Astorino: Indian Point Closure Must Comply with Environmental Laws
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County Executive Robert P. AsjorinoMay 9, 2017 -- In an effort to protect the health, safety and pocketbooks of nine million New Yorkers, Westchester County Executive Robert P. Astorino today filed two lawsuits to ensure that any actions to close the Indian Point nuclear power plant alongside the Hudson River in the Village of Buchanan fully comply with the state’s environmental laws and protect taxpayers, ratepayers and jobs.

Read both lawsuits here. 

Citing clear and numerous breaches in the state’s environmental laws, the lawsuits lay out in detail how the “three men in a room” deal to close Indian Point, arranged in secret by Governor Cuomo, Entergy and Riverkeeper, failed to comply with New York’s State Environmental Quality Review Act, known as SEQRA.

“Our lawsuit has nothing to do with the debate over nuclear energy,” said Astorino at a press conference at his office in White Plains. “It has to do with safety and the rule of law. Ultimately, the issue isn’t whether Indian Point stays open. It’s that any plan to close the plant must fully comply with the law. If our environmental laws are to mean anything, then surely they must apply to the closing of a nuclear power plant that affects the lives and livelihoods of nine million New Yorkers. If ever there was a case for the State Environmental Quality Review Act to be enforced, this is it.”

The case is simple. The state failed, as the record clearly shows, to meet its obligations under SEQRA to conduct environmental reviews before it announced its decision in January to close Indian Point. By moving forward on the closure without the required environmental reviews, the state put the public at risk by failing to examine:

  • whether sufficient energy sources will be available to replace the loss of 2,000 megawatts of electricity (roughly 25 percent of the current supply to nine million Westchester and New York City residents) so that rolling blackouts can be avoided;
  • whether the anticipated increases in electric bills will cause economic hardships for individuals, families, and businesses, particularly among minorities, low-income residents, seniors and others on fixed incomes;
  • whether the loss of thousands of jobs and a billion dollars of economic activity will devastate local communities and the county at large. (Payment in Lieu of Taxes losses alone are estimated at $72 million for Westchester County, the Town of Cortlandt, the Village of Buchanan and the 2,500-student Hendrick Hudson School District);
  • whether replacing zero-emission nuclear power with fossil fuels will contribute to climate change;
  • whether the decommissioning of the plant will require a taxpayer bailout since current funds are estimated to be more than $1 billion short of what will be needed;
  • whether the public will be exposed to health and safety dangers from leaving spent, radioactive fuel rods on site for a period estimated to range from 60 years to forever.

“Even those who applaud the closing of Indian Point should be deeply concerned about how it is being done and the environmental and economic aftershocks to come,” said Astorino.

Indian Point closing questionsOrdinarily, SEQRA is triggered for almost every basic public project, such as building pools, roads, playgrounds, purchasing computers and even renaming county facilities. Stunningly, the state is ignoring the law when it comes to one of the biggest environmental decisions in New York’s history – the closing of a nuclear plant.

“Asking us to trust them defies common sense and basic logic,” said Astorino. “To say closing the plant has no significant impact would be laughable if the consequences weren’t so critical.”

Astorino was particularly skeptical of the Task Forces the Governor has assembled to now look at the consequences of closing Indian Point. “First of all, the questions now being looked at by the Task Forces all should have been asked and answered before the state decided to close Indian Point,” Astorino said. “And what confidence can the public have in these Task Forces since they are accountable only to the Governor, have no weight of law behind them and their recommendations can be ignored. This is not how open and transparent government is supposed to work.”

The reason for Astorino’s two-lawsuit approach is to deal with the statute of limitations. His challenge aimed at the Closure Agreement by the state, Entergy and Riverkeeper had to be filed today. The second suit, faulting the state’s actions in issuing a water quality permit, was also filed today but does not have to be finalized until Aug. 24, 2017, which will allow others to join it.

“When the Democrats on the Board of Legislators decided to abandon their responsibility of protecting our local communities, I decided to act on my own. The stakes are too high not to ensure every possible step is taken to make sure our county and local communities are not left defenseless against the power of the state and wealthy special interest groups. The second lawsuit will give others time to join our effort to hold the state accountable for enforcing our environmental laws for the benefit of the public.”

Astorino’s lawsuit will be litigated by Philip Halpern, one of New York’s preeminent trial attorneys with more than three decades of experience and the managing partner of the firm Collier, Halpern, Newberg & Nolletti, LLP. There will be no costs to the county unless approved by the Board of Legislators.

The 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.