Esty introduces transparency bill for power plants

New York approved a 1,100-megawatt natural gas power plant near the Connecticut state line in 2012, but it was not until construction started last summer that residents and local officials just across the border heard about the project.

The outcry in Sherman and neighboring towns spurred U.S. Rep. Elizabeth Esty to introduce a bill this week that would require residents and officials within 30 miles of a proposed power plant to be notified of the project, regardless of the jurisdictional lines.

The Cricket Valley Energy Center is being built on a 193-acre property in Dover, N.Y., just eight miles from Sherman, 10 miles from New Milford and six miles from Kent. It is expected to open in 2020.

Plant proponents said the plant will generate much-needed energy and provide jobs to the Dover area. New York officials have said emissions would meet federal standards for air pollution.

Still, the project drew criticism from nearby New York residents during the approval process, and fresh criticism from those on the Connecticut side of the border. During public meetings and in letters to the editor, Sherman residents argued emissions would be carried downwind, threatening human health and the environment.

“The air and water that folks in Dover breathe and drink is the same as the air and water that the people in Sherman breathe and drink,” Esty said.

Esty was contacted by residents, elected officials and environmental activists this fall who read about the project in newspapers and were shocked and distressed that they were not notified or given the chance to comment earlier. She said the current requirement to notify nearby towns in the same state isn’t adequate and could be easily fixed with legislation.

“It’s a very common-sense idea,” she said of her bill, the Notify Officials, Towns, Individuals, and Cities of Electric Generating Facilities, or Notice, Act. “It’s an idea that should have broad appeal.”

She has already gotten some support from her Republican counterparts, including Rep. Leonard Lance, R-N.J. Connecticut Republicans also support it.

“State lines should not be a reason developers can cite for not informing residents who would be impacted by a project,” said state Sen. Michael McLachlan, R- Danbury. “If the residents of New Fairfield and Sherman had known about Cricket Valley sooner, they certainly would have provided input. This legislation will ensure that all residents affected by a project of this type will receive the information they need in a timely fashion.”

Esty said the bill gives residents a voice and the ability to take part in the approval process. She said it is easier to come to agreements before an approval than to fight retroactively, like those opposing the Cricket Valley proposal.

“It’s important for everyone’s health and well-being that agencies get the full picture of everyone affected,” she said. “That’s why we have a federal government.”

Just this week, Esty noted, a federal judge granted a request from Connecticut and the Sierra Club and ordered the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to hold a public hearing on whether emissions from a Pennsylvania power plant violate the Clean Air Act. The ruling underscores the need for timely notice of power plant projects to downwind communities,

she said.

New Fairfield First Selectman Pat Del Monaco agreed getting involved in the process early is beneficial.

“Full transparency and public participation are critical to ensuring the thorough review and environmental safety of a large power generating facility,” she said.

Several environmental agencies in Western Connecticut also support Esty’s proposal, including the Upper Housatonic Valley National Heritage Area, the Rivers Alliance, Newtown Forward and the Housatonic Valley Association.

Dan Bolognani, Executive Director of the Upper Housatonic Valley National Heritage Area, said the act would help him preserve the region’s historical, cultural and natural resource assets, regardless of which side of the state line they fall.

“The Notice Act would be a welcomed ‘good neighbor’ policy and would provide a much-needed opportunity to understand and mitigate potential future impacts to our air, water and other resources,” he said.; 203-731-3345