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A Slight Chance of Meltdown

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The emergency practice room, where crisis scenarios are staged. It is an exact replica of the actual control room.  

Entergy and its allies insist it will be impossible to find enough replacement power anytime soon—or certainly by 2012. “New York State is at a crossroads for its energy future,” says Jerry Kremer, a former state senator who is chairman of AREA. “The agenda for new power has been driven by the anti-nuclear people who want nothing.” At the moment, lots of organizations are presenting their plans for how to replace the 2,000 megawatts, from power companies that want a piece of the replacement action to nonprofits like Riverkeeper and the Natural Resources Defense Council, which issued a joint report last month showing that Indian Point could go without renewal and that the lights in New York would stay on (as they do, albeit temporarily, each time Indian Point powers down one of its reactors for maintenance). Tom Congdon, the governor’s secretary for energy policy, says that just among the various plants in development, there is “more than enough projected power that could more than replace Indian Point within the time period.” But the governor’s office was recently contradicted by a report commissioned by Bloomberg predicting that closing Indian Point would result in city power outages. A recent Post editorial called Cuomo “enviro-zany” and ridiculed his assurance that we could find alternative sources of power elsewhere. “From where exactly, governor?” it asked.

A couple of weeks ago, at a packed school auditorium in Greenwich Village, a skeleton wearing a black robe emblazoned with the word die is walking through the aisles as a crowd speaks out against the natural-gas pipeline proposed to run under the West Village. “I am a resident of the neighborhood,” one woman says, taking her turn to testify. “I live in the blast radius.”

It is a public meeting organized by the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission on the $850 million pipeline planned by Houston-based Spectra Energy—fifteen miles of new pipeline connecting freight trains in Jersey City to the city’s natural-gas grid in Staten Island and the Village. Speaker after speaker cites previous pipeline explosions around the country, and chides the federal regulatory agency in charge of pipeline safety. “How will you bring back our dead?” one resident asks. Others lay out a scenario in which gas extracted from upstate fracking would be delivered to New York City and then on to global natural-gas markets, making the U.S. “the Saudi Arabia of natural gas.” At which point a speaker asks: “Do the people in Saudi Arabia seem happy right now?” Actor Mark Ruffalo takes the microphone to berate the federal representatives, bringing the crowd to long cheers as he accuses them of “mainlining” New York State to the ecological disaster that he has seen in Pennsylvania. “This is purely about profit motives,” he says. “Go to your heart and ask yourself, ‘Is this right?’ ”

Another disaster scenario: Child studies by candlelight, mother cooks wearing headlamp.

When an aide to Borough President Scott Stringer reads an abridged statement saying he could not support the pipeline “as it is currently planned,” the crowd erupts again. The aide goes on to say Stringer is opposed to the pipeline transporting any natural gas mined through upstate fracking, which he describes as ruinous to upstate communities and “environmental pillage.” Stringer, though, is not opposed to all natural gas. Natural gas, his aide says to a now-subdued crowd, is expected to replace the dirty heating oil in apartment-building boilers. In the complete version of the statement handed out later, Stringer calls Indian Point “the elephant in the room.”

The question of whether to close Indian Point is not necessarily related to the discussion of whether to allow fracking upstate. After all, the natural gas New York City currently consumes is mostly imported from Canada and Mexico, and the natural gas discovered upstate could presumably sell on a global market. But the two energy conversations could, at the very least, be perceived to be related, which is enough to become a political liability for opponents of Indian Point. Even among environmentalists, you find tensions between those who prioritize closing Indian Point and those rallying against fracking. “How the state works its decisions about where its energy comes from is all incredibly connected to the fracking issue,” argues Katherine Nadeau, water and natural-resources program director for Environmental Advocates of New York. Some conservationists even worry that Cuomo will risk fracking gas as some kind of Indian Point trade-off.

Albany insists there is no fracking–­Indian Point connection. “We are not linking them,” Congdon says. “We’re only getting about 5 percent [of our energy from in-state natural gas] right now. It’s not something we are pursuing purely from the standpoint of replacing Indian Point.” Cuomo has called the state’s watersheds “sacrosanct” and has promised strict environmental regulations on whatever fracking is conducted in the future. Still, it’s hard to know precisely what he means when he calls watersheds “sacrosanct”—everywhere is somebody’s watershed, and New York City’s watershed has already been placed off-limits for fear of chemicals’ leaking into the water supply.


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