Environmental groups and a couple of Oscar-nominated actors are gleeful over the state’s decision Aug. 30 to deny a permit for a crucial natural gas pipeline to a scandal-ridden Hudson Valley power plant project.
Competitive Power Ventures, or CPV, will now have to turn to an alternate fuel, probably fuel oil, to open its plant as scheduled early next year.
CPV had counted on burning natural gas drawn from fracked wells, carried by the Millennium Pipeline to a now-denied 7.8-mile spur pipeline ending at its Valley Energy Center Plant in Wayawanda, 70 miles northwest of New York City.
James Cromwell at an anti-CPV rally.
Activists including actors Mark Ruffalo (‘Spotlight,’ 2016) and James Cromwell (‘Babe’, 1995) note that the entire CPV enterprise flies in the face of Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s touted goal of cutting the state’s greenhouse gas emissions by 40% by 2030.
Even so, CPV managed to score a state permit for plant construction amid a federal bribery investigation that led to indictments of a CPV official and a consultant who once served as a key Cuomo political aide. The governor’s former aide, Joe Percoco, is scheduled for trial in January.
CPV’s spokesman for the project, Mike McKeon, also has deep ties to Cuomo. He served as executive director of Republicans for Governor Andrew Cuomo in the 2010 election campaign.
McKeon, a partner in the lobbying/PR powerhouse Mercury, has also been lead spokesman for a new Finger Lakes natural gas project, Greenidge Generation. Atlas Holdings, owners of that plant in Dresden on the western shore of Seneca Lake, have contributed $96,000 to Cuomo’s campaign coffers and paid Mercury nearly $400,000 for services in behalf of Greenidge.
Meanwhile, Atlas has won a $2 million state grant and a series of valuable regulatory concessions from the state Department of Environmental Conservation, or DEC.
While McKeon has been touting the start-up fossil fuel plants in New York State, he’s recently gained national notoriety. He has been Mercury’s spokesman for the firm’s controversial work related to Ukraine and former Donald Trump Presidential campaign manager Paul Manafort.
When Mercury registered as a foreign agent in April, it disclosed that Manafort had been involved in some of its work, The Associated Press reported. In that AP report, McKeon stated that Mercury had set up lobbying meetings for Ukrainian government officials, but he denied that Mercury had taken any direction for Manafort’s PR firm.
There is no evidence of any relationship between Mercury’s work for Ukrainian interests and the New York power plants beyond McKeon’s role in commenting on each client.
The DEC’s decision to deny CPV the pipeline permit was not entirely unexpected, given a landmark decision in April by the federal appeals court in Washington, D.C.
In that case, the federal appellate judges sided with the Sierra Club against the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, which has long reigned as the unchallenged authority for green-lighting gas pipelines.
They ruled that FERC, in its review of several pipeline proposals in the southeastern U.S., had failed to consider or quantify the greenhouse gas emissions from the burning of natural gas transported by the proposed pipelines.
In its Aug. 30 letter denying CPV its permit due to water quality issues, the DEC cited the D.C. appeals court ruling.
Meanwhile, Greenidge was granted permission to build a spur natural gas pipeline to its plant in Dresden and quickly built it.
Atlas Holdings’ Greenidge Generation plant in Dresden.
The Sierra Club sued to block the plant’s startup on the grounds that the DEC failed to require a full environmental impact statement. But a state Supreme Court Judge rejected its argument and threw out the case. The Sierra Club has appealed.
The plant now operates, intermittently, under the DEC’s notably gentle regulation. The agency’s lax standards continue to expose the community and Seneca Lake to a variety of hazards.
— Dresden residents complain that noise from the plant regularly exceeds 70 decibels. But in the absence of an environmental impact statement, community noise levels were never fully addressed.
— The plant uses a once-through cooling system that allows it to withdraw up to 190 millions of gallons a day from Seneca Lake. That clashes with a 2011 DEC policy statement calling for more efficient closed-cycle cooling that cuts withdrawals and discharges by 93-98%.
— The plant’s giant intake pipes still don’t have wire screens to prevent fish and debris from being sucked into the plant, as called for under the DEC’s June 2016 ruling that a full environmental impact statement was not necessary.
— The DEC, which entered a consent decree in 2015 over the adjacent Lockwood landfill, has repeatedly postponed a detailed analysis of groundwater contamination from landfill leachate. The agency also acceded the Greenidge’s request to not tie permission to start up the plant to completing a cleanup plan for the landfill.
— The plant has been allowed to operate for many months without updating its State Pollution Discharge Elimination System, or SPDES, permit.
At a court hearing in Penn Yan in January, lawyers for the DEC urged the judge to ignore several affidavits filed on behalf of the Sierra Club in its bid for a full environmental impact statement. The affidavits stated that Greenidge’s massive hot water discharges significantly raised Seneca Lake water temperatures near Dresden. That hot water, the affidavits said, dramatically boosted the threat of toxic algae blooms along the nearby shoreline.
To date, no algae blooms have been reported near Dresden his year.