Cuomo gets Trumped: Feds usurp NY's authority


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  • The CPV power plant along Route I-84 (Photo by Pamela Chergotis)



To the Editor:

A legal battle waged in Orange County, NY has drawn national attention as the state’s federally granted authority over the issuance of a water quality permit, has been usurped by an emboldened Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, led by Trump Administration appointee, Neil Chatterjee.

In August, 2017, the NY State Department of Environmental Conservation denied a water quality certificate for the construction of the Millennium Valley Lateral Pipeline under Section 401 of the Clean Water Act. The 7.8 mile pipeline is slated to fuel a controversial 650 MW fracked-gas power plant currently under construction in Orange County by Competitive Power Ventures. The pipeline would traverse protected wetlands and endangered species habitats, while supplying environmentally damaging fracked gas from PA to the plant.

On the eve of the fifth-year anniversary of Sandy, on Friday Oct. 27, taking a queue from the Trump administration's disregard for law and due process, the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) allowed one lone individual staff person to singularly nullify the Federal Clean Water Act, the Endangered Species Act, and the Fourteenth Amendment of the U.S. Constitution by issuing Millennium Pipeline company a Notice to Proceed with construction of the Valley Lateral Pipeline despite unequivocal warnings against doing so by the State of New York. FERC watchers say this is unprecedented even for an agency widely criticized for its abuse of power and excess. The construction of the pipeline, which would include clear cutting rare tree species along the alignment, could begin as early as this week, according to a Millennium spokesperson.

Pramilla Malick, Chair of Protect Orange County, a local citizens’ action group, responded defiantly, “This is an act of war upon the Federal Clean Water Act and the State of New York,” said Malick. “Congress deliberatively delegated authority over water quality to states. We are outraged that FERC would assume that it could violate federal law with impunity. We demand that New York State Attorney General Schneiderman immediately seek an injunction against any construction on this pipeline until all legal appeals have been concluded. If NY State allows FERC to violate federal law, and usurp our right to protect our water , this would set a precedent that diminishes a state’s authority over these permits going forward. We cannot afford to surrender our essential water resources to their interests.”

Actor James Cromwell, who went to jail to protest the project last summer along with Malick called on Cuomo to instruct the state police to prevent Millennium from violating the authority of the state. He warned that opponents “will put their bodies on the line if Millennium engages in these extra-legal activities.”

Local activists, concerned citizens and environmentalists have been urging Governor Cuomo to shut down the CPV plant, which was permitted and built under a cloud of secrecy and alleged corruption. Opposition intensified after prominent scientists calculated that the plant would increase the state’s greenhouse gases from the power sector by at least 10 percent and could be as high as 2 to 3 times that. The state’s denial of the water permit cited the lack of a proper greenhouse gas analysis.

The plant is sited in the historic Hudson Valley, which is renowned for its organic Black Dirt Farms, pristine water resources, natural beauty and agri-tourism. Opponents of the CPV project assert that this populated and environmentally sensitive location will suffer irreparable harm from both the pipeline’s impact to wetlands and aquifers as well as the plant’s daily emissions. Moreover with declining energy demands they argue the plant is not needed and only serves to provide a market to fracking companies in PA.

As Governor Cuomo faces a showdown between NYSDEC’s federally granted authority over state’s water rights, and a lawless grab by FERC to assert its authority where it does not exist, New Yorkers and the nation, will be watching, and demanding that New York’s rights and responsibility to protect its water not be diminished.

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