Two Astoria state legislators are proposing a new law that would require older, polluting power plants to meet existing air-quality standards before any new plants can be built.
With three new power plants in the works for the Astoria area, the proposal seeks to allay the health concerns raised by residents at several public hearings over the past few months. State Sen. George Onorato (D-Astoria) and state Assemblyman Denis Butler (D-Astoria) are proposing the law and seeking sponsorship from other state legislators in Albany.
"With increasing numbers of New York City residents, and particularly children, suffering from asthma and other respiratory ailments, we need to better balance the need for additional power with concern for the public health," Onorato said.
Under the terms of the proposed legislation, no new New York City power plants would be allowed to operate unless any existing older, dirtier plants in the same borough were either upgraded to meet federal air quality standards or shut down. The bill targets plants that are more than 30 years old.
These plants are now effectively exempt from the strict air pollution standards established by the federal Clean Air Act. Two of the power plants currently operating in Astoria - Con Edison's Astoria plant and the New York Power Authority's Charles Poletti plant - ranked second and fourth in the state in a study of the worst polluting power plants issued by the New York Public Interest Research Group.
"When this federal law was enacted, it was expected that these older plants would have ceased operations by now," Butler said. "Unfortunately, this has not always been the case. And now, with new plants seeking to begin operations, our overall air quality may become even more compromised."
Three new power plants are slated for Astoria over the next several years: Astoria Energy LLC, a group of investors based in Concord, Mass., plans to build a new 1,000-megawatt plant on 26 acres of Con Edison property on the northern edge of Astoria. The New York Power Authority plans a 500-megawatt next to its existing facility in Astoria, and Keyspan Energy plans to build a plant on an existing old power plant site.
The court-ordered breakup of Con Edison's power monopoly and increased demand for power from the booming New York City economy have opened up the New York market to power companies. Officials at the plants have promised that the new facilities will use cleaner technologies than the old ones and run more efficiently, making the old, polluting plants obsolete.
But opponents of the plants say there are no guarantees that the older plants will be displaced.
"When we add the emissions from the new facilities to the pollution being produced by the older, dirtier plants, our air quality will suffer even more," Onorato said.
The two state legislators are also seeking support in Congress for a federal bill to force older plants to modernize.
Separately, City Council Speaker Peter Vallone (D-Astoria) is asking the federal Environmental Protection Agency for help in monitoring water pollution by Astoria's power plants. In a letter dated March 9, Vallone asked the EPA's regional administrator to review New York state standards for allowing discharge from power plants into the waters surrounding Astoria.
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