Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and eight of her fellow New York City congressional Democrats on Tuesday threw their weight behind calls for Gov. Cuomo’s administration to slam the brakes on a plan to develop what they blasted as a “dangerous” gas-fired power plant in Queens.
The proposed Astoria waterfront project, which would replace a 50-year-old oil-burning turbine with a natural gas plant, isn’t good enough as it still “maintains our reliance on fossil fuel power,” Ocasio-Cortez and her colleagues wrote in a letter to Cuomo and the State Department of Environmental Conservation.
The House Dems charged that fracking, the technique by which natural gas is extracted from the ground, produces methane leaks that make it “as dangerous as coal” in terms of greenhouse emissions that contribute to climate change.
“Frontline and diverse communities, like the ones we represent, stand to be disproportionately exposed,” reads the letter, whose other signees were Reps. Jerry Nadler, Carolyn Maloney, Nydia Velazquez, Jamaal Bowman, Mondaire Jones, Grace Meng, Yvette Clarke and Adriano Espaillat. “A gas-fired power plant would further degrade air quality in neighborhoods already ridden with toxic fossil fuel power plants and elevated levels of asthma.”
NRG Energy, a major utility supplier headquartered in Texas and New Jersey, owns the oil-burning turbine that’s currently in Astoria and unveiled its proposal last year to replace it with a natural gas plant.
The proposal is currently under review by the State Department of Environmental Conservation.
NRG says its proposed natural gas plant would mainly operate as a backup to green energy generators.
“It doesn’t operate unless there’s for some reason not enough wind and solar,” said Tom Atkins, NRG’s vice president of business development. “You need projects like this to keep the lights on.”
The company says it aims to eventually transition the plant to hydrogen power to comply with New York’s Climate Leadership and Community Protection Act, which mandates that the state gets 100% of its electricity from carbon-free sources by 2040. Hydrogen is not yet a commercially available energy source, however.
In the meantime, Atkins said using natural gas instead of oil is better from an environmental perspective.
“It actually ends up lowering greenhouse gas emissions contrary to what the congressional delegation says,” he said.
Still, the Astoria proposal has been met with intense backlash from local activists, who, like Ocasio-Cortez, say the oil plant should be immediately replaced with 100% green energy turbines, not phased out over time as suggested by NRG.
Laura Shindell, a local resident who leads the “No Astoria NRG Plant Coalition,” praised the House Democrats for getting involved.
“New York must move off dirty fossil fuels,” Shindell said. “We’re proud to stand with legislators in calling for the end to fracked gas plants and their dangerous expansion aims.”
Cuomo’s office did not return a request for comment Tuesday.
Erica Ringewal, a spokeswoman for the Department of Environmental Conservation, said her agency’s review of the NRG proposal will be “stringent.”
“Prior to any final decision on this facility, DEC is undertaking a full environmental review to ensure protection of public health and the environment,” Ringewal said. “This review will include an assessment of the project’s consistency with the State’s Climate Leadership and Community Protection Act.”
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