Legislation that would alter the New York State power plant siting process by allowing greater public participation in the decision-making process has hit a large wall, that being the end of a two-year session for the New York State legislative body.
According to Mark Hanson, a spokesman for Senate Majority Leader Frank Bruno, a bill that has not been passed by both houses, but is still “live” at the end of a session, must go back to the beginning of the whole process. The only exception to this is if the Senate calls for a special session, which Hanson said he did not foresee.
Therefore, the bill, which had already passed the State Assembly in June and was sent to the Rules Committee of the Senate at the end of that session, must go back to the Assembly to be voted on once again when it reconvenes in January and then be resubmitted to the Senate.
One Assembly aide offered a suggestion as to why the bill might have to go through the entire process once again. “The problem is getting it past the Senate and the Governor in an election year,” he said. “The Governor isn’t going to do anything until after the elections are all over.”
The timeliness of passing the legislation, which was co-sponsored by Assemblywoman Catherine Nolan and Energy Commission head Paul Tonko, is important to communities like Astoria and Long Island City, which are inundated with several power plants and are scheduled to receive even more.
According to a recent Queens Chronicle analysis, residents of Western Queens get more toxic chemicals pumped into their air than the other four boroughs combined (509,870 pounds), with the top three worst polluters being power plants. More than 35,000 Queens schoolchildren suffer from asthma.
On October 1st., the state Board on Electric Generation Siting and the Environment approved the New York Power Authority’s application to build a 500-megawatt combined-cycle power plant adjacent to the current Charles Poletti plant, the most heavily-polluting plant in the city.
The approval for a new power plant was part of an agreement between NYPA and local groups which also called for the Poletti plant to close by 2008.
Although Poletti is scheduled to be closed in six years, some civic leaders feel that there is no guarantee that NYPA will follow through with the closure.
“We were never comfortable with the Poletti agreement because there are too many loopholes,” said Rose Marie Poveromo, president of the Astoria-based United Community Civic Association. “The closing is dependent on so many factors that we aren’t sure if it will ever actually happen.”
Others, like Tony Gigantiello, president of Coalition Helping Organize a Cleaner Environment, believe that NYPA acted in good faith with the Poletti agreement, but thought that the holding-over of the Nolan bill was unnecessary.
“It’s frustrating because of all the time it took just to get through the Assembly,” he said. “It seems to me to be just a tactic to delay the legislation.”
If passed, Nolan’s bill might provide some relief to the communities that CHOKE represents by making it more difficult for power companies to construct plants in locations where ones already exist.
Specifically, the changes would be to Article X of the Public Service Law and are designed to collect more information during the 12-month application review period that currently exists.
The proposed legislation calls for in-depth analyses of health impacts, including the existence of nearby power plants being factored into the equation. There are several other ways the process would change to increase local involvement.
Local community representation on each siting board would be improved by requiring that local appointees be named by locally elected officials instead of being chosen by the governor. Outreach would be expanded by requiring that multiple languages be used and notices be posted in community newspapers.
Communities who decide to tackle the any proposed plants might be able to use additional money to do so, as the law would increase intervenor funding from a maximum of $400,000 to $500,000, make 25 percent of the money available for pre-application process and allow intervenor funds to be used for legal fees and the threshold for the size of power plants would change to 30 megawatts from 80.
Power plant companies would have to provide a profile of air and water emissions, including micro particulates of 2.5 microns or smaller, which have been shown to cause or aggravate respiratory ailments.
The process would culminate in a final analysis by several agencies, eliminating NYPA and the Long Island Power Authority, two entities that might have a vested interest in the outcomes of any study, from taking a lead role in assessing the environmental and health impacts of facilities they build themselves or cause to be built.
Analysis would be done by the Energy Research and Development Authority on the cost of the proposed facility in comparison to alternative sources of energy, including renewables and energy efficiency measures.
The Department of Environmental Conservation would also conduct an examination of cumulative impacts of emissions from existing and potential sources in the community. The DEC would work with the Department of Health to do an environmental justice analysis as well.
Finally, the Department of State would analyze the proposal in the light of state coastal zone management laws and policies and the Office of Parks, Recreation and Historic Preservation would determine the impact on parks and open lands.
Assemblyman Michael Gianaris, one of the Queens politicians at the forefront of environmental reform, feels that for all of the positive provisions it has, the bill could still use improvement. “I’d like to see mercury regulation put in place as well, but this piece of legislation does have many good provisions.
Although it will take more time than initially expected, Gianaris thinks the bill will eventually get passed. “The bill was already passed in the Assembly and it will likely cruise through again,” he said. “However, I also see the possibility that there could be a special session held in December or January that would help the legislation go through before 2003.”