Do Not Rush on Danskammer,
Orange County Legislator -Kevindaryán Luján
Two weeks ago, at a City of Newburgh Council meeting, community members voiced reservations about the upgrades to the Danskammer power plant. People of all ages, concerned about what this plant could mean for the future of the region, took the time to speak about this issue long into the night. Labor union members recommended that the Newburgh City Council wait to make any public decisions until there was more information. City Council members voiced their concerns about the project and weighed the pros and cons of waiting to pass a resolution in opposition to the Danskammer plant.
The conversation was impassioned but respectful and highlighted two seemingly opposing views: on one side was support for our unions to provide much needed job opportunities, and on the other, concerns about the environmental impact on air and water quality in the greater Newburgh region. Both issues are of particular importance to this community, which is still grappling with environmental water contaminants and high unemployment rates.
To date, seven neighboring communities have passed resolutions against the proposed upgrades to the power plant. Multiple environmental organizations have voiced their concerns, providing hundreds of pages of data on the impact this plant could have on our region. Last week, labor unions and Danskammer representatives urged the Orange County Legislature to rush through a resolution without hearing both sides of the issue, despite union members asking that the city council in Newburgh wait until more information is made available only a week prior. This push for a quick decision comes despite immense controversy and scrutiny Danskammer has received over the last few months across the Mid-Hudson valley.
I sat down with officials from Danskammer and labor on multiple occasions, as well as numerous local environmental groups, including Food and Water, Newburgh Clean Water Project, Scenic Hudson, Orange County Residents Against Pilgrim Pipelines, Riverkeeper and other stakeholders over the past few months. It is no surprise that there is substantial disagreement between the two sides. In my discussions, what I found most unsettling was that on almost every topic we discussed, we were referring to different statistics from varying reports.
Along with the aforementioned issues, I believe several lingering questions remain to be addressed. These questions include but are not limited to:
Do we need this plant to meet NY state needs? The most recent report I read, states that we do not. This drastically diminishes one of the biggest arguments in favor of upgrading this plant. (That report was submitted to my colleagues in the legislature for review.)
Do NY state energy needs have to be met on the backs of our towns’ and cities’ air quality here in Orange County?
Is this option really cleaner, and, if so, how? A 300 page report that was provided to the legislature discusses the many health risks associated with gas and the need for alternatives.
While other communities are moving towards renewable energy, wind power or investing in battery storage units, as is the case in Ulster County, why we are talking about fracked gas?
How will the gas make its way here? Will it be coming on trucks or trains? What are the risks associated with this form of transportation? Who will be responsible for clean up?
Why are we investing $500M on a plant that will become obsolete in 10-20 years? Is this a sustainable business model?
What is the cost benefit to communities supporting this project over the possible environmental impacts?
As the number of affected, disgruntled or apprehensive community members grows, it is important that decision-makers are conscious of the impact this plant will have on all of us. What is most important to me is to get to the root of the issues in order to make an informed and responsible decision. That is my responsibility as a community leader and a role I take very seriously. When I see several communities have submitted resolutions against this plant and neighboring counties are considering doing the same, my immediate reaction is not to rush a delicate process. Because I know our County legislators care about the future of Orange County, I remain optimistic that they will do the right thing.
To date, the Town of Newburgh and the City of Newburgh that will be the most impacted in Orange County has yet to fully weigh in on this issue. The next Town of Newburgh meeting will fall after our County session as will the next City of Newburgh meeting. Making a decision at the County level, on an issue that directly impacts the welfare and landscape of the region without fully examining the potential ramifications, would show we have not learned from past mistakes as a County, such as the CPV power plant for instance, a project that now even the County Executive has openly opposed. A rushed vote on this project would drastically diminish the credability of a transparent and fair process, particuarly when many community members are just starting to learn about this project.
I understand that this is a complicated issue. Many communities will gain financially from this project, and the funds are desperately needed. On the other hand, I, like many of my constituents, remain concerned about the substantial environmental impact we will leave for future generations. These long term effects could far outweigh the short term financial benefits of this plant. The risk of a potential clean up alone could be catastrophic for hardworking communities that are already struggling. That is not the kind of legacy or burden I would like to leave for our children.
I also understand that the plant will provide much needed local labor jobs. As a representative of the community with the highest unemployment rate in the county, this fact is not just a statistic to me. It is, in fact, powerful and personal.
I fully support our union members and community members getting prevailing wage jobs because they deserve them. These are jobs that unquestionably help get people out of poverty. I have participated in rallies and events with these men and women, and will continue to do so in the future. Yet, I also believe we can achieve this desired outcome with a better, more environmentally conscious and forward thinking project. One that doesn’t potentially endanger our communities, neighbors and families. Short term benefits do not always outweigh long term impacts and unfortunately this is what it looks like.
Last week, at the Rules Committee, I requested that my colleagues in the legislature vote to table this resolution until we had heard from a variety of groups as a body and could make a more informed decision. I trust local towns, cities and villages to be able to determine what is best for them without imposing our views on a delicate and complicated subject, which most legislators have not had the time to fully examine. Moreover, if labor is requesting that communities wait at the local level as I witnessed first hand in the City of Newburgh where there has been the most discussion on this matter, there is no reason why we should be rushing at the county level. The Orange County legislature should listen to its residents and their concerns and vote this resolution down or table it for a future date. I ask that our community members make their voices heard and sign up for the public comment at our upcoming Legislative Session on October 3rd at 3:30pm. Let your legislators know exactly how you feel on this issue and this process.
Kevindaryán Luján is Orange County Legislator representing the 4th Legislative District. (These views do not represent the views of the Democratic Caucus or the Legislature and is the sole opinion of the writer)