By Dan Hust
MONTICELLO February 6, 2007 Congressman Maurice Hinchey (D-NY) unveiled legislation yesterday that he hopes to use to derail New York Regional Interconnect’s (NYRI’s) plans to run high-voltage powerlines through upstate New York.
Speaking to a crowd of supporters and fellow politicians at the Sullivan County Government Center in Monticello, Hinchey touted three proposed laws as ways to definitively close the federal door in NYRI’s face.
“This is something that really must be done,” he remarked to applause from a group that included representatives of four agencies fighting the NYRI project. “We think we have a solution to stop them.”
The first piece of legislation, he explained, would repeal a portion of the Energy Policy Act of 2005 in which Congress authorized the U.S. Department of Energy to designate areas of the country as National Interest Electric Transmission Corridors (NIETCs).
The second piece of legislation is a direct outgrowth of the first, as it would prohibit the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) from granting eminent domain authority to projects that received the NIETC designation, which NYRI is seeking.
The third piece of legislation would protect certain scenic, natural, cultural or historic places from being considered for inclusion in NIETCs places like the Upper Delaware Scenic and Recreational River, which the National Park Service oversees.
Within each piece are overlapping and secondary provisions, such as prohibiting appeals to the president by energy companies and allowing property owners to be compensated if they feel their land’s value has been diminished by such projects.
In essence, the passage of even just one of these proposed laws would severely limit NYRI’s ability at the federal level to gain needed approvals and property rights to build a 200-mile string of powerlines across the state, including the western and southern sections of Sullivan County. NYRI has proposed to erect large towers and related infrastructure on the existing Millennium natural gas pipeline right-of-way in the county, although Millennium officials have said they have several safety concerns and are not authorized to grant access to NYRI.
Indeed, at the local and state levels, NYRI has been blocked left and right, from securing state approval to seeking to take properties by eminent domain. Even new Governor Eliot Spitzer has indicated disapproval of the plan.
While NYRI has taken the matter to state court via a lawsuit, the Canadian energy company’s only other recourse is at the federal level, and it is there that Hinchey hopes to give the knockout punch but he’s going to need help from not just fellow representatives but also the Senate. Senators Hillary Clinton and Chuck Schumer, who represent New York State, could not be reached for comment, although Hinchey predicted Senate sponsorship of the bills might come as early as this week.
Hinchey, however, already has the support of agencies like the Sullivan County Legislature, the Upper Delaware Council (UDC) and the Upper Delaware Preservation Coalition.
“This national treasure,” said UDC Executive Director Bill Douglass of the Delaware River, “must not be used as a corridor for private or public transmission lines.”
“We are not talking NIMBY [Not In My Back Yard] here,” added SayNo2NYRI representative Nina Guenste. “What we’re saying is that no private corporation has the right… to take our homes for their own personal gain.
“We’re united from Utica to Rock Tavern,” she said, to nods of assent from Hinchey and other attendees.
“This will stop NYRI from intruding itself on the privacy of New York citizens,” said Hinchey.
A NYRI official said the company was preparing a statement in response, but as of press time that had not been received.