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The Planning, Development, and Environmental Quality Committee of the Tompkins County Legislature listened to an hour-and-a-half of public comment last Friday, then reached a recommendation to advance to the Legislature regarding the future of the Cayuga Power Plant.

Legislators, by a vote of 4-1 (Legislator Deborah Dawson dissenting) approved one of two alternate resolutions—one that urges the New York State Department of Conservation (DEC) to reject the Cayuga Operating Company’s proposal to convert to natural gas, and also urges the Governor to support Cayuga’s transition to renewable energy and energy storage. The Committee acted on that position, instead of a proposed alternate that would have urged the DEC to determine that the Cayuga proposal may create the potential for significant adverse environmental impact, and to require a full Environmental Impact Statement and formal public scoping process, which solicits input from all impacted communities.

Seventy concerned residents packed County Legislature Chambers, and more than 30 spoke—all of the residents urging approval of the more stringent option, which was ultimately backed by the committee. They expressed deep concern about continued dependence on fossil fuels, the dangers of an increase in greenhouse gas emissions including from methane, use of imported “fracked” gas (inconsistent with the County’s past opposition to and the State’s prohibition of fracking), and the increased truck traffic and potential dangers associated with trucks transporting compressed natural gas (CNG) to fuel the plant. Several speakers voiced concerns for their children and grandchildren, maintaining that it’s up to us to act now to protect future generations.

Another of those speaking was Legislator Mike Sigler (not a member of the committee), who thanked residents for voicing their passion and indicating his personal support for use of renewable energy, but suggesting that this debate regarding natural gas was too simplistic—that the issue now is not about natural gas, but “where we do it.” With plants going in elsewhere in the state and the City and other communities in Tompkins County permitting gas hookups (although his town, Lansing, is under moratorium), Sigler said residents should advocate for land use ordinances in communities to address this issue.

All committee members thanked residents for sharing their concerns, and all but Dawson voiced their support of the more stringent option prior to the vote. While indicating that she agreed with the views expressed, Legislator Dawson, who drafted the alternate resolution, said that, based on her decades of experience operating professionally in the regulatory environment, the County would be better served and more effective in advancing its position by operating within the regulatory framework that the State has established and calling for a DEC finding and EIS and scoping process, instead of what amounts simply to a political statement.

The full Legislature will weigh in on the issue when the resolution comes before it November 20.

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