Riverkeeper, Orange County Politicos Ask DEC to Pull Power Plant’s Permits

John Jordan | April 2018

From left, State Assembly members James Skoufis, Aileen Gunther, Richard Webster, legal program director for Riverkeeper and Orange County Executive Steve Neuhaus.

GOSHEN—The political fallout from a corruption scandal continues to dog a $900-million power plant project in Orange County.

Environmental group Riverkeeper and Orange County-based politicians have requested the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation either revoke or at least suspend state permits for the completed CPV Valley Energy Center project in Wawaynada.

Riverkeeper sent a letter on April 6 to New York State DEC Commissioner Basil Seggos and other DEC officials calling for an investigation into the state permits received by Competitive Power Ventures for the 680-megawatt natural gas-fired CPV Valley Energy Center plant. Riverkeeper stated that it believes that Competitive Power Ventures should be deemed “an unsuitable entity to hold permits in New York” and that the DEC should therefore either revoke or suspend its state permits. Other signatories to the letter were: Orange County Executive Steve Neuhaus, State Assembly members Aileen Gunther and James Skoufis.

The controversy over the all but completed CPV Valley Energy Center stems from the conviction last month of former Gov. Andrew Cuomo aide Joseph Percoco.

Percoco, a former executive deputy secretary to Gov. Cuomo, was found guilty of soliciting and accepting more than $315,000 in bribes in return for assisting Competitive Power Ventures Inc. of Silver Spring, MD and Syracuse, NY-based real estate developer COR Development in business dealings with New York State. Percoco, 47 of South Salem, was convicted of conspiracy to commit honest services fraud and solicitation of bribes and gratuities.

After an eight-week trial, the jury was deadlocked on corruption charges against former CPV executive Peter Galbraith Kelly Jr. COR executive Steven Aiello was convicted of conspiracy to commit honest services fraud, while another COR executive Joseph Gerardi was acquitted of all charges against him.

Richard Webster, legal program director for Riverkeeper, was joined at a press conference held on April 9th at the Orange County Government Center in Goshen by Neuhaus, Skoufis and Gunther to announce the formal request to the DEC. Also participating in the press conference was Orange County Legislator James O’Donnell.

In his letter to the DEC, Riverkeeper’s Webster stated that testimony and evidence presented in the corruption trial of Percoco “demonstrates that high management officials of CPV have been involved in illegal conduct related to the approval of the CPV Valley Energy Center, which can be imputed to CPV itself under the DEE-16 policy. We therefore request that the department find that CPV is not a suitable entity to hold permits in the State of New York and revoke or suspend the air permit for the Valley Energy Center.”

The New York State DEC in a lengthy statement, did not state whether the department would investigate the permitting process, but noted, “DEC regulations outline strict conditions upon which DEC may initiate revocation of a permit for any facility in the state, and must be based on grounds set forth in New York codes, rules, and regulations.”

The DEC also stated, “With the resumption of operations at this facility, DEC is continuing the state’s aggressive, on-site monitoring of all operations and air emissions to ensure that there continues to be no adverse impacts to the surrounding community or the environment. DEC will continue to maintain a strong presence at the plant to rigorously monitor all facility operations and will bring swift enforcement action if violations are detected.”

Orange County Executive Neuhaus, who noted that he and other Orange County legislators supported the project when it was in the approval process several years ago, has been calling for state action ever since the indictment of Percoco and others were unsealed in late 2016.

Neuhaus said that he wants the DEC to review the permit approval process “and give us some guarantees that it was approved legitimately. And if it wasn’t, it shouldn’t be open and if it is going to be a public hazard to my residents, then I don’t care if it doesn’t operate. And I don’t care if it costs $900 million or $10 billion, if it is a clear and present danger to the public I would like to see it closed,” he said.

State Reps. Gunther and Skoufis also called on the DEC to investigate the CPV Valley Energy Center approvals. Assemblywoman Gunther is in the process of submitting legislation that, if approved, would require the DEC to revoke permits to any project found in violation of state or federal law. The Orange County Industrial Development Agency, which provided incentives for the project, is also investigating CPV’s compliance with its agreement.

Tom Rumsey SVP, external affairs for Competitive Power Ventures’ of Braintree, MA office, in response to the calls for its plant’s permit suspension or revocation, stated, “As we have stated from the beginning of this process, the alleged conduct does not reflect who we are as a company or what we expect from our employees. In the course of our work, we make every effort to ensure we adhere to all applicable ethical and legal requirements.”

He continued, “The CPV Valley Energy Center project permits were never alleged to have been obtained in an improper way, nor was any evidence provided suggesting they were. The validity of our project permits has been upheld by state and federal regulators and in state court, and claims to the contrary are without merit.”

John Jordan
Editor, Real Estate In-Depth