Axing Incinerator Bill: A Victory for Elite Donor to Cuomo, a Defeat for ‘NIMBYs’

ROCHESTER, June 22, 2018 — The attorney for a Rochester company seeking to build a garbage incinerator in Romulus has congratulated the state Assembly for refusing to pass a bipartisan bill to block permitting of the project on the final day of the 2018 legislative session Wednesday.

The incinerator’s lead developer has been an elite campaign contributor to Gov. Andrew Cuomo and a timely backer of Assembly Majority Leader Joseph Morele (D-Rochester).

The bill that would have blocked the project had unanimously passed the state Senate and had sailed through the Assembly’s Ways and Means Committee, but Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie did not call it up for a vote.

“The Assembly acted responsibly by declining to pander to NIMBYs and junk science,” Alan Knauf said in a statement issued Thursday.

The bill has the backing of more than 30 Finger Lakes area local governments and school boards as well as 20 environmental and business groups. Romulus officials say the plan violates its zoning code. Opponents have cited the plant’s proximity to a public school and the plan’s reliance on more than 200 trucks a day to cart garbage from New York City. 

Knauf also criticized the official “justificiation” for the bill, which claimed that waste incinerators are not effective mechanisms for electricity generation.

“The ‘justification’ for the legislation was science fiction, and the state Assembly realized that,” Knauf continued in the statement that itself contained several questionable assertions.

Although Knauf claimed that the ash from the Romulus incinerator would not be toxic, the U.S. Supreme Court has ruled that that ash from municipal waste incinerators cannot be exempted from hazardous waste regulations. 

The Rochester attorney also said the Romulus facility “would not be the largest incinerator in the state.” He said a facility in Hempstead “is bigger (2,505 tons per day),” even though developers of the Romulus facility have said their plant would burn up to 2,640 tons per day.

Knauf represents Circular enerG LLC, a Rochester company created in January 2017 to develop the incinerator in Romulus. 

The land where the incinerator would be build is owned by Seneca Depot LLC, a company affiliated with David M. Flaum, one of  Cuomo’s biggest campaign contributors since 2009. (An earlier version of this story reported that Flaum was also a principal of Circular enerG, but Knauf said July 9 that Flaum has never been either a principal or an investor in Circular enerG. According to Knauf, Gene Zhou is the main owner of Circular enerG.)

Flaum and his wife, Ilene Flaum, have contributed a total of more than $150,000 to Cuomo campaigns since 2009, state records show. He gave $25,000 last December.

The Flaums, who have contributed over half a million dollars to political candidates in the last decade, lean strongly toward Republicans, including Donald Trump. 

Cuomo is a Democratic exception, as is Morelle.

Two months Circular enerG was formed, Flaum and his wife each contributed $2,500 to Morelle’s re-election campaign for the state Assembly. 

After Morelle announced in April that he was running for the 25th District Congressional seat long held by the late Louise Slaughter, Ilene Flaum made a $2,700 contribution, the maximum allowed for the period, to his bid for Congress.

Morelle faces three other candidates in a Democratic primary Tuesday: Brighton Town Board Member Robin Wilt, Rachel Barnhart, and Rochester Council member Adam McFadden.

Cuomo gave Morelle his official endorsement in the Congressional race Thursday.

Morelle had stated that he would have voted for the incinerator bill that Knauf and Circular enerG opposed, had it ever come to a vote in the Assembly.

However, Morelle declined to use his abundant clout in the Assembly to see that the measure was brought to the floor for a vote.

Politico and other sources reported that Heastie allowed the incinerator bill to languish in the Assembly Rules Committee until the state Senate agreed to the Assembly’s demands on a bill related to speed cameras near schools.

The incinerator bill had been narrowly crafted to apply only to the Romulus facility, which would produce up to 80 megawatts of power. It was a top priority of state Sen. Pam Helming (R-Canandaigua), and it passed the Senate 58-0 Monday.

But the Senate refused to back the Assembly’s bid to extend authority for 140 cameras near schools past a July expiration date. 

According to Politico’s sources, Heastie held the incinerator bill hostage to try to force the Senate to cave on the cameras. That tactic did not work.

One source at the Capitol said there have been rumors that the state Legislature will return for special session over the summer to address the camera issue, perhaps opening the door for a reconsideration of the incinerator bill.

 

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