Have New Yorkers Been Paying to Poison Themselves?

On July 13th, community leaders and concerned citizens held a press conference to shine a light on the unneeded ratepayer subsidies provided to the Cayuga coal-fired power plant in Lansing, New York, and its threat to local communities. Along with the telepresser Sierra Club unveiled new tactics urging Governor Cuomo to make good on his pledge to retire all coal-fired power in the state by 2020. Organizations represented at the press conference included Fossil Free Tompkins, Mothers Out Front, Seneca Lake Guardian – A Waterkeeper Affiliate, and Sierra Club

“This has been a ratepayer boondoggle of enormous proportions, and we are stunned at the plant owners’ unabashed betrayal of the public trust. The Cayuga Power Plant is an unsafe, toxic, inefficient fossil-fuel-burning relic that should be retired as soon as possible. Its continued operation endangers the workers, the community, the lake, and the planet. Residents of Tompkins County deserve better,” said Irene Weiser, coordinator of Fossil Free Tompkins and Council Member in the Town of Caroline. “We call on Governor Cuomo to ensure that this plant is promptly and responsibly retired, that the Lansing community and plant workers receive transition support, and that ratepayer subsidies to the plant are publicly scrutinized and ratepayers made whole.”


Fossil Free Tompkins has been leading the local campaign to retire the power plant for the past 5 years.


Since 2013, New York State Electric & Gas (NYSEG) customers have spent more than $180 million bailing out the 60-year-old Cayuga power plant based on a temporary reliability need and the owner’s contention that the plant was unprofitable. Following completion of transmission upgrades that fully resolved local reliability concerns, the subsidies ended on June 30th. Yet, despite two debilitating fires in the last two years, the plant continues to burn coal (including several brand new shipments courtesy of ratepayers). Additionally, recent statements by the owners indicate that they intend to continue running the plant for the foreseeable future as they begin to explore options to repower the plant to burn gas. These new developments call into question whether ratepayer money was ever truly necessary to prop up the plant.


Katie Quinn-Jacobs Team Coordinator for Mother’s Out Front of the Finger Lakes  said, “I’m a registered nurse and mother of three boys who grew up playing on the shores of Cayuga Lake. There is no greater threat to the health and safety of my children – all children – than the continued investment in the fossil fuel economy whether the Cayuga Power Plant or the Dominion New Market gas expansion. Mothers Out Front calls on Governor Cuomo to be a true leader on climate change and lead the state to a just transition off of fossil fuels to renewables and energy efficiency.”


Continued operation of the plant puts our environment and public health at risk. Not only does it fly in the face of Governor Cuomo’s commitment to retire coal burning power plants in New York by 2020 and generate 50 percent of our electricity from renewable resources, it also poses continued harm to local air and waterways. Information from the Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) shows that for five months last year following a major fire at the plant, the plant discharged mercury pollution at up to 20 times the permitted limit into Cayuga Lake.


“Here in the Finger Lakes of New York we are blessed with an abundance of fresh water. Unfortunately and for too long, the convention has been to allow corporations to discharge toxic materials into our lakes,” said Joseph Campbell President of the Seneca Lake Guardian, A Waterkeeper Affiliate. “Indeed, the DEC’s maxim seems to be, ‘Dilution is the solution to pollution.’ Cayuga Power’s parent company, Blackstone, is responsible for these large discharges of the toxic metal, including mercury, with not even a slap on the wrist. We are calling on Governor Cuomo and the DEC to end this practice of polluting the water we rely on for drinking, swimming and fishing, not just in Cayuga Lake, but in all the waters of NY State.”


Sierra Club has launched an online and on the ground campaign to urge the Governor to take action right away to make sure the two remaining coal fired plants in the state are responsibly retired in a timely manner. The campaign includes direct mail to residents living around Cayuga Lake and online ad placements as well as direct e-mail appeals across the utility service area urging electricity customers to write the Governor in support of retirement while highlighting Cayuga’s unreliable and environmentally concerning track record.


“It’s time for the Governor to make good on his promise and put forward an enforceable plan to retire New York’s remaining coal plants by 2020,” said David Alicea, Senior Organizing Representative for the Sierra Club’s Beyond Coal Campaign. “The Governor has shown visionary leadership on renewable energy, in the banning of fracking and on a myriad of other issues: now it’s time to do the same with coal-fired power. New York can be a national and international leader in the struggle to turn back the clock on climate disruption, and Governor Cuomo can be that leader, but the state can no longer wait for decisive action.”

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