Guest Editorial


By Kathy Russell


As stewards of the environment, Governor Cuomo and the Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) are morally responsible for a public trust - the beauty, stability, and integrity of our air, water, land, wildlife and the health of all people. This trust will be violated if they allow Cayuga Power Plant to run on natural gas.

My spouse and I are sailors and spend a lot of time on the lake. We worry about contaminants in the air and are outraged to think of the pollution leaching into the water of our precious lake from the coal ash landfill. In his “Waterfront” blog, Peter Mantius writes, “Cayuga’s coal ash landfill has polluted local groundwater and Cayuga Lake for decades. Millions of gallons of leachate and landfill runoff flow into the lake each year. According to the website ashtracker, groundwater samples collected at the site between 2010 and 2015 contained unsafe levels of boron, arsenic, selenium, nickel, lead, cobalt, cadmium, nitrate, mercury and other dangerous substances.”

Clearly, present and past owners of the plant have shown little respect for the environment. The current owners of the Cayuga Power Plant, Heorot Power Holdings LLC, have now applied to the DEC for permission to convert the plant from burning coal to burning gas. One might suppose that would solve the environmental problem. Not so!

Their plan is to use compressed, fracked natural gas that would come from Pennsylvania in trucks, running back and forth through residential neighborhoods, past schools and day-care facilities - up to 120 trips each day! These trucks are top-heavy and are loaded with an amount of compressed gas that carries the potential of devastating explosions.

The DEC must not allow the plant to be repowered without an Environmental Impact Statement that includes the entire lifecycle impact of natural gas - one that is calculated with up-to-date data on methane.

We must understand how methane - the main ingredient of natural gas - is implicated in the climate crisis. At the point of ignition, methane does release less carbon dioxide than coal, but methane, itself a powerful greenhouse gas, leaks throughout the chain of its production, transport, and use. Current research shows that in the first 10 years after release, methane is 100 times more powerful than is carbon dioxide in trapping heat.

If our society does not quickly switch to energy from the sun, water, and wind, we must ask ourselves what sort of conditions for health and safety we are asking others to face?

The World Health Organization Estimates that between 2030 and 2050, climate change is expected to cause approximately 250,000 additional deaths per year. According to the National Climate Assessment and the EPA, higher temperatures in the Northeast are likely to increase heat-related deaths and decrease air quality. People at greatest risk include young children, the elderly, low-income communities, and those with pre-existing health conditions like asthma.

Closer to home we have seen increased flooding, especially in the Sheldrake and Lodi area. Can you imagine the terror of the woman swept from her trailer who waited at dawn in the waters of Seneca Lake to be rescued?

Thus we should ask, whose interest does Heorot’s owners’ plan really serve?

Heorot Power is a subsidiary of the Blackstone Group L.P., an American multinational company, the largest “alternative” investment firm in the world specializing in private equity, credit and hedge fund investment strategies. It’s run by Steven Schwarzman, one of President Donald Trump’s advisors, and it employs William J. Mulrow, managing director of Governor Cuomo’s 2018 re-election campaign.

Why should the economic development of our region be controlled by these companies who simply want to make a profit, benefiting only a few wealthy investors and the political elite, not our gorgeous Cayuga Lake Watershed?

From an ethical point of view, we ought to have a forward-looking energy plan that benefits a greater number of people. Since we cannot rely on the federal government, we must act locally. Transitioning faster to renewable energy sources will help offset potential unemployment. In January 2017, Fortune magazine reported that the solar and wind industries are each creating jobs at a rate 12 times faster than that of the rest of the U.S. economy.

Continuing to rely on a fossil fuel economy is a financial dead end. It is also morally irresponsible, harming too many across the world. Reducing emissions of greenhouse gases through better transport, food and energy-use choices can result in improved health and safety, particularly through reduced air pollution.

Instead, let’s use the old power plant site as a hub of sustainable green development using solar power and large-scale electric storage facilities. I agree with No Fracked Gas Cayuga’s campaign: No coal. No gas. No biomass. No Waste. Join us!


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