Three elected officials and environmental group Riverkeeper have asked the New York state Department of Environmental Conservation to suspend or revoke an essential permit for a power plant nearing its final stages before 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 power plant.
The request comes via a letter sent to the DEC Friday. Republican Orange County Executive Steve Neuhaus signed the letter, calling for the suspension or revocation of an air permit for Competitive Power Ventures’ Valley Energy Center in Wawayanda.
“I think even if this plant emits rainbows for the next 30 years, the corruption scandal that has really plagued this is going to forever have a black shroud over it,” Neuhaus says.
Neuhaus, who initially voiced no problem with the proposed plant, reversed course once bribery charges surfaced. He spoke Monday in Goshen.
“To me, I think it’s probably the worst project to happen to this county in the last 10 years, maybe even longer,” Neuhaus says. “It could have permanent impacts.”
Richard Webster is legal program director for Riverkeeper.
“The request is based on actions committed by CPV which were basically to enable a bribery scheme to occur which was designed to influence New York state processes. The scheme was in place during the time that they applied for and obtained their air permit,” Webster says. “And, because CPV has proved willing to subvert state processes, we all believe that it’s no longer a suitable entity to hold permits in the state of New York and, therefore, we have formally requested DEC to suspend or revoke those permits.”
Webster explains that information revealed during the federal corruption case constitutes “newly discovered material information,” allowing DEC to suspend or revoke permits.
In a statement, 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.”
The former head of external affairs and government relations for CPV, Peter Galbraith Kelly, Jr., was indicted on bribery charges, but not convicted. The judge declared a mistrial for Kelly. Democratic Assemblyman James Skoufis, whose district includes the CPV plant site, signed the letter.
“Let’s be clear. If the DEC does not intervene and suspend these permits, the governor doesn’t intervene and instruct the DEC to suspend these permits, this plant will forever be known as the Percoco plant,” Skoufis says.
Skoufis says he wants an investigation into the permitting process. Democratic Assemblywoman Aileen Gunther represents communities near the CPV plant, including Middletown. She joined the others at a press conference at the Orange County Government Center. Gunther, who signed the letter, says she will be introducing legislation.
“In addition to this letter, I will soon be introducing legislation to require and not just allow DEC to revoke permits if there has been a violation of state or federal law,” Gunther says.
She explained that the legislation being drafted would go beyond current regulations that speak solely to environmental conservation law. Again, Neuhaus.
“What do I want the DEC to do? I want them to look at this thing and give us some guarantees that it was approved legitimately. And, if it wasn’t and it shouldn’t be open and it’s going to be a public hazard to my residents, I don’t care if it doesn’t operate. I don’t care if it doesn’t operate. And I don’t care if it cost $900 million or $10 billion, if it is a clear and present danger to my public, I’d like to see it closed.”
A DEC spokesman did not respond in time for this broadcast. Meantime, Protect Orange County, a group that has been fighting against the CPV plant for some time, commends the effort to have the air permit suspended or revoked. However, Chair of Protect Orange County Pramilla Malick says the officials do not go far enough and should use the power of their offices to have the plant shut down immediately.