Hinchey blasts NYRI, Bush, Pataki and energy deregulation

Power line rhetoric heats up before elections

By FRITZ MAYER

FERNDALE, NY — Congressman Maurice Hinchey lashed out at Republicans last week for the poor state of energy infrastructure in the United States. He blamed the Bush Administration for the “fundamental failure of a market-based, poorly regulated energy industry from New York to California,” and he blamed the Pataki Administration for deregulation in New York that has led to increased electricity costs and “the continued lack of meaningful customer choice.”

In stinging remarks made at a New York Assembly hearing at the CVI Building in Ferndale on August 17 regarding the New York Regional Interconnect (NYRI) power line project, Hinchey, a Democrat, chided Republicans in Washington for passing the Energy Policy Act of 2005, which gave the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) the power to override the decision of state agencies regarding the siting of power lines in some circumstances. “The Republican majority has touted states’ rights when convenient, but seems more that willing to take away the power of the states when their rights conflict with free-market principles,” he said.

In another dig at Republicans, Hinchey said, “I find it quite ironic that many of the Republican state and federal representatives who voted for deregulation policies, or allowed them to take place, are now announcing their opposition to the NYRI project.

Hinchey suggested that it was likely that New York would get a so-called National Interest Electricity Transmission Corridor (NIETC) designation, thereby paving the way for the installation of the power line unless “Congress intervenes to stop the process.” He continued, “I do not foresee that happening without a change of leadership in the upcoming election.”

Assemblyman Paul Tonka, chairman of the New York Assembly Energy Committee, joined the attack. He said the deregulation of the energy industry in New York in the 1990s was done without input from the public or from elected lawmakers in the senate and assembly. “Governor Pataki and his appointed Public Service Commissioners were made judge, jury and executioner in hacking apart a then $20 billion, now $40 billion industry.”

In today’s deregulated world, Tonka said, independent developers, not fully regulated utilities, are responsible to both build and operate power plants and power lines. These developers are motivated solely by profit and not the needs of the public, Tonka said. “For lawmakers who now claim to be hostages of corporate greed, and wring their hands at negative community impacts of large energy infrastructure projects, all I can say is, ‘what did you think was going to happen?’”

Susan Zimet, an Ulster County Legislator who is running against Senator John Bonacic in November, maintained the attack on the deregulation of the energy industry and called for its re-regulation. As for the power line project, she advocated that the state designate the New York Thruway as a power-line corridor. She said a private company called Conjunction LLC received most of the permits needed for such a project several years ago, but could not put the financing in place.

The only witnesses at the hearing who spoke in favor of the power line project were NYRI officials, who repeated claims that the 200-mile power line project would bring “tremendous benefits” to New Yorkers in the form of a more reliable supply of electricity and cleaner air through the use of clean energy rather than energy generated in older, coal-burning power plants.

Intervener dollars

Before the hearing began, Tonka, Hinchey, Assemblywoman Aileen Gunther and Assemblywoman Annie Rabbitt, whose district includes part of Orange County, held a brief news conference to tell reporters about proposed legislation. Tonka said he has introduced a bill that would require developers, such as NYRI, to set up a fund for groups who wish to “intervene” in the permitting process for power lines, and wish to have a formal role in hearings regarding such projects. The fund would provide up to $450,000 for legal costs for opposition groups. Such a process already exists for the citing of new power plants, but not for power lines.

TRR photo by Fritz Mayer
New York Assemblyman Paul Tonka, left, Assemblywoman Annie Rabbitt, Congressman Maurice Hinchey and Assemblywoman Aileen Gunther speak at a news conference at the CVI Building in Ferndale, NY before the August 17 hearing on the proposed NYRI power line project. (Click for larger version)