Cuomo Wins Round in Bid to Shut Entergy’s Indian Point Plant

  • Court says re-licensing requires state regulation review
  • Ruling is victory in campaign to shut New York City-area plant

New York Governor Andrew Cuomo’s campaign to shut Entergy Corp.’s Indian Point nuclear power plant moved ahead with a court ruling that renewing its federal licenses will require a review of whether it meets current environmental standards.

The New York Court of Appeals, the state’s top court in Albany, on Monday said the plant must comply with 1982 regulations designed to protect fish and wildlife resources, control air and water pollution and minimize damage from flooding or erosion. The company argued it was sufficient that the facility, which opened in 1962, complied coastal management requirements in effect at the time.

The ruling is a win for Cuomo, who has pushed to permanently close the complex in Buchanan on the Hudson River because of the radioactive risk it poses to New York City, 25 miles (40 kilometers) to the south.

The U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission said in May that it was revamping its assessment of potential accidents at the plant after the state pointed to flaws in previous studies. It’s unclear how Monday’s decision will affect Indian Point’s bid for a 20-year license renewal, said Kit Konolige, a Bloomberg Intelligence analyst.

"New York’s contention is that the coastal zone items have to be satisfied for a license renewal,” Kit Konolige said, adding that the NRC ultimately controls whether Entergy gets a new license, a decision that will likely take years. “This is an ongoing chess game."

The plant has a generating capacity of more than 2,000 megawatts, or about 25 percent of the power used in New York City and suburban Westchester County, according to Entergy’s website. The company said on Twitter after the decision that Indian Point contributes $1.6 billion in economic benefits each year.

‘Fully Protective’

Entergy, based in New Orleans, said in a statement that it’s reviewing the ruling to determine its next steps and that it believes it will ultimately be able to resolve the dispute over coastal management regulations. 

“In the meantime, the facility continues to safely operate in a manner that is fully protective of the Hudson River and in compliance with state and federal law,” the company said.

New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman called the decision “a major victory for the continued health and productivity of our state’s environment.”  

“The court has now made it clear that policies protecting New York’s critical coastal resources are a necessary factor in considering whether to re-license the Indian Point facility,” Schneiderman said in a statement.

The state said Entergy’s application, filed in 2007, wasn’t exempt from review. The company sued to overturn that decision, arguing that the two operating reactors at the site already complied with environmental protection laws passed in 1976. A judge in 2013 upheld the state’s finding, a ruling that was reversed by a mid-level appeals court the following year.

Different Concerns

In its unanimous ruling on Monday, the top court said the exemptions cited by Entergy don’t apply to the renewal application, which involves a new project and therefore a new federal action.

The facility poses “different impacts and concerns that were present when the initial environmental impact statements were issued over 40 years ago,” the court said.

The decision “effectively stops” the commission from re-licensing Indian Point, said Paul Gallay, president of Riverkeeper, a nonprofit group dedicated to the protection of the Hudson River that supported the state’s decision.

“Indian Point is not needed to provide energy to the New York metropolitan area,” Gallay said in a statement. “It is not safe to continue operating.”

The court ruling comes days after the state approved Entergy’s $110 million agreement to sell its James A. FitzPatrick nuclear plant in Oswego, New York, to Exelon Corp. The sale followed the approval of subsidies for money-losing nuclear reactors in update New York, the first state to throw such a lifeline to an industry struggling with weak demand and low prices. Indian Point was initially exempt from qualifying for the subsidies. The aid is part of Cuomo’s goal of getting half the state’s power from renewable sources by 2030.

The case is In the Matter of Entergy Nuclear Operations Inc., v. New York State Department of State, No. 179, New York State Court of Appeals (Albany). The lower-court case is Entergy Nuclear Operations Inc. v. New York State Department of State, 1535-2013, New York State
Supreme Court, Albany County.

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