Closure of Indian Point Nuclear Plant Faces GOP Hurdle

WHITE PLAINS, N.Y. (CN) — A troubled nuclear plant near New York City could remain open beyond its scheduled closure date of April 2021 if a Republican politician’s new lawsuit forces further environmental review.

If successful, Westchester County Executive Rob Astorino’s legal challenge would sink plans to shutter Indian Point Energy Center and force its owner Entergy to pay $15 million for environmental and community funding.

Public opposition to Indian Point mounted after a rash of fires, radiation leaks and fluid dumps, notably a transformer explosion in May 2015.

Just outside Buchanan, New York, Indian Point sits on the east bank of the Hudson River, which flows roughly 38 miles with the tide toward Manhattan.

Unveiling their plan on Jan. 9, New York’s Democratic Governor Andrew Cuomo and Attorney General Eric Schneiderman said the deal would steer New York toward clean energy and enhanced safety for millions. The New York Department of Environmental Conservation cleared the path in environmental findings released on April 24.

But Astorino claims in his May 9 lawsuit in Westchester County Supreme Court that New York’s State Environmental Quality Review Act findings looked into only the impact of the plant’s continued operation, not the secondary effects its closure would have on jobs, costs, spent fuel and greenhouse gases.

“If ever there was a case for the State Environmental Quality Review Act to be enforced, it’s over Indian Point,” Astorino tweeted Wednesday.

According to the 29-page lawsuit, Indian Point delivers a quarter of the energy in New York City and Westchester County, and 10 percent of the energy throughout the state.

“Indian Point is a primary power source for all of the residential, commercial, industrial, and governmental consumers in Westchester, including the county itself,” the complaint states.

The New York City Department of Environmental Protection found that closing the plant would “increase the cost to New York’s consumers under every single scenario,” Astorino said.

Astorino estimates that the plant employs 1,000 people full-time in Westchester County, and that closing it would prompt a 3 to 5 percent jump in energy bills for county residents.

The lawsuit glosses over Indian Point’s near-brush with catastrophe in 2015, when a transformer explosion activated the plant’s sprinklers.

The Union of Concerned Scientists, a Washington-based advocacy group, found that water pooled on the floor of the plant’s switchgear room, but remained below the 5-inch threshold that could have prompted a blackout and increased the risk of nuclear meltdown.

Astorino questions whether New York has adequately prepared for storing the nuclear waste that plant closure would require, and what other energy the state will use to reduce carbon emissions.

Entergy estimates that nuclear power saves 8.5 million metric tons of carbon dioxide each year, compared to oil-powered or gas plants.

Astorino asks the court to nullify the permits to close the plant and force the state to conduct a full SEQRA review.

He is represented by Philip Halpern, a partner with White Plains-based Collier, Halpern, Newberg & Nolletti.

Gov. Cuomo — the lead defendant among roughly a dozen state officials, agencies and Entergy subsidiaries — did not respond to an email request for comment.

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