Despite National Uncertainty, Cuomo Plans Surge In Off-Shore Wind Power

While the incoming Trump administration says that it will promote investment in fossil fuels, New York State is planning to head the other way and lead the nation in wind power generation.

In his 2017 State of the State address this week, Governor Andrew Cuomo proposed that New York build 2.4 gigawatts of offshore wind power by 2030 — including a 90 megawatt project off Montauk, Long Island and an 800 MW project off the Rockaway Peninsula.

The Governor’s office said that the state’s plan is the “largest commitment [to off-shore wind] in U.S. history.” If all 2.4 gigawatts of wind power are developed, an estimated 1.25 million New York households would no longer rely on fossil fuels as their source of electricity.

Cuomo described wind as an “untapped resource” for New York.

“New York’s unparalleled commitment to offshore wind power will create new, high-paying jobs, reduce our carbon footprint, establish a new, reliable source of energy for millions of New Yorkers, and solidify New York’s status as a national clean energy leader,” the Governor said.

New York State Moves Ahead With Transition To Renewable Energy

Ramping up wind power will be critical to New York’s objective that 50 percent of the state’s electricity comes from renewable sources by 2030.

Looking further ahead, Governor Cuomo said he has directed the state Department of Environmental Conservation and the Energy Research and Development Authority to “determine the most rapid, cost-effective, and responsible pathway to reach 100 percent renewable energy statewide.”

The State Assembly has already passed a bill which would commit New York State to the use of 100 percent renewables by 2050. Environmental advocates are urging the Governor to support the bill.

Long Island To Become Wind Power Hub

By the end of 2017, the state says it will complete an “Offshore Wind Master Plan” for the Long Island coast, which has “some of the most favorable conditions for offshore wind in the United States.”

Cuomo said the state is determined to ensure that all of New York’s off-shore wind projects are both cost-effective and environmentally responsible, and developed in “close collaboration” with local communities. The Governor’s office specifically mentioned its intent to work with fishermen and others in the maritime industries who could be negatively impacted by off-shore wind arrays.

The Governor also promised that the arrays will not be visible from the coast as new turbine foundation technology enables construction in deeper water.

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As a first step, Cuomo called on the Long Island Power Authority to approve a 90 MW offshore wind project 30 miles southeast of Montauk. The project has the potential to be the nation’s largest offshore wind farm, and is located in an area that can host up to 1,000 MW of offshore wind power.

According to the Governor’s office, the Montauk wind farm is the “most innovative and least cost way to meet the growing power needs of the South Fork and to provide cleaner energy for Long Island.” Contract negotiations are reportedly close to final, and LIPA will vote on the project at its January meeting.

Governor Cuomo also called on state agencies to ensure that a 79,000 acre site, 17 miles south of the Rockaway Peninsula, is developed to generate approximately 800 megawatts of wind power.

Last month, the international energy company Statoil Wind US LLC bid $42.5 million and won a federal auction for a 25-year lease to develop a wind farm on the Rockaway site.

Using Clean Energy To Grow the Economy

While it is unclear whether the incoming Trump administration will honor this country’s existing carbon reduction commitments, New York State plans to reduce greenhouse gas emissions 40 percent by 2030 and achieve the internationally-recognized target of an 80 percent reduction by 2050. The state plans to do this by overhauling New York’s energy system (our sources of power, along with the way in which energy is delivered to consumers).

The state sees the transformation of the local energy sector as an economic development tool. According to the Governor’s office, New York has already deployed $5 billion to stimulate investment in clean technologies like solar, wind and energy efficiency.

Over 105,000 low-income households across New York have permanently cut their power bills with energy efficiency assistance from the state. Those savings can then be used by families for other goods and services, and reinvested in the local economy.

The state is also anticipating ongoing job gains in manufacturing, engineering and other sectors related to clean energy, and points to the solar industry as an example of potential growth.

Since the start of 2012, New York has seen a 750 percent increase in megawatts of installed solar. New York’s solar industry is now the fourth largest in the nation and currently employs more than 8,250 workers, an increase of more than 3,000 jobs since 2013.

Can New York lead the country in linking job growth with fighting climate change? And can it do so in the face of federal ambivalence, or worse? Andrew Cuomo is betting yes.

Stamp of Approval: NY Launches Local Food Certification Program

Could one little sticker simplify your search for locally grown, sustainable food? The Cuomo administration believes it just might.

Last week, at a press conference in the Bronx, Governor Cuomo unveiled “New York State Grown & Certified,” a first-of-its-kind program to identify and promote New York food producers who adhere to specific safety and sustainability guidelines.

The multi-faceted program has three goals:

  1. Strengthen consumer confidence in New York products;
  2. Address food product labeling; and
  3. Assist New York farmers in taking advantage of the growing market demand for locally grown foods.
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Farms that qualify for the program will be able to label their produce with a “New York Grown & Certified” sticker. Photo credit: Don Pollard/Office of Governor Andrew M. Cuomo

The Department of Agriculture and Markets will work with New York State producers to assist them in qualifying for the voluntary certification program. Farmers interested in participating will have their facilities inspected by health and agriculture officials, and those who meet the standards will get to label fruits and vegetables with a special “New York State Grown & Certified” sticker. 

The state will also launch a marketing campaign this fall to promote awareness of the program and highlight participating producers.

More than 100 qualifying farms have already expressed interest in the program.

“New York State agriculture is an essential pillar of our economy, bolstered by the modern market demands for safer and more sustainable food,” Governor Cuomo said. “The New York Grown & Certified Program strengthens the link between producers and consumers and provides new opportunities for agricultural development.”

Leak at Indian Point Causes Surge in Groundwater Radiation Levels

Radioactive material has leaked into the groundwater below Indian Point nuclear power plant, prompting federal and state investigations, as well as condemnation from Governor Andrew Cuomo.

Indian Point is located in Westchester County, approximately 25 miles north of New York City.

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Indian Point is located on the Hudson River, just 25 miles north of New York City. Photo via Google Maps.

According to a statement from Cuomo on February 6th, three monitoring wells at the nuclear facility detected the radioactive material tritium in groundwater. In one of those wells, radioactivity had increased almost 65,000%, which Cuomo referred to as “alarming levels.”

Cuomo also criticized the plant’s owner, the Entergy Corporation, and ordered full investigations at the state level:

This latest failure at Indian Point is unacceptable and I have directed Department of Environmental Conservation Acting Commissioner Basil Seggos and Department of Health Commissioner Howard Zucker to fully investigate this incident and employ all available measures, including working with Nuclear Regulatory Commission, to determine the extent of the release, its likely duration, cause and potential impacts to the environment and public health.

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Workers remove a piece of equipment in the spent fuel pool of Unit 3, at the Indian Point Energy Center. Photo credit: Mark Vergari/The Journal News

Entergy has stressed that there are no health or safety consequences to the public, saying on Saturday that:

While elevated tritium in the ground onsite is not in accordance with our standards, there is no health or safety consequence to the public, and releases are more than a thousand times below federal permissible limits. The tritium did not affect any source of drinking water onsite or offsite.

Jerry Nappi, a spokesperson for Entergy, told media outlets that the radioactive water “likely reached the ground at Indian Point during recent work activities.”

Neil Sheehan, a spokesman for the federal Nuclear Regulatory Commission, repeated claims that groundwater contamination at the plant did not pose a threat to public health or to employees. However, The New York Times reports that the agency would “review the recent tritium leakage incident” and study Entergy’s response.

A Familiar Alarm

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The exterior of Indian Point 2 at the Indian Point Energy Center. Photo credit: Mark Vergari/The Journal News

The problems at Indian Point nuclear facility have a familiar refrain. The aging plant continues to experience challenges like flooding and fires, and in 2015, Indian Point experienced more accidents and temporary shutdowns than it had in almost six years.

This fact has not been lost on Governor Cuomo, who has repeatedly called for a permanent shutdown. In his statement on Saturday, Cuomo said:

This is not the first such release of radioactive water at Indian Point, nor is this the first time that Indian Point has experienced significant failure in its operation and maintenance. This failure continues to demonstrate that Indian Point cannot continue to operate in a manner that is protective of public health and the environment.

And yet, Indian Point remains a complicated but key component of New York’s energy supply. By Entergy’s own estimates, the plant provides about 25% of the electricity supplied to New York City and Westchester County and generates $1.6 billion for the state economy.

A Plea to Protect Long Island’s Natural Environment Before It’s Too Late

We’ve written about the funding and staffing woes of the state’s lead environmental agency many times. To date, despite pleas from watchdog groups and even the state Comptroller, the Cuomo administration has insisted that the Department of Environmental Conservation can do more with less.

New York State’s environmental challenges are growing more, not less, complicated. Just think about sea level rise and what it will mean for New York’s coastal areas by the end of this century.

And then there is the loss of the state’s biodiversity. Last year, according to a recent editorial by Newsday, “the state said 185 local [Long Island] species were declining so quickly they required action within 10 years to save them. They include species with great financial and nutritive value, such as oysters, winter flounder, scallops and hard clams.”

Newsday’s editorial board has called on the Governor to reconsider his position on funding for the DEC as we head toward state budget negotiations. Here’s the editorial from November 28th in full.

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Good move, Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo. You’ve named a capable person to head the state’s environmental agency. Basil Seggos is widely respected for his commitment and his abilities.

Now you also must fund the Department of Environmental Conservation properly so Seggos can do his job. If you want a legacy as a green governor, it’s time to do more.

Right now, the DEC has no chance to meet its full mission. Funding and personnel are about 25 percent lower than eight years ago. Inspections and enforcement actions are way down. Funding for the Environmental Protection Fund — which supports efforts to protect clean water, preserve farmland, and recycle — is more than $75 million off from its $255 million high in 2008-09. For nearly 20 years, the state hasn’t had an environmental bond act to help pay for things like cleaning up waterways, improving sewage treatment plants, and buying open space.

At the same time, Long Island and the state face increasing environmental threats — from nitrogen in our waters to pine beetles in our forests, from illegal dumping to sea level rise. These are urgent and longtime threats to health and public safety, and the DEC needs the resources to combat them. This must be a priority when crafting budgets.

Seggos gets Long Island’s issues. His smartly drawn priorities, detailed in an interview, include:

Climate change — he should work toward developing a state climate action plan to improve our ability to withstand stronger storms and rising sea levels;

Water quality — he should continue to support the state/local effort to determine how much nitrogen is in our waters and set targets for reductions;

Wastewater treatment — he must work with Nassau County on an ocean outfall pipe AND a nitrogen removal system for the Bay Park plant;

The southern pine beetle — those who are fighting a valiant but losing battle need reinforcements; and

Fisheries — his plan to rebuild trust with the fishing industry must be balanced with the need to protect stocks.

The litany of Long Island problems is much longer. Last year, for example, the state said 185 local species were declining so quickly they required action within 10 years to save them. They include species with great financial and nutritive value, such as oysters, winter flounder, scallops and hard clams. The DEC said its lack of staffing and resources means little can be done.

Other issues include:

  • Sand mines must be more tightly regulated. They can threaten groundwater and shouldn’t end up as garbage dumps, like ones in Coram and Kings Park. State legislation is needed to eliminate exemption loopholes, engineering staff should oversee mines, and Long Island requires more than one inspector.
  • A system to track construction and demolition debris should be created by requiring vehicle logs that would detail loads and destinations, in the wake of the illegal dumping scandal in Islip.
  • Brookhaven’s landfill is slated to close in 10 years; developing a long-term solid waste management plan should begin now.
  • A plan to more tightly regulate pesticide use, including a ban on the most toxic pesticides, is long overdue.

 

There is a lack of staff to manage the 20,000 acres of DEC land on Long Island; as a result homeowners are illegally expanding backyards and building sheds and decks. There also should be more planned burns in the Pine Barrens to reduce the risk of severe wildfires that threaten homes and lives.

Taken together, the problems seem overwhelming. Seggos shows the passion and smarts required to attack them. But he also needs the tools.

That’s up to Cuomo and the State Legislature. Give the DEC the money it needs. Because if it falls short in its many battles, the cost we will pay will not be measured in dollars.

 

Cuomo Vetoes Port Ambrose Gas Facility: “The Reward Was Not Worth The Risk”

After years of opposition from environmental groups, citizens, and local officials, Governor Cuomo announced today that he has officially vetoed the Port Ambrose Liquefied Natural Gas project. The facility was proposed by Liberty Natural Gas off the shores of New York and New Jersey.

“The reward was not worth the risk and we’re going to veto the Port Ambrose plan,” Cuomo said during an event at the Long Beach Ice Arena Thursday.

With his veto, the proposed facility cannot move forward.

A rendering of the Port Ambrose project.
A rendering of the Port Ambrose project. Photo credit: Port Ambrose

The Governor cited a number of concerns that motivated his decision, but seemed primarily concerned with security, both from terrorism threats and natural disasters. Cuomo also noted that the proposed site for the facility overlapped with the Long Island-New York City Offshore Wind Project as well as important commercial fishing grounds.

Liberty Natural Gas has not yet published a response.

View the full text of the Governor’s letter to the U.S. Maritime Administration here.


From the Governor’s office:

Governor Cuomo Vetoes Port Ambrose Liquefied Natural Gas Project

Governor Andrew M. Cuomo today vetoed the Port Ambrose Liquefied Natural Gas Deepwater Port, citing security and economic concerns along with the potential to negatively impact off-shore wind development. The project, which had been proposed by Liberty Natural Gas, LLC, required approval from both Governor Cuomo and New Jersey Governor Christie under the federal Deepwater Port Act. Governor Cuomo detailed his full position in a letter sent today to the U.S. Maritime Administration.

“My administration carefully reviewed this project from all angles, and we have determined that the security and economic risks far outweigh any potential benefits,” said Governor Cuomo. “Superstorm Sandy taught us how quickly things can go from bad to worse when major infrastructure fails – and the potential for disaster with this project during extreme weather or amid other security risks is simply unacceptable. Port Ambrose would also hinder the local maritime economy in a way that negatively impacts businesses throughout Long Island, and that is simply unacceptable. This is a common-sense decision, because vetoing this project is in the best interests of New Yorkers.”

The Deepwater Port Act requires approval from the governor of each adjacent coastal state before a deepwater port license is issued. For the Port Ambrose project, both New York and New Jersey are adjacent coastal states.

The Governor’s review found that the project posed inherent and unanswered security risks to the region. The potential for catastrophic impacts during extreme weather events was also found to be unacceptable. Additionally, the project posed significant disruptions to commercial and recreational maritime activities, and would also have interfered with a critical off-shore wind power project proposed by the New York Power Authority.

Fate of Port Ambrose Gas Facility Will Be Decided by Cuomo and Christie

The final decision on Port Ambrose, a natural gas facility slated for ocean waters off the coast of Long Island, has now moved to the desks of Governors Christie and Cuomo.

By December 21, the two governors must decide if they will approve, veto, or modify the project. If either governor vetoes, the project will not proceed; if neither acts, it will move forward as designed.

The Port Ambrose facility, which consists of a series of pipelines and underwater buoys, is sited roughly 18 miles south of Long Island and 28 miles east of New Jersey. If built, large ships carrying liquified natural gas would dock at the station where the product would be re-gasified and shipped, via underwater pipeline, to the New York mainland.

Serious Questions

New Jersey Governor Chris Christie and New York Governor Andrew Cuomo stand side by side during a press conference in New York.
New Jersey Governor Chris Christie and New York Governor Andrew Cuomo stand side by side during a press conference in New York. Photo credit: Andrew Burton/Getty

Despite intense public interest surrounding the project, the governors have remained surprisingly silent on their decision.

In October, Cuomo spoke briefly to a reporter from Capital New York about Port Ambrose; it was the first time he had spoken at any length about it.

“The question now goes to the states, New Jersey and New York,” Cuomo said. “There are a lot of serious questions that would have to be answered before approval certainly, because it does bring up a number of obvious security and safety issues.”

Governor Christie has been even more tightlipped, leaving only his past actions from which to draw conclusions.

In 2011, Christie opposed an alternate deepwater natural gas port sited 16 miles off the coast of Asbury Park.

That same year, Christie told an environmental group that he did not believe there was an economic need for liquified natural gas facilities that could come close to balancing environmental risks.

“My opposition to this will continue for as long as I’m governor,” he said.

An Ongoing Battle

Hundreds packed the Long Beach Hotel for a hearing on November 2. Photo via Erik McGregor.
Hundreds packed the Long Beach Hotel for a hearing on November 2. Photo via Erik McGregor.

Opponents of the project say it poses significant security and environmental threats to the region. It is also sited for the same location as the proposed Long Island-New York City Offshore Wind Project.

Opinions differ over exactly how much the port would encroach on the wind farm area. According to a March, 2015 letter by the New York Power Authority, the total wind farm area lost to Port Ambrose would be “a minimum of 13 percent and could be as much 20 percent.”

Supporters of the Port Ambrose project say it will provide needed natural gas supply to areas that have experienced shortages and price volatility.

Federal regulators released the final Environmental Impact Statement in October of this year, and four days of public hearings followed in early November. Written comments from the public will be accepted through November 30.

Activists Make Final Push Against Permit for Upstate Gas Pipeline

Environmental activists are making a final push this week urging state officials to deny a permit needed for construction of a natural gas pipeline across four upstate counties. Decision on the permit—to be issued by the state Department of Environmental Conservation—is expected imminently.

While high-volume hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, was banned last year in New York State for public health reasons, pipelines and other gas infrastructure continue to be built here. Natural gas drilled in other states is being moved through New York, both for local consumption and delivery elsewhere.

A segment of the state’s environmental movement is calling for a complete break with natural gas- due to concerns about greenhouse gas emissions and the impact of gas infrastructure on local communities and ecology.

Two new gas pipelines, one crossing the Hudson River and the other off the coast of the Rockaways, have recently been completed in New York City.

The proposed Constitution Pipeline, which will move natural gas from fracking fields in Pennsylvania through southern New York State, has already been conditionally approved by the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission.

Protest against the Constitution Pipeline.
Protest against the Constitution Pipeline. Photo credit: Daily Star

As NYER reported in December, the federal approval authorizes pipeline developers to invoke eminent domain in order to obtain access rights from unwilling property owners.

The pipeline will stretch 124 miles, from Susquehanna County, Pa. through hundreds of parcels in New York’s Broome, Chenango, Delaware, and Schoharie counties.

The proposed route of the Constitution Pipeline is shown in red.
The proposed route of the Constitution Pipeline is shown in red.

The pipeline will terminate at a compressor station in the town of Wright, Schoharie County, and its contents will be transferred into the existing Tennessee and Iroquois pipelines for transport into New England. The feds have also greenlighted the “Interconnect Project” in Wright.

Pipeline Opponents Make Final Push

A coalition of groups including Catskill Mountainkeeper, the New York branch of the Sierra Club and New Yorkers Against Fracking is demanding that Governor Cuomo and the state DEC deny a Water Quality Certificate necessary for construction of the Constitution Pipeline to go forward. The certificate is required by the federal Clean Water Act.

Activists charge that pipeline construction will destroy over 1,000 acres of forests and farmland, clear cut over 700,000 trees, and cross over 277 waterways in upstate New York.

“There is no possible way to tear through the sensitive hills, forests, wetlands, and streams where this pipeline is proposed without threatening water quality and degrading aquatic habitat,” Catskill Mountainkeeper program director Wes Gillingham said in a statement.

A Long-Running Debate

While President Obama and elected officials across New York State have repeatedly raised the long-term threat posed by climate change and the need to develop a “clean energy” economy, there is no consensus about how to approach natural gas, a fossil fuel.

Earlier this summer, President Obama and the federal EPA announced a plan to set “first-ever” carbon pollution standards for U.S. power plants. That plan envisions a transition toward the use of “cleaner” fuels like gas, and renewable sources of energy like wind, hydro and solar, for power generation.

Proponents of natural gas say it releases significantly lower levels of carbon (than coal, for example) when burned. Natural gas is an abundant and affordable local energy source that can be used as renewable forms of energy expand and become more affordable, they add.

Opponents charge that methane releases from pipelines and other gas infrastructure pose an enormous risk to the climate. According to the EPA, methane is the second most prevalent greenhouse gas emitted in the U.S. from human activities.

Methane’s lifetime in the atmosphere is much shorter than carbon dioxide, says the EPA, but “pound for pound, the comparative impact of CH4 [methane] on climate change is 25 times greater than CO2 over a 100-year period.”

Nonetheless, reports the EPA, methane emissions in the U.S. decreased by almost 15% between 1990 and 2013. This is partially due to the fact that “emissions decreased from sources associated with the exploration and production of natural gas and petroleum products.”

NYS Banned Fracking for Public Health Reasons But the Battle Over Gas Pipelines Continues

We are at “a critical moment in our fight to free New York from fossil fuels,” say environmental activists who convened in Albany this week. They are demanding that state officials deny a permit needed for construction of a natural gas pipeline across four upstate counties.

While high-volume hydraulic fracturing -fracking- was banned last year in New York State for public health reasons, pipelines and other gas infrastructure continue to be built here. Natural gas drilled in other states is being moved through New York, both for local consumption and delivery elsewhere.

A segment of the state’s environmental movement is calling for a complete break with natural gas- due to concerns about greenhouse gas emissions and the impact of gas infrastructure on local communities and ecology.

Thirteen people from six New York counties were reportedly arrested last week as part of a civil disobedience action against the expansion of natural gas storage [and the introduction of liquid petroleum storage] in salt caverns adjacent to Seneca Lake, one of the Finger Lakes.

Activists read verses from Pope Francis’ recent encyclical letter on climate change while blockading the Crestwood gas storage facility on August 4th, said advocacy group We Are Seneca Lake.

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Demonstrators at the Crestwood gas storage facility adjacent to Seneca Lake in October, 2014. Photo credit: EcoWatch

The civil disobedience action took place one day after President Obama and the federal EPA announced a plan to set “first-ever” carbon pollution standards for U.S. power plants.

Long-running debate about how natural gas fits in with a clean energy economy

While the President and elected officials across New York State have repeatedly raised the long-term threat posed by climate change and the need to develop a “clean energy” economy, there is no consensus about how to approach natural gas, a fossil fuel.

Proponents of natural gas say it releases significantly lower levels of carbon (than coal, for example) when burned. Natural gas is an abundant and affordable local energy source that can be used as renewable forms of energy -like hydro, wind and solar- expand and become cost-effective, they add.

Opponents charge that methane releases from pipelines and other gas infrastructure pose an enormous risk to the climate. According to the EPA, methane is the second most prevalent greenhouse gas emitted in the U.S. from human activities.

Methane’s lifetime in the atmosphere is much shorter than carbon dioxide, says the EPA, but “pound for pound, the comparative impact of CH4 [methane] on climate change is 25 times greater than CO2 over a 100-year period.”

Nonetheless, reports the EPA, methane emissions in the U.S. decreased by almost 15% between 1990 and 2013. This is partially due to the fact that “emissions decreased from sources associated with the exploration and production of natural gas and petroleum products.”

Fracking banned in NYS, but gas pipeline construction continues

Expansion of natural gas infrastructure throughout New York continues. Indeed, two new gas pipelines -one crossing the Hudson River and the other off the coast of the Rockaways- have recently been completed in New York City.

The proposed Constitution Pipeline, which will move natural gas from fracking fields in Pennsylvania through southern New York State, has already been conditionally approved by the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission.

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Protest against the Constitution Pipeline. Photo credit: Daily Star

As NYER reported in December, the federal approval authorizes pipeline developers to invoke eminent domain in order to obtain access rights from unwilling property owners.

The pipeline will stretch 124 miles, from Susquehanna County, Pa. through hundreds of parcels in New York’s Broome, Chenango, Delaware, and Schoharie counties.

The proposed route of the Constitution Pipeline is shown in red.
The proposed route of the Constitution Pipeline is shown in red.

The pipeline will terminate at a compressor station in the town of Wright, Schoharie County, and its contents will be transferred into the existing Tennessee and Iroquois pipelines for transport into New England. The feds have also greenlighted the “Interconnect Project” in Wright.

Pipeline opponents gathering in Albany this week

A coalition of groups including Catskill Mountainkeeper, the New York branch of the Sierra Club and New Yorkers Against Fracking are in Albany this week, demanding that Governor Cuomo and the state Department of Environmental Conservation deny a Water Quality Certificate necessary for construction of the Constitution Pipeline to go forward. The certificate is required by the federal Clean Water Act.

Activists charge that pipeline construction will destroy over 1,000 acres of forests and farmland, clear cut over 700,000 trees, and cross over 277 waterways in upstate New York.

“There is no possible way to tear through the sensitive hills, forests, wetlands, and streams where this pipeline is proposed without threatening water quality and degrading aquatic habitat,” Catskill Mountainkeeper program director Wes Gillingham said in a statement.

Battle over gas storage continues in the Finger Lakes

Activists are also challenging a proposed underground liquid petroleum gas (LPG) facility, and the expansion of natural gas storage, in caverns adjacent to the western shore of Seneca Lake.

Seneca Lake is a major tourist destination in the Finger Lakes district, and lies in the heart of New York’s upstate wine region. It also serves as a source of drinking water for an estimated 100,000 area residents.

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Seneca Lake.

The storage facility would utilize existing underground caverns in the Syracuse Salt Formation. These caverns were originally excavated by U.S. Salt and other mining companies.

Texas-based Crestwood Midstream already has a methane (natural gas) storage facility in two caverns within the formation. The existing facility connects with the Dominion and Millenium pipelines, which deliver gas from the Marcellus Shale formation in Pennsylvania and other drilling sites. Crestwood has received approval from the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission to expand methane storage within the caverns.

While the feds have jurisdiction over the methane gas storage portion of the project, the state Department of Environmental Conservation has final say over the storage of LPG, mostly propane and butane. Crestwood is now seeking permission to store about 88.2 million gallons of LPG in the caverns.

Participants in last week’s civil disobedience action at Crestwood ranged in age from 20 to 70 years old. Opponents say that there have been 332 arrests in the eight-month-old campaign against gas storage at Seneca Lake.

Why have some New Yorkers decided to risk arrest?

Joshua Enderle, age 20, who lives in Cuba, Allegany County, made the following statement about his decision to participate in last week’s action at Crestwood:

“By now it is common knowledge that fossil fuels contribute to global climate change and we hold the technology to produce clean and renewable energy that will last generations, but current social, economic, and political systems suppress these advancements and continually allow the reckless exploitation of natural resources as well as threatening the balance of Earth’s life support systems.”

 

No “Climate Plan” but NYS Still Moving Ahead, says Cuomo Administration

Finalization of a “Climate Action Plan” for New York State, which is mandated by a state Executive Order, is not a priority for the Cuomo administration. So says Department of Environmental Conservation commissioner Joseph Martens, who spoke on Central New York WCNY’s Capitol Pressroom friday.

Rather than an overarching plan, Martens said, the focus is “action.”

New York City, by contrast, continues to release plans detailing its approach to climate change mitigation and adaptation. This Earth Day, the de Blasio administration rolled out its “OneNYC” plan, which links climate resiliency and environmental sustainability with social equity.

Commissioner Martens was asked by radio journalist Susan Arbetter about the state climate plan mandated by Executive Order No. 24, which set a goal to reduce New York’s greenhouse gas emissions 80 percent by 2050, relative to 1990 levels.

Executive Order No. 24 also created the New York State Climate Action Council, which is supposed to prepare an action plan that would assess how all economic sectors can reduce greenhouse gas emissions and adapt to climate change. The Plan would also identify the extent to which these actions support New York’s goals for a clean-energy economy.

The Climate Action Council never finalized a plan, but it did release a detailed interim report in 2010, which includes an examination of what is needed to achieve a low-carbon, clean energy economy in New York.

Concrete actions on climate change are more meaningful than “a plan on a shelf,” Commissioner Martens argued. He noted that the state’s mitigation and adaptation objectives are built into current initiatives, such as requiring state agencies to take future climate risks like storm surges, sea level rise and flooding into account when planning, and overhauling how energy is produced and consumed in New York.

Five billion for clean energy- but the devil is in the details

Martens pointed to a $5 billion “clean energy fund” proposed by Governor Cuomo, along with the state’s 10-year, $1 billion commitment to developing a self-sustaining solar market in New York.

The $5 billion fund Martens spoke of friday represents a seismic shift in how the state plans to expand the development of renewable sources of energy.

As discussed in an article by GreenTechMedia, the state plans to raise $5 billion from electric bill surcharges over the next ten years to create a Clean Energy Fund, which would “essentially take over responsibility to ‘ensure the delivery and continuity of clean energy programs’ statewide.”

The state plans to transition from renewable-energy and efficiency mandates, which are expiring this year, to a “new regulatory and economic model that brings distributed, customer-owned [not utility owned] energy assets into account.”

Examples of customer-owned energy assets include rooftop solar, on-site generation, energy storage systems, and smart home or building energy controls.

New Yorkers pay a variety of surcharges on their utility bills which are set to expire, creating an opportunity for the state to adjust its approach to energy planning. One example is the Energy Efficiency Portfolio Standard. The EEPS has helped to fund state energy efficiency programs with the goal of reducing New York’s electricity usage by 15 percent, relative to forecast levels for 2015.

Some of the existing surcharges support programs that assist low-income New Yorkers with their energy costs. Consumers could also see lower costs in a restructured energy market, say proponents.

Instead of the EEPS and other state-led initiatives, New York’s ratepayers will eventually support a Fund designed to encourage private investment, through market development and “technology and business innovation”, to meet the state’s greenhouse gas reduction targets.

“Rather than mandating a certain share of renewable energy or better efficiency,” GreenTechMedia explains, “the Clean Energy Fund will create a market for making this investment worthwhile.”

Advocates push for a climate framework

Peter Iwanowicz, Executive Director of Environmental Advocates of New York, an Albany-based watchdog group, said that decisions in the absence of a comprehensive climate plan lead to bad public policy. “In the end, whatever progress made is undermined by poorly-vetted decisions that exacerbate our climate challenges,” he said in a statement.

Finalization of the State’s Energy Plan, a planning process separate from the market restructuring described above, is now more than two years late, Iwanowicz pointed out.

Iwanowicz referred to inconsistencies in clean energy policy, such as the state’s “bailout” of a coal-fired power plant in Dunkirk, located in central New York.

Under Governor Cuomo’s plan, according to Capital New York, “the 435-megawatt plant is to be converted from burning coal to natural gas, which requires a new pipeline to bring in gas fracked in Pennsylvania. Taxpayers will contribute $15 million to the project, which despite the administration’s promises that it would be cleaner will still be able to burn coal on some days.”

Environmental groups have also criticized a recent “$41 million budget raid of the state’s premier carbon abatement program.”

“Governor Cuomo has embraced an Executive Order that says New York has a goal to reduce climate pollution 80-percent by 2050 and that all New Yorkers will know the plan to achieve that goal…Whether the Governor reconsiders that order or develops another, New Yorkers deserve a climate action plan,” Iwanowicz said.

 

 

 

Opposition to deepwater natural gas port off the Rockaway coast gains powerful ally

Local opposition to a deepwater natural gas facility off the New York City coast has a new ally: Comptroller Scott Stringer.

Stringer joined Council Member Donovan Richards and the Community Board representing the Rockaways yesterday in their demand that Governor Cuomo veto the facility, Port Ambrose, which would be located 22 miles from the Rockaway peninsula and twenty miles off the coast of Long Island.

Port Ambrose “will have negative public health and environmental consequences for our coastal communities,” said Comptroller Stringer. “Liberty Gas [the project’s developer] and the U.S. Marine Administration have failed to provide the public with adequate information or opportunity to comment about expected benefits and impacts of the project. I stand with members of this community in opposition to this project.”

According to Liberty Gas, Port Ambrose would receive gas imports from the Caribbean in order to relieve supply bottlenecks and reduce fuel prices for Long Island residents and businesses. A statement from Council Member Richards’ office refers to Port Ambrose as an “export” facility, a point which is highly disputed by Liberty.

A public comment period on Port Ambrose has just closed. Governors Andrew Cuomo and Chris Christie both have the power to veto the project because of its proximity to the New York and New Jersey coasts.

Opponents are concerned that Port Ambrose may preclude the development of an offshore wind farm slated for the same location.

“Port Ambrose threatens to damage the marine ecosystem and the fishing communities that depend on them,” said the statement from Richards’ office. The project poses “a significant explosion and pollution threat to coastal communities, and increase[s] our dependence on fossil fuels.”

Council Member Richards, Chair of the Committee on Environmental Protection, called the draft environmental impact review for Port Ambrose, released by the U.S. Coast Guard and U.S. Maritime Administration, “a gross mischaracterization of the true impact Port Ambrose will have.”

“The communities of Rockaway and Long Beach strongly oppose this project,” Richards stated.