Westchester County Executive Robert P. Astorino plans to sue the state of New York to stop plans to shut down Indian Point Energy Center. Those plans, however, appear unlikely to gain much traction in the county Board of Legislators.
Astorino, a Republican, said the deal between Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo, the environmental group Riverkeeper and the nuclear plant’s operator, Entergy Corp., to shut down the Buchanan plant’s two reactors by 2021 should have been given a full environmental review.
“Whether you are for nuclear power or against it, there is no debate that the public has a right to know about the impact of closing Indian Point before the deal was reached by three men in a room,” Astorino said.
Entergy, along with Cuomo and Riverkeeper, confirmed in January that the groups had reached a settlement to shut down Indian Point’s Unit 2 reactor by April 2020 and the Unit 3 reactor by April 2021.
Entergy blamed the closing on economic forces. Decreasing revenues from lower energy prices and increasing operating costs chipped away at the plant’s profitability, as it has for many nuclear plants around the country. New York’s Public Service Commission approved a controversial subsidy last year to help keep three nuclear plants upstate in business as they struggled with the same market forces.
But the company acknowledged that costs from a federal license renewal process that dragged on more than a decade factored into the decision as well. Legal challenges from the state and environmental groups such as Riverkeeper played a role in slowing that process.
Astorino was immediately critical of the deal. He called Cuomo’s claims that Indian Point’s 2,000 megawatts of production could be replaced in time “fake news.” The county executive also hosted town forums in Cortlandt to discuss ramifications of the plant’s closing.
The lawsuit would represent the first action Astorino has taken to try to halt the agreement. He’d like the courts to take a look at whether the agreement violates the State Environmental Quality Review Act.
An environmental impact statement, Astorino said, could examine the financial toll of economic activity lost by the plant, the expected utility bill increases in Westchester and New York City and evaluate plans to replace the plant’s energy.
“It’s hard to imagine an event with a bigger environmental impact than closing a nuclear power plant just outside New York City,” Astorino said. “The only thing harder to imagine is closing a nuclear power plant just outside New York City without an environmental impact statement.”
The county executive was joined at the press conference announcing the lawsuit Wednesday afternoon by Buchanan Mayor Theresa Knickerbocker, Peekskill Mayor Frank Catalina, The Business Council of Westchester CEO Marsha Gordon and Hudson Valley Gateway Chamber of Commerce Executive Director Deb Milone.
Hendrick Hudson School District Superintendent Joseph Hochreiter was also there, whose school district could lose 30 percent of its revenue with the closing of Indian Point.
The lawsuit may not get off the ground. In a press conference Thursday, County Board of Legislators Chairman Michael Kaplowitz said Astorino’s call for the board to authorize the lawsuit was a “good faith request, but dead on arrival.”
He said there was no path for Astorino to receive the nine votes needed to approve a lawsuit from the county against the state.
“This raises hopes and really takes everybody’s eye off the ball,” Kaplowitz said. He said the county needed to “remain focused on a post-nuclear Indian Point and transitioning to something else.”
The board chairman said Entergy closed the plant for economic reasons, and the county “can’t force, in a capitalist world, somebody to remain (an energy generator) if they are not willing to do that. It’s a business decision.”
An Entergy spokesperson said the company will “wait to see any details before responding.”
Astorino requested that the Board of Legislators approve the lawsuit at its May 8 meeting.
Cuomo last month announced a task force to examine employment and property tax impacts of the closing. The group includes Hendrick Hudson’s Hochreiter and Buchanan’s Knickerbocker, along with Cortlandt Town Supervisor Linda D. Puglisi; the Board of Legislators majority and minority leaders; state Sen. Terrence Murphy and Assemblywoman Sandy Galef.