Audubon Group opposes Cuomo effort to weaken energy project reviews

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From The Delaware-Otsego Audubon Society:

The Delaware-Otsego Audubon Soc., a Chapter of the National Audubon Soc., has adopted a
position opposing Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo’s attempt to insert legislation weakening environmental review of renewable energy projects into the pending state budget.

The Governor’s proposal would replace the current Article 10 proceedings with a trucated and limited review under the aegis of the state Dep’t. of Economic Development. Among the legislation’s provisions is a requirement that “General expressions of disagreement with or general opposition to… a major renewable energy facility during the public comment period shall not be considered to be substantive or significant…”, a limitation long-sought by large-scale wind corporations.

Attached: DOAS Statement of Opposition

The Delaware-Otsego Audubon Soc., a Chapter of the National Audubon Soc., covering Delaware, Otsego, and portions of Schoharie and Chenango Counties in NY State, is opposed to the proposal by Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo to weaken environmental review of renewable energy projects in the state.

Dubbed the Accelerated Renewable Energy Growth and Community Benefit Act, the Governor’s legislation, added as a late amendment to the budget bill, would limit involvement of the public, local municipalities, and environmental organizations in review of the environmental impacts of large-scale wind and solar facilities.

The present Article 10 proceedings would be replaced by a shortened process under the aegis of the state Dep’t. of Economic Development, rather than the Departments of Public Service and Environmental Conservation. Language in the legislation includes, “General expressions of disagreement with or general opposition to… a major renewable energy facility during the public comment period shall not be considered to be substantive or significant…” This provision is sought by energy developers to keep residents, local officials, wildlife groups and others from raising issues related to a project. It significantly diminishes the long-standing requirement for public input and transparency in review of projects that affect the environment in NY.

The legislation also provides developers with a get-out-of-jail-free card by allowing payment into a mitigation fund which absolves them of responsibility for deaths of birds and other wildlife and destruction of wildlife. This politically-controlled fund will supposedly be used for mitigation, but the state has a dismal record in this regard, and there will be minimal oversight of its use.

The Governor’s proposal would remove requirements for evidentiary hearings, cross-examination of expert testimony, adequate public hearings and other procedures necessary for a rigorous and fair review of energy projects. In addition it establishes an arbitrary one year deadline after which a project would be automatically approved. Delaware-Otsego Audubon Soc. has been involved in review of several NY State wind projects, including providing financial support for one of the state’s first projects in Madison Co. through purchase of wind credits.

We support renewable energy as a necessity for replacement of fossil fuels. However, we do not believe environmental review and public participation should be sacrificed to speed approval of projects for the benefit of developers. For these reasons we oppose this legislation and urge lawmakers to reject the proposal.

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