Cuomo’s Nuclear Short Circuit
New York Governor Andrew Cuomo is trying to build a record of liberal accomplishment to run for President in 2020, which apparently involves cutting legal corners. That’s the contention of a lawsuit by Westchester County executive Rob Astorino, who says the Governor flouted environmental law to close the Indian Point nuclear plant.
Environmentalists have tried for decades to shut down Indian Point as a threat to public safety. While the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission rates the 50-year-old plant safe, New York’s high court last year said the state could review its federal license renewal application. Rather than run the regulatory traps, owner Entergy reached an agreement with Mr. Cuomo in January to close the plant by 2021.
“I have personally been trying to close it down for 15 years,” Mr. Cuomo crowed. “After extensive litigation and negotiation, Entergy has agreed to end all operations at the facility” and pay $15 million for green projects.
Yet as Mr. Astorino’s lawsuit explains, Mr. Cuomo never conducted a full environmental review as required by the State Environmental Quality Review Act prior to pulling the plug. The law triggers an environmental review for almost any undertaking. If an action is determined to have a significant impact, the state must produce a comprehensive environmental analysis and seek public comment. Mr. Cuomo short-circuited the review and failed to document the economic and environmental impact of closing the plant as well as the means of mitigating the damage.
Consider: Indian Point supplies a quarter of the electricity for New York City and Westchester County, which will be especially difficult to replace due to Mr. Cuomo’s 50% renewable-energy mandate. Indian Point helps stabilize the electric grid amid intermittent solar and wind power while producing zero carbon emissions.
The Cuomo administration wants to replace nuclear power with renewables and Canadian hydropower. But solar and wind are expensive, and building a transmission line to carry hydropower from Canada to New York City won’t be cheap.
The consulting firm Energy Watch estimates that Indian Point’s closure will increase electricity rates by 1 to 1.5 cents per kilowatt hour. New York already has among the highest electric rates in the country. The plant also employs about 1,000 full-time workers and pays $30 million a year to local governments. Towns and school districts may have to raise property taxes to compensate.
One irony is that Mr. Cuomo last year agreed to bail out two upstate nuclear plants to the tune of $7.6 billion—which will be paid by state electric customers—in order to preserve jobs. Now the White House aspirant is charging ratepayers billions more to prematurely close a nuclear plant that doesn’t need subsidies.
Meanwhile, Mr. Cuomo is blocking fracking and a pipeline to deliver cheap natural gas to upstate New York. The Governor’s policies often harm state residents and taxpayers, but on Indian Point he may also be violating the law.
Appeared in the May. 19, 2017, print edition.