Volume 78 - Number 28 / December 10 - 16, 2008
West and East Village, Chelsea, Soho, Noho, Little Italy, Chinatown and Lower East Side, Since 1933

East 14th Con Edison Station

Villager photo by Caroline Debevec

The Con Edison power plant between E. 13th and 14th Sts. and Avenue C and the F.D.R. Drive

Concerns on Con Ed pollution fuel heated hearing

By H’Rina DeTroy

Neither frigid temperatures on a recent Monday night nor late notice deterred dozens of East Village-area residents from attending a public hearing about Con Edison’s pollution permit for its E. 14th St. power plant. Many believed the regulations have not been stringent enough in capping harmful emissions from the facility.

Saul Hernandez, 51, of Fourth St. and Avenue D, spoke of the asthma that afflicts his nieces and nephews. In response to the State Department of Environmental Conservation holding the hearing, Hernandez said, “It’s about time.”

The renewal of Title V — a permit that determines what amount of pollution is permissible — prompted the legislative hearing at which 50 people gathered in a starkly lit gymnasium in Campos Plaza to have a chance to petition directly an administrative law judge from D.E.C., Helen Goldberg.

Twenty-year public school teacher Trudy Silver said that she witnessed an increase in asthma in local school children. She also said that if there had been earlier notice of the hearing, and more opportunity to organize, the Campos Plaza gym would have been packed.

“People would be [lined up] outside, and I know for a variety of reasons it was difficult to get here,” she said.

Daniel Meyers, a resident of East Village Towers, told Goldberg and the audience that prior plans to build the stacks higher was “vigorously opposed” by Con Ed on the grounds of cost. Supporters of raising the height believe it would help disperse particulate-matter pollution more widely, lowering the levels of pollution concentration to which those living close to the plant are exposed.

“It’s time that the cost of our health also be taken into account,” said Meyers.

Resident Chris Malloy said that fuel-switching was “available and economically viable” since Con Ed has been substituting oil fuel with cleaner natural gas in the past when oil prices were very high.

“I really strongly suggest and hope that the powers that be, city and state, do what they can do to keep Con Ed on low-pollution, natural-gas-fire plants,” said Malloy, “rather then the heavier oil, which leaves micron particles for us to inhale.”

Con Edison spokesman Chris Olert said in a phone interview that renewing Title V was routine and that the utility company was following strict standards to curb emissions. Olert said that Con Edison switches between low-sulfur No. 6 fuel oil and natural gas already. He suggested that high asthma rates and air pollution could also be blamed on the East Village’s proximity to the F.D.R. Drive.

Olert also highlighted details of an agreement between Con Ed, Community Board 3 and others that stated that “no less than 90 percent natural gas” is to be burned from the summer period of April 1 to Nov. 14 and “no less than 55 percent natural gas” is to be used during the winter period of Nov. 15 through March 31. Olert said that, in terms of fueling its E. 14th St. plant, Con Edison has used more than 80 percent natural gas during the last three winter periods — or 25 percent more than it pledged to use.

“We use a mix of natural gas and fuel,” he said. “The reason we need to use both is for costs for customers.”

Claire Fontaine, of East Village Towers and the group East River Environmental Coalition, or EREC, was involved in the discussions several years ago when Con Ed was planning to expand the generating capacity at its E. 14th St. location. The utility increased the East Village plant’s capacity in order to close its Waterside power plant in the East 30s, so it could sell that lucrative property for private development.

Fontaine said that those earlier discussions and hearings “hadn’t really amounted to much” in terms upgrading older facilities to operate more cleanly.

“In such a densely populated area with many elderly and children, it should be a matter of public safety really for them to try to operate to the best of their ability a facility as clean as possible,” she said.

Annie Wilson, of the Sierra Club, spearheaded the call for a Title V public hearing and sent a letter to D.E.C.’s Division of Environmental Permits Policy Documents. State Senators Martin Connor and Tom Duane and Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver endorsed her request.

D.E.C. received public comments until Dec. 5, after which it will make a decision on the renewal permit. After reviewing the comments, the agency will compile a “responsiveness summary,” including a description of any modifications to the terms of the permit. This summary will be sent to those who provided an address at the hearing and will be available by request.

D.E.C. is one of two agencies to decide whether the E. 14th St. power plant’s current emission levels should be maintained. D.E.C. will send its responsiveness summary and Title V renewal permit to the federal Environmental Protection Agency, which will have 45 days to provide further comments on the application. After that, D.E.C. will decide the final terms of the renewal application.

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