Sierra Club Fights NY Over Water & Power

     QUEENS, N.Y. (CN) - The Sierra Club wants a judge to order New York state to do a full environmental review on a request to take 1.5 billion gallons of water a day from the East River for a Queens power plant.
     The request is the first under a new state law to monitor large water withdrawals from rivers, lakes and streams, and the Sierra Club claims New York's environmental conservation commissioner bungled it.
     Lead defendant Commissioner Joseph Martens erred when he classified the request as a Type II action under the State Environmental Quality Review Act (SEQRA), making it exempt from full environmental review, the Sierra Club claims in Queens County Supreme Court.
     The Hudson River Fishermen's Association, New Jersey Chapter is a co-plaintiff.
     They also sued TransCanada Ravenswood LLC, of Long Island City, which wants the water.
     The complaint contends SEQRA is specific in requiring a full review of any project that would use 2 million gallons per day of surface or groundwater. The 1.5 billion-gallon request from TransCanada Ravenswood, which is named a necessary party, would mean "withdrawals 750 times the amount identified" in SEQRA, the Sierra Club claims.
     According to the lawsuit, defendant Martens, who heads the state Department of Environmental Conservation, violated SEQRA and other water resources and coastal protection acts in exempting the Ravenswood request from full review.
     The power plant, built by Consolidated Edison in 1963, was bought by TransCanada Corp. in 2008 after New York deregulated the energy industry, separating power generation and transmission. It is across the East River from Manhattan, near the Queensboro Bridge, which connects the two boroughs.
     The 2,480-megawatt plant consists of multiple units that use steam turbine, combined cycle and combustion turbine technology to meet about 21 percent of New York City's peak energy load, according to TransCanada.
     The plant draws water from the East River for its cooling systems.
     New York passed new water withdrawal regulations in 2011, requiring Department of Environmental Conservation approval for plans - other than by municipal water systems - to take 100,000 gallons or more per day of surface or groundwater.
     The regulations, known as the Water Resources Protection Act, were touted as a way to help the state manage its water supplies "in response to climate change, droughts ... water supply demands from outside New York and other unanticipated threats in the future," according to a statement from Gov. Andrew Cuomo's office.
     The regulations were to be phased in between 2013 and 2017, with very large users - of 100 million gallons or more per day - the first to be required to apply for withdrawal permits.
     According to the Sierra Club, the first group included 16 power plants - the Ravenswood Generating Station among them.
     Ravenswood applied to the Department of Environmental Conservation for a permit on May 31, 2013. In August, the complaint states, the agency made a tentative decision - confirmed in November - to classify the request as a Type II action that needed no further environmental review.
     The Sierra Club contends the department should have considered the "adverse environmental impacts" of Ravenswood's once-through cooling system, in which East River water enters through large intake structures that include moving mesh screens to filter out unwanted materials, including fish.
     "Studies of fish entrainment by the Ravenswood plant establish that Ravenswood's water-intake system sucks in and kills hundreds of millions of eggs, larvae and young fish each year," the complaint states. "Millions of larger fish are injured or killed annually when they are trapped on Ravenswood's intake screens."
     Under SEQRA, "An environmental impact statement must be prepared if a proposed action 'may include the potential for at least one significant adverse environmental impact,'" the Sierra Club says, citing the fish entrainment.
     The complaint also faults Martens and his department for not considering state water resources law, the New York Coastal Management Plan and New York City's waterfront revitalization program when weighing the Ravenswood water request. It contends their actions violated the public trust.
     "Because respondent DEC erroneously categorized the permitting of Ravenswood's water withdrawals as a Type II action, the respondent is in violation of the requirements of SEQRA and the regulations promulgated pursuant thereto," the Sierra Club claims, asking that the determination be annulled.
     The group also requests "that the respondent be directed to complete a full environmental assessment of Ravenswood's water withdrawal permit application and that an injunction against issuance of a water withdrawal permit to Ravenswood be entered until such time as the respondent has fully and completely complied with the requirements of SEQRA."
     A Department of Environmental Conservation spokesman could not be reached for comment.
     Gary Abraham of Allegany is lead attorney for the plaintiffs.