Astorino’s Plan to Sue State Over Indian Point Closure Appears Short Circuited

John Jordan | April 2017

Westchester County Executive Robert Astorino, flanked by business and municipal officials, announced his intent to force New York State to conduct an environmental review on the impacts of the closure of the Indian Point Energy Center in Buchanan.

BUCHANAN—Westchester County Executive Robert Astorino is seeking permission from the Westchester County Board of Legislators to file an Article 78 proceeding to require New York State to conduct an environmental review of the impacts of the Indian Point closure deal with Entergy Corp.

At press time, however, it appears the county executive may not be able to muster the necessary votes to move forward with the litigation.

The lawsuit, if filed, would also seek to invalidate the agreement between New York State, Entergy and Riverkeeper announced in January that calls for the closure of the Indian Point 2 and Indian Point 3 nuclear power plants in Buchanan by 2021. The agreement between the state and Entergy has been criticized by Astorino, as well as local political and business leaders, due to the tremendous economic impact the closure will cause as well as the lack of transparency about talks surrounding the negotiations.

“The law requires that a full environmental review needs to be done before an agreement is reached, not after,” Astorino said. “Whether you are for nuclear power or against it, there is no debate that the public had a right to know about the impact of closing Indian Point before the deal was reached by three men in a room. If our laws are to have any meaning at all, then the process has to be fair, open, and reviewable.”

At a press conference near the Indian Point Energy Center complex, Astorino was joined by a host of local municipal officials whose communities and or school districts will be impacted by the plant closure. The Westchester County Board of Legislators needs to approve the lawsuit by its May 8th meeting so the county can file the Article 78 proceeding in Westchester County Supreme Court.

However, it does not appear Astorino’s call for an Article 78 filing will receive sufficient support, particularly from Democrats on the Westchester County Board of Legislators.

BOL Chairman Michael Kaplowitz (D) told the Journal News that Astorino’s Indian Point proposal would not receive support from a majority of the County Board. While he termed the proposal, “a good faith request,” he later said that the plan was “dead on arrival.”

BOL Majority Leader Catherine Borgia (D) was much more critical of the proposal. In a prepared statement, Borgia stated, “This lawsuit from the County Executive is another foolish waste of Westchester taxpayer money. Now is the time that we should be figuring out how to mitigate the economic, social, and environmental impacts of Indian Point closing. Entergy has said publicly that the Indian Point nuclear power plant was operating at a loss and therefore made the business decision to pull out of operations that are not guaranteed utilities. As a member of Governor Cuomo’s Indian Point Closure Task Force, I will continue to advocate for state resources to mitigate economic, job, school district losses and environmental concerns surrounding spent fuel rods.”

Legislator MaryJane Shimsky (D) added, “Given the real public health and safety risks of Indian Point’s continued operation, working towards closure is the only prudent thing to do.”

The county contends that an Environmental Impact Statement on closing Indian Point would determine: the financial toll stemming from the loss of billions of dollars in economic activity, tens of millions of dollars in annual property tax revenues, and thousands of jobs; and the expected increases in utility bills associated with the loss of 25% of the electricity currently used to supply nine million people in Westchester and New York City. The county believes the EIS should also study the credibility of plans to replace the lost source of energy; the new public health and societal risks associated with CO2 emissions from replacing zero-emission nuclear power with fossil-fuels; and, the environmental and financial consequences of leaving behind a nuclear-waste cemetery for the entombment of spent fuel rods for at least 60 years.

In February, New York State Senator Terrence Murphy chaired a New York State Senate Committee on Investigations and Government Operations hearing in Peekskill about the closing of Indian Point. At the hearing, Buchanan Mayor Theresa Knickerbocker, Cortland Town Supervisor Linda Puglisi, Joseph Hochreiter, superintendent of the Hendrick Hudson School District, as well as union trades and business leaders testified on the enormous economic impact the closures would have on their constituencies. A joint Senate and Assembly session was held earlier in the month in Albany on the Indian Point closure as well.

Also last month, Gov. Cuomo announced the formation of the Indian Point Closure Task Force, to provide guidance and support to affected local municipalities and employees. The task force is to partner with local governments to address employment and property tax impacts, as well as develop new economic opportunities and work force retraining. The task force will also monitor compliance with the closure agreement, coordinate ongoing safety inspections and review reliability and environmental concerns, among other issues, the governor stated in his press announcement.

Officials have expressed deep concern over the estimated $31 million in lost local revenues ($23 million from the Hendrick Hudson School District, $4 million from Westchester County, $3 million from the Village of Buchanan and $1 million from the Town of Cortlandt) from the closure of Indian Point. Business leaders also question what energy sources will replace the 2,000 megawatts currently generated by Indian Point.

John Jordan
Editor, Real Estate In-Depth