A former congressman is calling on the inspectors general of two federal agencies to probe the permitting process for a controversial gas power plant project in New York’s Orange County. This follows corruption charges brought by U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara’s office in September against two former top aides to New York Governor Andrew Cuomo.
Former Ohio Congressman Dennis Kucinich, during two visits to Orange County earlier this year concerning the CPV Valley Energy Center power plant under construction in Wawayanda, said he had suspected something was amiss in the permitting process. Now, with the U.S. attorney’s case brought forth, the Democrat is taking the following action.
“And now that indictments have been brought forward with respect to the CPV project, this fracked gas infrastructure ought to be stopped in its tracks, the permits ought to be cancelled,” Kucinich says. “And this is why I appealed directly to the inspectors general of both the Environmental Protection Agency and the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission so that they could review all the steps of the permitting process that were possibly tainted by the undue influence from a top-ranking person in the governor’s office.”
Concerning FERC, Kucinich’s letter is addressed to the Inspector General of the U.S. Department of Energy, which is responsible for audits and inspections of FERC. Neither a Department of Energy spokesperson nor an EPA Office of the Inspector General spokesman returned a request for comment. A FERC spokeswoman declined to comment because the matter is pending. She refers to Millennium Pipeline’s plan to construct and connect a pipeline to the CPV plant. Here’s Kucinich.
“So right from the beginning there were red flags about the way this was handled which is I’m calling the EPA in, and because they do delegate under the Clean Air and the Clean Water Act, I’m calling them in saying, hey look, this process is not protective of the law and it is not protective of the rights of the people of the lower Hudson Valley and so assume jurisdiction,” says Kucinich. “And the inspector general will be the person that will look at all of the processes that were involved, and I would be very surprised if a determination wasn’t made that permits were issued improperly.”
Bharara’s office alleges former Cuomo aide Joseph Percoco solicited and accepted more than $287,000 in bribes from Competitive Power Ventures, the energy company behind the CPV Valley Energy Center site. The charges allege the involvement of another former top Cuomo aide, Todd Howe, and the former head of external affairs and government relations for CPV, Peter Galbraith Kelly, Jr., and that some of the alleged bribes also went to Percoco’s wife. A CPV spokesman has said previously that Braith Kelly is no longer employed at the company and that CPV will continue to cooperate fully with the investigation. Again, Kucinich.
"But for the people calling me, I’m from Ohio, I represented Ohio in the U.S. Congress, but for the people calling me, I would not have been involved,” Kucinich says. “But because they called me and because I looked at it and because I investigated it, I’m staying on this. I’m not going to go away, nor are the people in Protect Orange County.”
He praised the work of activist Pramilla Malick, who is with Protect Orange County and has been fighting against the plant for years. She also is running against Republican state Senator John Bonacic in the 42nd District. Bonacic has urged the attorney general to conduct an investigation into CPV’s permitting process. Democratic Congressman Sean Patrick Maloney, whose 18th District includes Orange County, voices concern about the U.S. Attorney’s allegations.
“We want to make sure that this was done the right way and that there was nothing about the process that was improper,” Maloney says. “So I want it fully investigated. I want people who were accountable to go to jail or to face a very steep consequence. But I’m also very serious about creating jobs and economic opportunity here in the Hudson Valley and having energy prices stay low so we can do that.”
And he addresses Kucinich’s role in pushing for a permitting process investigation.
“Again, I think we should have a full investigation of whatever wrongdoing is being alleged, and I’m all for that,” says Maloney. “I have no idea what the former member of Congress from Ohio had to say about a project in Orange County, New York, and, but it sounds like he’s calling for accountability and so am I.”
Republican Orange County Executive Steve Neuhaus says he has written to the regulatory agencies involved also asking them to investigate the permitting process.
“My big question is, was the permitting process impacted or not from that,” Neuhaus says. “And these agencies are going to have to show evidence and a timeline that the permitting process was not impacted by it. And if it was impacted, I think the project has to stop.”
He says his support of the plant is now contingent upon the outcome of the permitting process investigation.
“I would support it if the permits were done legitimately. This is not something that should take six months to study," says Neuhaus. "All these agencies should say, hey, here’s our checklist, here’s how it was done right, everything was legit. Or, we had influence from Mr. Percoco and the governor’s office and a four-star hand on it. Those things need to be carried out to light. And that should be… In my opinion, I’ve asked the U.S. attorney to expedite that.”
The CPV Valley Energy Center is to be a 650-megawatt combined-cycle natural gas power plant.