Cahill and Gianaris Urge Governor to Support Environmentally Sound Power Plant Siting Law

Legislators applaud Governor’s energy priorities and look forward to enhanced public input and healthier air quality
May 30, 2007

In a letter sent to Governor Eliot Spitzer today, Assemblymembers Kevin Cahill (D-Ulster/Dutchess) and Michael Gianaris (D-Queens) applauded his efforts to move forward on a new power plant siting law while urging the inclusion of enhanced environmental, public health and community protections in his proposed legislation.

“Under the previous administration, New York consistently took a hands-off approach when it came to energy issues resulting in skyrocketing costs for consumers and irreparable damage to our environment and public health,” said Assemblymember Cahill. “The Governor’s legislation is commendable and includes many conditions that the Assembly Majority has been pushing for years, but the end-result must also include provisions for greater public involvement through appropriate levels of intervenor funding and must address environmental justice concerns.”

For more than 4 years, New York State has been without an energy planning and power plant siting law. Governor Spitzer has put forth his Clean Energy Power Supply Act that seeks to balance the state’s needs for newer, cleaner and more efficient power generation while also addressing the potential health and environmental impacts on the communities where new plants are proposed.

“By moving to put in place an effective power plant siting law in New York, Governor Spitzer is filling a large vacuum left by George Pataki,” said Assemblymember Gianaris. “As the issue of power plant siting is finally addressed, it is critical that the resulting law contain important protections for communities already burdened with an excessive number of power plants, as well as improve air quality and diminish our reliance on foreign oil by encouraging repowering projects and the development of alternate energy sources.”

The Governor’s legislation would protect the environment and public health by excluding damaging sources of pollution from the expedited siting process, requiring a cumulative assessment of the pollution impact on surrounding areas where a new project is proposed and providing critical funding to pay for legal services for community groups interested in participating in siting proceedings.

Among the outstanding issues that still need to be addressed, the two legislators cited the following:

  • Consideration of the density of power plants already sited in a particular community;
  • Requiring an environmental justice analysis to protect low-income communities that are traditionally burdened with industrial facilities;
  • Use of 100% local pollution offsets to mitigate the impact of new or repowered facilities;
  • Increasing intervenor funds to reflect the actual costs of hiring experts to help communities engage in the process;
  • Developing a standardized public participation process rather than allowing the power companies to define the level of public involvement;
  • Requiring full disclosure of all agency consultations with power companies prior to the official review process;
  • Imposing a sunset provision that would allow for an assessment of the effectiveness of the new law and the inclusion of provisions that reflect the advancement and availability of new technologies.

Here is a copy of the full letter.

May 29, 2007

Honorable Eliot Spitzer, Governor
State of New York
Executive Chamber, State Capitol
Albany, New York 12224

Dear Governor Spitzer:

We write to commend your decision to prioritize energy policy initiatives as the 2007 Legislative Session comes to a close and to reemphasize some important points that should remain part of our comprehensive plan. As you know, under the previous administration, New York consistently took a hands-off approach when it came to energy issues, resulting in skyrocketing costs for consumers and irreparable damage to our environment and public health. We are hopeful that your willingness to tackle this critical problem will result in public policy that will balance the state’s needs for newer, cleaner and more efficient power generation while also addressing the potential health and environmental impacts on the communities where new plants are proposed.

As negotiations move forward towards a new power plant siting law, it is imperative that any legislation advanced to streamline the approval of new facilities or the repowering of existing sites include the following: comprehensive environmental and public health assessments; meaningful funding for community participation; cumulative environmental justice considerations and substantial impact mitigation provisions that include local pollution offsets. Your most recent proposal to renew and reform Article X includes many laudable provisions worthy of our support. The legislation protects the environment and public health by excluding damaging sources of pollution from the expedited siting process. It provides for the expansion of the usage of intervenor funds to pay for legal services during proceedings. The bill also attempts to address critical environmental justice and public health concerns by requiring a cumulative assessment of the pollution impact on surrounding areas where a new project is proposed.

Prior to the expiration of Article X and the years that have followed we have taken the lead within the Assembly Majority Conference in advocating for the inclusion of the aforementioned principles in any renewal legislation to be considered by the full Assembly. In 2005, Assemblymember Paul Tonko introduced Assembly Bill 5865 that included many of our proposals. We urge you to examine this legislation and to consider modeling future versions of your Clean Economic Power Supply Act off the provisions contained therein.

Energy conservation, efficiency, cleanliness and planning must be the backbone of any new siting law. While the ideas underlying your proposal represent a significant and responsible step toward energy development and regulation in New York, there are several issues that must be addressed as we move forward. First and foremost the process must clearly address environmental justice concerns. Without adequate protections and early intervention funding low-income communities will continue to be over-burdened with power plants and other sources of pollution. A major hurdle in this area is the lack of access to intervenor funds during the pre-application period as that is the time when projects are most likely to be altered to address community concerns.

Other outstanding issues that deserve legislative attention include:

  • consideration of the density of power plants already sited in a particular community. A provision accomplishing this was included in a first draft produced by your office but was unfortunately removed in the second and current draft.
  • use of 100% local pollution offsets to mitigate the impact of new or repowered facilities
  • increasing the amount of available intervenor funds to reflect the actual costs associated with hiring of experts to help communities engage in the process
  • developing a standardized public participation process instead of allowing those entities proposing new facilities to define the public involvement with each new application
  • fostering full disclosure of all agency consultations with the applicants prior to the initiation of the official review process
  • imposing a sunset provision that will allow for an assessment of the effectiveness of the law and the inclusion of provisions that reflect the advancement and availability of new technologies

We believe that reforming Article X presents a unique opportunity for New York to advance an energy policy that promotes affordability and efficiency while at the same time protecting the environment and public heath and positioning our state as the leader in clean, renewable power. We look forward to partnering with you in this important endeavor.

Sincerely,

Kevin A. Cahill
Member of Assembly

Michael N. Gianaris
Member of Assembly