Danger ahead

Group warns of dangers from proposed Wawayanda gas plant will extend throughout Orange County


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  • This is a depiction of what CPV Valley Energy Center's proposed natural gas combined-cycle electric power generator would look like. It is to be located on a 122-acre parcel of land off I-84 in the Town of Wawayanda. This image comes from CPV Valley Energy Center's web site.




By Abby Wolf

— Representatives of Sustainable Warwick – in conjunction with Protect Orange County – warned of potential long-lasting environmental harm from the proposed Competitive Power Ventures (CPV) Valley Energy Project, a 650-megawatt hydraulic fracturing (“fracked”) gas plant to be built in the Town of Wawayanda, at its presentation at Sanfordville Elementary School on Jan. 20.

The plant – to be built on a 122-acre site – will include two 275-foot smokestacks, electrical interconnects, a near-million gallon diesel tank, a 15,000-gallon ammonia tank and a seven-mile lateral pipeline that will connect to the Millennium Pipeline in Minisink, according to information provided by Protect Orange County.

The crowd of about 250 citizens listened as speakers made the case that the proposed gas plant would not only be detrimental to the environment, but would also cause great risks to health and human safety.

The speakers also cautioned of the potential deleterious effects such a plant would have on local agriculture, as well as on property values in the long term.

They added that there is no economic justification for building such a plant: the number of permanent jobs to be created by the project would be minimal, and energy demand in New York State is projected to be basically flat for the near future.

The speakers also raised concerns that the project has essentially been handed off from the State Department of Environmental Conservation to the Town of Wawayanda with little to no public input or oversight.

Finally, Sustainable Warwick members cautioned that a gas pipeline must be built to service the CPV plant.

Since the plant would by design be linked to the fracking industry, this is problematic, as Gov. Andrew Cuomo signed into law a ban on fracking in New York State.

Devil’s advocate
Brian Baird of Sustainable Warwick presented as devil’s advocate, offering the industry’s points in favor of the power plant, after reassuring the audience that the people who want to build the plant “don’t have horns on their heads; they just think differently than we do.”

Construction of the power plant is expected to create some 500 construction jobs and 3,000 construction-related jobs (e.g., cement and rebar workers), with 25 full-time jobs to come from the plant itself. Those jobs are presumed to be low-impact on local services, as they would not add to the school district.

CPV will pay $47 million over 20 years to Orange County, Wawayanda and New York State, with $38 million of that to be paid to Wawayanda schools.

The company promises to make tax payments greater than their expected burden.

CPV and the City of Middletown have signed a compact that gives the company at least 400,000 gallons per day of grey water, and permits them to dump their wastewater into the city’s sewage treatment plant, in exchange for $500,000 a year.

The Town of Wawayanda expects to realize $147 million in savings, based on a “New Capacity Zone,” designed just for the power plant.

The CPV plant’s developers promise to provide adequate, low-cost energy that would be cleaner than coal. CPV’s generators are said by the company to be 60 per cent efficient with second-stage burning, further reducing CO2 and VOC levels.

The company maintains that, with regard to health and environmental impacts, it meets all compliance requirements under the New York State Environmental Quality Review Act.

Regarding the safety of the plant, CPV claims it will build sufficient buffer zones and containment shells, and will have emergency response training for its staff.

CPV is convinced that building the power plant is a done deal, as they already have approvals from New York State and the Town of Wawayanda.

Impacts
According to information provided by Protect Orange County and Sustainable Warwick, the power plant:

• Is projected to emit 2.1 million tons of carbon dioxide (CO2) per year – the equivalent, the group says, of 210 coal trains, and is .037 per cent of the United States’ entire annual CO2 emissions.

• Will contribute to climate change/global warming, due to the greenhouse gases that will be produced by the plant.

• Will emit 750 tons annually of Volatile Organic Compounds (VOCs), Nitrous Oxides (NOx), Sulphur Oxides/Dioxides (SOx) and Formaldehyde, as well as particulate matter/ultrafine particulate matter.

All these compounds are known carcinogens (cancer-causing agents), neurotoxins (harmful to the central nervous system) and endocrine disruptors (have negative effects on various hormonal systems in the body, particularly the reproductive system).

Particulate matter is implicated in lung cancer, cardiovascular disease and other respiratory illnesses, premature delivery, birth defects and premature death, in both humans and non-humans. This material is especially hazardous, because it is small enough to penetrate deep into the lungs and enter the bloodstream.

• Has failed to identify hotspots – locations where topography and wind patterns would double the impact of emissions.

• Encourage fracking. Since the plant will use fracked gas, it would become part of “a vast fracked infrastructure in New York State.”

Also:

• Pollutants are likely to persist, due to the region’s “soup bowl” formation, as well as temperature inversions.

• According to Wilma Subra, an American environmental scientist, former vice-chair of the Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) National Advisory Council for Environmental Policy and Technology, former MacArthur Fellow and President of the Subra Company (an environmental consulting firm), the CPV power plant will have 43 times the emissions of the Minisink compressor station. Minisink, incidentally, has already reported an increase in health complaints similar to those reported by residents who live in/near frack fields.

• CPV is connected to the Minisink Compressor Station, which was segmented in violation of federal and state environmental laws.

Agricultural and property
• Ozone has been associated with crop production declines of as much as 30 per cent. Given the proposed power plant’s location, it will likely negatively affect the onion farms, organic farms and vineyards of the Black Dirt region.

• Property values decline near fracking/gas pipeline areas, based on a December 2015 study in American Economic Review. According to the Marcellus Effect Blog, “Researchers found that home prices dropped by an average of $30,1676 when shale drilling occurred within a distance of 1.5 kilometers (almost one mile). That’s for homes that depend on groundwater. Homes that had water piped from a municipal source actually gained an average of $4,800. “

Safety
• The project includes a 15,000-gallon ammonia tank at 19 per cent concentration. When ammonia at 20 per cent concentration is stored, the Clean Air Act and federal regulations require a catastrophic release model be developed – inhalation of ammonia can be fatal.

• Millennium Pipeline will build and operate the 7-mile lateral (that will connect to the CPV plant).

• As with any power plant, the CPV plant is a potential target for terrorists.

Little to no public input
• After the DEC gave the Town of Wawayanda its blessing to take on lead agency status for review of the design of the plant, the town issued all approvals. Sustainable Warwick questions whether it’s wise or practical for a small town to “have the responsibility to approve a large power plant that will affect the whole county.”

• Only residents living within 500 feet of the site were notified in 2013 (although the permitting process started in 2008). Current law does not require notification of residents beyond the 500 foot distance.

• Sustainable Warwick contends that there were flaws in the SEQRA process, to wit: CPV claimed an “impact radius” of 5 miles, when standard air modeling analysis would be at least 30 miles for direct impacts.

Projected energy demand
• Despite CPV’s claims that this plant will enable Indian Point Nuclear Plant to close, Indian Point is only running at 43 per cent capacity – New York can supply solar- and wind-powered electricity, and Canada can supply hydropower. In the meantime, the plant stands to receive exemptions, tax abatements and a power purchase agreement (that guarantees a minimum price to CPV, regardless of current market conditions) that would strain the taxpayers. Sustainable Warwick urges support for energy efficiency, conservation and renewable fuel sources.

• The New York Independent System Operator predicts energy demand to increase only about .16 percent per year for the near term.

Michael Sussman, an Orange County attorney representing the local environmental groups, said that the fracking industry is “cataclysmic for human health, and pointed out that no health studies have been done in this case.

“What are the effects (of fracking and the proposed gas power plant), and can they be mitigated?” he asked. “That question is never asked.”

Sussman expressed indignation that at a public hearing before the Wawayanda planning board, construction workers – presumably from outside the community – were given the opportunity to address the board, but the public was not allowed to speak.

He added that all public comments in writing were given by the board to CPV’s lawyers to address, and that in each instance, the lawyers refused to answer the public’s questions and concerns by saying “It’s not relevant: we don’t have to address (them),” – including concerns about the potential impact of the plant’s construction on local endangered species. Sussman asserted that the lawyers’ answer was the same, whether concerning Bog turtles or the increased rates of autism as a result of particulate matter from fracking: “Not relevant.”

“Law and morality are seen as going in opposite directions, but here they must conjoin,” because we have a duty to protect the environment “for our children and grandchildren.”

Sussman said, “SEQRA is the only barrier we have” to protect the environment (at the state level); bypassing the law is “not a state of affairs citizens should ignore.”

Guest speakers
Veteran actor, environmental advocate and local resident James Cromwell said that after being involved in worthy causes for decades, “I have a decidedly jaundiced view of the electoral process, from the president to the local town board.”

Still, some people, he added, have been leaders that had shown “courage and perspicacity,” such as the late Congresswoman Barbara Jordan; Senator Elizabeth Warren; and former eight-term Congressman and two-time presidential candidate Dennis Kucinich.

Kucinich, former Congressman from Ohio, came to inspire the crowd – and let them know that this fight is far from over.

Kucinich said that fracking is “an industry-wide Ponzi scheme…” that resembles the bank scandals that crashed the economy in 2008.

As chair of the Domestic Policy Subcommittee, he investigated the sub-prime mortgage meltdown that would’ve “soaked taxpayers out of hundreds of millions of dollars.”

He told the story how, as mayor of Cleveland, he was instrumental in stopping construction of a jetport that would’ve poisoned the “sole source of drinking water for the people of Cleveland;” how he challenged the construction of a power plant in Cleveland; how he blocked Ohio from receiving nuclear waste from other states when he was in the Ohio state senate; and as Congressman, how he worked with Representative Henry Waxman of California to protect the Clean Water Act.

As to the proposed gas power plant in Wawayanda: “As someone who looks at these things with a jeweler’s eye…there’s something really wrong with how this has been presented as a fait accompli.”

He told the audience, “You have a right to expect that every elected official supports you, to protect your health and safety.”

He added that corporations “shift the cost of doing business” onto people, leading to declining health and property values, and the “destruction of the commons.”

But, he added, there’s a “new consciousness stirring in the world,” including the Pope – to “respect, not exploit, natural resources.” He encouraged society develop new technologies for peace and a better environment for all.

Fracking, Kucinich added, is “not about human progress…it’s built by hyping the value of shale gas.”

He continued: “Falling oil prices are demolishing the frackers…the industry is getting crushed.” Shale oil, he said, can’t make a profit below $50 a barrel; oil is now “far below” the break-even price for shale oil. There has been a 70 per cent or greater decline in the first year of shale oil, as well as fracked gas wells.

“The fracking boom is over: the fracking bust is about to start; can a bailout be far behind?”

Speaking to Governor Cuomo’s signing of the fracking ban in New York: “If you ban the product of poison, why purvey fruit of the poison tree?”

Kucinich added that fracking consumes water resources: The shale industry at its peak produced 2.5 million barrels a day, and used 315 million barrels of water per day – all of which will lead to eventual water shortages, and harm to the poor and vulnerable. He even touched on the crisis in Flint, Michigan.

He noted that Credit Agricole – a foreign bank – is a major investor in the gas industry, yet they are heavily investing in water.

Kucinich wanted know if the “books have been cooked” in the New York energy market: there is a 63 per cent surplus in electricity in New York. Demand is falling, largely due to a decrease in Upstate industrial use. Yet New Yorkers pay higher than average electricity prices than the other Lower 48 states.

If there’s a surplus, he questioned, why are new energy companies coming in? The answer, he said: “To keep prices from falling,” due to market manipulation.

Kucinich asserted that, “some of the larger frackers are just land speculators.”

As he looked around the room, he “applaud(ed) citizen activists who put themselves on the line to protect the natural world.”

“This lower Hudson Valley that you love must be spared the poison of the polluters’ pipe.”

Kucinich commended the citizens’ love for the land and their neighbors.

He concluded with a quote from Robert F. Kennedy:

“It is from numberless diverse acts of courage and belief that human history is shaped. Each time we stand up for an ideal, or act to improve the lot of others, or strike out against injustice, we send forth a tiny ripple of hope, and crossing

each other from a million different centers of energy and daring those ripples build a current which can sweep down the mightiest walls of oppression and resistance.”

For more information:
Sustainable Warwick – www.sustainablewarwick.net

Protect Orange County – www.protectorangecounty.org

ProtectOrangeCounty@facebook

Twitter: @ProtectOrangeCo





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