The New York state Department of Environmental Conservation held public hearings Wednesday on its denial of a key permit for Competitive Power Ventures’ Valley Energy Center in Orange County. The natural gas plant’s operators are contesting the DEC’s decision.
The DEC held two same-day hearings to gather public input on the agency’s August denial of an Air State Facility permit. DEC had denied CPV’s request for renewal of the air permit saying that the current permit does not meet up-to-date regulatory requirements. CPV’s senior vice president of external affairs Tom Rumsey spoke at the first hearing.
“What is in dispute with the DEC is simply a very narrow legal question regarding the interpretation of the ASF permit with respect to the timing and submitting of the Title V application,” Rumsey says.
The evening hearing saw some 37 speakers, all in opposition to CPV, while the daytime hearing had 28 speakers. Many who live close to the Wawayanda plant spoke about negative health impacts on their families and pets, which they noticed once the plant began testing and then operating. Dorothy Winner has lived in the area for 42 years.
“It makes us want to move out and not be here,” Winner says. “We’re concerned about our health, our children’s’ health, the grandchildren’s’ health, everybody’s health in the neighborhood. You can’t breathe.”
Winner has been keeping notes since February.
“Metallic-smelling fumes on September 26. That’s today. When I got up this morning, took the dog out, smelled a metallic smell in the air. That was the fumes,” says Winner. “Yesterday it was driving by the plant, which is not very far from us. I’m one mile from the plant, and when I drive down the road and have to go into Middletown, we drive by it. And that was strong fumes that day, causing my husband to choke and irritate our eyes.”
Dina Cowit lives down the road from Winner.
“I have recordings. It sounds like an airplane is over your head, overnight, all night. You come home, you hear it, don’t want to go out with friends, sit outside, because all you do is hear this noise,” Cowit says. “And then when they have the fumes, you don’t want to go outside for that either. So you’re pretty much locked in your house. I don’t see as many people walking around the neighborhood as there used to be.”
Relocating is an option.
“In six years, I can retire, and I will be out of here, if it continues, yes,” says Cowit.
Rumsey, in audio captured by Protect Orange County, says CPV filed an application for the Title V permit on September 7 and continues to operate the plant.
“Further unnecessary delays will put the project’s financial viability at risk,” Rumsey says. “As I mentioned, this project represents over $1 billion in investment.”
He says the plant could be forced into bankruptcy and rob the region of a significant asset for economic growth and power system reliability. Pramilla Malick is chair of Protect Orange County and a longtime CPV plant opponent. If DEC grants the air permit, her group will take action.
“We will to stop this power plant. As I said, we’re standing on the precipice of both a public health catastrophe and a climate catastrophe. It’s not in the public interest,” says Malick. “It would be a violation of environmental laws, public health laws, legal and moral obligations of state officials to approve this project, so we will litigate.”
Malick and others contend the plant was built on bribes. New York Governor Andrew Cuomo’s former top aide Joseph Percoco was sentenced this month on bribery charges that involved state business with two companies, including the power plant. Rumsey has said CPV’s project permits were never alleged to have been obtained in an improper way, nor was any evidence provided suggesting they were. Meantime, Peter Larkin of Warwick spoke.
“I’d like to see DEC be brave here and to follow the words of Governor Cuomo, who wants to make this a Green State,” Larkin says. “This would be a good sign, so I’m hoping they deny the permits.”
Bill Greene, also of Warwick, delivered comments.
“They should not grant the permit but, if they have to grant the permit, they should tie them up with really, really good monitoring because one of the big problems is they’re relying on CPV to self-monitor,” Greene says.
He says CPV should be required to hire an independent monitor, and monitor the air more frequently. Comments and petitions for party status are due, in writing, to DEC by Friday, October 5, with an issues conference to be scheduled thereafter.