Orange County Legislator James O’Donnell says the legislature has passed a resolution to request information under the Freedom of Information Act. O’Donnell is also running for Congress in the 18th district.
“So Friday, we passed a resolution to FOIL all of the health testing that’s been done up at CPV since its inception,” O’Donnell says.
A CPV spokesman points to DEC’s air testing results. Regarding efforts to have the DEC revoke the air permit, CPV spokesman Tom Rumsey says, in part, “The CPV Valley Energy Center project permits were never alleged to have been obtained in an improper way, nor was any evidence provided suggesting they were. The validity of our project permits has been upheld by state and federal regulators and in state court, and claims to the contrary are without merit.”