Westchester County Executive Rob Astorino has filed two lawsuits alleging the deal announced in January to close Indian Point nuclear power plant skirted state environmental laws. The Republican had intended to file suit one month ago, but the Democratic majority county Board of Legislators voted against it, so Astorino is going a different route.
County Executive Astorino calls the agreement among New York Governor Andrew Cuomo, Indian Point parent company Entergy and Riverkeeper a “three men in a room” deal reached prematurely.
“The issue here is that the state has clearly failed to uphold the law,” Astorino says. “They have to do an environmental impact study on the closure of Indian Point before any action was taken. They never did that. They still haven’t done that.”
State officials previously contended that there was no EIS requirement given that the decision to close the plant was made by a private entity in an agreement with the state to settle years of litigation and because of economics. Again, Astorino.
“This is not a Hail Mary to try to keep the plant open,” Astorino says. “If the plant’s going to close, that’s fine. It has to be done in the right way and it has to be done the legal way, not at the whims of the governor.”
Rich Azzopardi is spokesman for Cuomo.
“Astorino is wrong on the facts, wrong on the law and a hypocrite all at the same time,” Azzopardi says. “He falsely accuses the state of circumventing a process and then he does an end run around his own legislature in order to file a lawsuit that puts the safety of his own residents at risk. Unbelievable.”
An Entergy spokesman declined to comment. Here’s Riverkeeper spokesman Cliff Weathers.
“The agreement to close Indian Point is fully legal and it will protect the health and safety of New Yorkers and the integrity of the Hudson River, and we think the court will find the same,” Weathers says.
In announcing the planned closure in January, president of Entergy Wholesale Commodities Bill Mohl said the plant is no longer economically viable and the decision to shut down Indian Point was Entergy’s. Meanwhile, Astorino is bringing the suits both personally and in his capacity as county executive.
“The outside legal firm has agreed to do it at no cost to the county. They are going to submit bills but they understand they may never be paid,” says Astorino. “And, if at some point in the future the county Board approves it, then they’ll get paid.”
Catherine Borgia is Democratic Majority Leader of the county Board of Legislators. She calls Astorino’s lawsuits frivolous.
“It’s a fake piece of political puffery. It is not going to stop Indian Point from closing,” Borgia says. “It is based on a false premise which is that the state is responsible for this closing when it is a private company’s decision.”
She says effort should go toward mitigating economic, social and environmental impacts. Astorino, who ran against Cuomo in 2014, says legal protections are important.
“This is not a partisan issue,” Astorino says. “We should all be standing together to protect the environment, to protect jobs, to protect taxpayers and to protect ratepayers, and that’s what we’re going to do, even if I have to do it on my own.”
The reason for Astorino’s two-lawsuit approach is to address the statute of limitations. His challenge aimed at the closure agreement had to be filed by May 9, which it was. The second suit, faulting the state’s actions in issuing a water quality permit, also was filed May 9 but does not have to be finalized until August, which will allow others to join the suit. Astorino says the planned closure poses big issues.
“Maybe the biggest one on the environment is, what are we going to do with that nuclear cemetery right alongside the banks of the Hudson River,” Astorino says. “It’s going to be there for 60 years to forever, the nuclear waste, making that property uninhabitable.”
Astorino’s lawsuit seeks to invalidate the agreement to close Indian Point until a full environmental review is conducted; ensure the environmental impact statement includes a comprehensive assessment of the socio-economic, energy-replacement and environmental consequences of closing the plant; and guarantee any recommendations made by the state to mitigate the consequences of closing the plant will be subject to public review and debate prior to any final deal to close the plant.
The agreement calls for the Buchanan-based plant’s closure by 2021.