Built on Bribes: The Fracked Gas Power Plant at the Center of the Percoco Trial

Last week, New Yorkers from Orange County fighting to stop the massive CPV fracked gas power plant had a tough decision to make.

Should they go to the court hearing that could decide the fate of the pipeline that will deliver fracked gas to the plant?

Or should they go to the corruption trial of Joseph Percoco, a former top aide to Governor Andrew Cuomo, who is accused of taking hundreds of thousands of dollars in bribes from Competitive Power Ventures, the company building the plant in Waywayanda, New York.

Finding yourself wanting to be in two different courtrooms in the Thurgood Marshall Court House in downtown Manhattan is the bizarre world you end up living in when you’re fighting to stop a fracked gas power plant in your community.

Their world is now picketing outside the CPV construction site every Saturday, the plant now looming above them, nearly complete.

Their world is now traveling to D.C. to attend (slash disrupt) FERC meetings.

If you don’t know what FERC is, you probably don’t live in the my-world-has-now-become-fighting-fracked-gas-infrastructure world. FERC is the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission and it’s their job to regulate interstate natural gas pipelines.

In November 2016, FERC approved the Valley Lateral Pipeline (VLP), a 7.8-mile pipeline that will transport fracked gas to the CPV plant from the larger Millennium transmission line. They have approved almost every single fracked gas infrastructure project that has come across their desk despite need for these projects and adverse impacts on the communities in which they are built, leading many to brand FERC as a “rubber stamp” for the fossil fuel industry.

But the VLP also requires a water quality permit from the State of New York and in August 2017, the Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) temporarily denied the permit, saying FERC’s assessment hadn’t done enough to study the climate impacts of the project.

FERC then usurped the state of New York saying the DEC waived its rights to decide on the permit because they took longer than the year time limit mandated by law. The DEC countered that the original application received from Millennium was incomplete and their decision was made within a year of receiving a completed application.

Millennium has already cleared trees for the pipeline, threatening the habitat of endangered bald eagles, but most of the pipe hasn’t been laid in the ground yet.

The folks from Orange County who traveled down to the city for the FERC vs DEC hearing are hoping the Second Circuit Court will side with the DEC and stop construction on the pipeline.

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And they’ll continue to attend the Percoco trial.

“The entire Percoco trial centers around this power plant,” said Pramilla Malick of Protect Orange County. “This power plant should have never been approved and we are the victims of the crimes that are the subject of these proceedings.”

Percoco’s wife was paid $7,500 a month to work for CPV Educates, a program CPV runs to teach fourth and fifth graders about energy. Federal prosecutors are arguing it was a low-show job and CPV was really bribing Joseph Percoco, Governor Cuomo’s right-hand man.

Between the corruption charges and FERC’s attempt to strip away New York’s right to stop the pipeline, the residents of Orange County feel their rights aren’t just being trampled on, but completely stripped away.

“We’re the frontline community that is affected by the rampant corruption,” said Melissa Toomey-Martens, holding her young child outside the courthouse. “It allowed CPV to be brought into our community. It allowed it to be built on our aquifer.”

The CPV fracked gas power plant will emit 700 tons of known carcinogens, neurotoxins, and endocrine disruptors a year, and will require 100–150 fracking wells a year to supply the gas it needs, meaning families in Pennsylvania will be exposed to all the risks Governor Cuomo said were too great for the people of New York.

“If we’re good neighbors we have to stand in solidarity with our brothers and sisters from Pennsylvania and protect them as well,” said Scott Martens.

In his 2017 State of the State speech Governor Cuomo said he would double down on fracked gas infrastructure that would bring in gas from neighboring states, but so far has failed to live up to that promise.

Outside the court house the residents of Orange County chanted, “Hey, hey, Cuomo, CPV has got to go.”

They are calling on Governor Cuomo to fight corruption and be a real climate leader by rescinding all the permits for the plant and shut down CPV and all fracked gas infrastructure for good.