Westchester County Executive Robert P. Astorino will maneuver around the county’s Board of Legislators and follow through on a lawsuit to annul a settlement to shut down Indian Point Energy Center by 2021. Astorino said the agreement to close the 2,000-megawatt nuclear plant requires a full environmental review under state law, which it has not received.
The Republican county executive has been critical of the plan to close the facility since it was announced by Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo in January. Astorino promised to sue last month to force an environmental review of the settlement between Cuomo, the environmental group Riverkeeper and Indian Point’s operators, Entergy Corp., that would close the two reactors.
Special counsel to Astorino filed two lawsuits in state Supreme Court in White Plains on Tuesday. At a press conference that same day, Astorino said the lawsuits were necessary to ensure a “thorough and appropriate environmental review be completed and that we protect our taxpayers, our ratepayers, our workers, from self-inflicted catastrophe.”
The first lawsuit is a hybrid Article 78 proceeding that asks the court to annul the agreement to close the plant. The second seeks to annul two permits issued by the state Department of Environmental Conservation that allow Entergy to operate in the state through 2021. The DEC granted the permits to Entergy as part of the settlement to close the facility.
“If our laws are to have any meaning at all, then the process has to be fair, open and reviewable,” Astorino said. “And for this secret deal to go forward without a legitimate environmental review, as required by law, is a mockery.”
Entergy, along with Cuomo and Riverkeeper, announced 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 plant’s closing on decreasing revenues from lower energy prices and increasing operating costs. But the company also acknowledged that costs from a federal license renewal process, which included defending legal challenges from the state and Riverkeeper, played a role as well.
Astorino said that, six months after the governor’s “January surprise,” the state hasn’t answered enough questions about what’s next for the region. He expressed concern with the lost tax revenue, skepticism about the state’s ability to make up for the loss of electric supply and worry over spent nuclear fuel rods on-site that could leave the Buchanan property a “nuclear waste cemetery.”
“There’s no debate that the public had a right to know about the impact of closing Indian Point before the deal was reached,” Astorino said.
He said the lawsuits were not a “Hail Mary” to try to keep the plant open, but rather to ensure the state complies with environmental laws in closing the plant.
The lawsuit, however, does not have the backing of the county Board of Legislators. Last month, board Chairman Michael Kaplowitz, a Democrat,” said Astorino’s call for the county to authorize the lawsuit was a “good faith request, but dead on arrival.”
Democratic Majority Leader Catherine Borgia said in a statement following Astorino’s announcement Tuesday that any attempt to use taxpayer funds for outside counsel would be against the county charter. She said the county executive’s “political ambitions are clearly more important to him than the taxpayers of Westchester.”
Astorino filed the lawsuits individually and in his capacity as Westchester County Executive. The first lawsuit had to be filed by Wednesday to comply with the statute of limitations on the settlement. The second lawsuit doesn’t have to be finalized until August, possibly allowing it to be joined by other parties, he said.
Philip M. Halpern, a partner at Collier, Halpern, Newberg & Nolletti LLP in White Plains, will represent him. But Astorino said no taxpayer funds will be used to pay for legal services unless approved by county legislators. A spokesperson for the executive told the Business Journal that Halpern has agreed to seek payment only if the Westchester Board of Legislators approves payment.
“The law firm has agreed to do it for me, they will submit bills and the county board at any point can decide to pay them,” Astorino said in the press conference. “And my guess is, if we win this lawsuit, all of the sudden they’re all going to be behind it.”