Environmentalists file lawsuit over power plant conversions

Following an announcement Sunday from Gov. Andrew Cuomo regarding the conversion of NRG in Dunkirk from coal to natural gas, a group of environmental organizations are filing a lawsuit in state Supreme Court. They are seeking access to documents related to what they call “backroom deals” over the fate of the local powerplant as well as the Cayuga plant in Tompkins County.

On Sunday, Cuomo, in a personal visit to Dunkirk, announced a $150 million agreement to convert NRG to natural gas.

A press release was sent out Friday from Kate Ray with Rabinowitz Communications in Washington, D.C. on behalf of an organization called Earthjustice. In the press release it states the Public Service Commission has yet to receive a final written proposal from plant operators. “Moreover, critical documents related to the conversion plans have been withheld from the public, despite repeated requests from the groups involved,” the release states.

“The governor’s announcement that a deal has been made before the proposal has even been written and reviewed by the Public Service Commission demonstrates a flagrant abuse of authority, and is the latest example of the flawed public process that our lawsuit aims to challenge, said Tompkins County Legislator Carol Chock in the news release. “Converting these plants to natural gas would lock the region into continued use of fossil fuels and could hike electricity bills for people and businesses across a 20-county region in western and central New York.”

Chock, along with town of Caroline Councilmember Irene Weiser, are representatives of Ratepayer and Community Intervenors – a group of ratepayers and elected and public officials from an eight-county region. The group, along with Citizens Campaign for the Environment is filing the lawsuit, with help from the nonprofit environmental law organization Earthjustice.

“Instead of leading the way toward New York’s clean energy future, Governor Cuomo appears stuck in the past,” said Earthjustice attorney Christopher Amato. “The decision-making process surrounding these fossil fuel plants has been characterized by secrecy and backroom dealing. Even as the governor pronounced this project a done deal, the public has yet to see basic information about the rate hikes and the environmental impacts associated with this massive fossil fuel investment.”

“The public stands to suffer from decades more of fossil fuel addiction and the detrimental environmental impacts that go along with dirty energy, yet they are unjustly being shut out of the decision-making process,” said CCE Program & Communications Director Brian Smith. “Governor Cuomo’s mantra has been that these types of decisions must be made with all the facts. It’s unfortunate, but necessary, that those representing the public must go to court to get the facts.”

A copy of the lawsuit can be found at: earthjustice.org/sites/default/files/files/Verified-Petition-Memo-Law.pdf