On Nov. 16, scores of residents from New York and Connecticut blockaded the Cricket Valley Energy Center, the largest fracked gas power plant in the Northeast, to demand that New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo shut it down before its scheduled opening, due to climate and environment impacts. The plant is located in Duchess County, New York, a few miles from the Connecticut border. Residents in both states are concerned about the methane, other global warming gases and contaminants that will be released into the atmosphere.
Before dawn, 10 protesters locked themselves to a tractor in the power plant’s parking lot, while 4 others scaled the 275-foot smokestack and perched on the walkway at the top for almost 12 hours. The climate activists succeeded in shutting down the plant for the day. Twenty-nine people were arrested on charges of trespass, and the four on the smokestack were charged with criminal trespass.
The 1,100-megawatt plant is scheduled to open in early 2020. The company building it says it could power a million homes and partially replace the power that will be lost when the nearby Indian Point nuclear plant closes in a few years. But opponents maintain that replacing nuclear power with fossil fuels is the wrong direction to go. Between The Lines’ Melinda Tuhus attended the rally, which was enlivened by Rev. Billy’s Church of Stop Shopping choir. In the following report she speaks with some of the protest participants, including a first-year student at nearby Vassar College named Martin.
MARTIN BURSTEIN: We have a Sunrise/XR (Extinction Rebellion) hub at Vassar. It started this semester; we’re super-small but it encourages students to go to events like this. This kind of just came up in terms of our agenda, and we happily reached out. So there are a bunch of Vassar students – one is right next to me, Max – that are just super-excited to be participating in this. I think for most of us, this is our first real event of trespassing, and I think this has been a great experience so far. We’ve been out here since 5 this morning – so we got to set up this barrier very early. We even had to let some of the workers who were already here go, which I thought was a pretty good move on us.
BETWEEN THE LINES: What do you mean you had to let some of the workers go? What happened?
MARTIN BURSTEIN: So we arrived at about 5 in the morning, probably more like 5:30, and there were already workers here. Our goal with this soft blockade is to prevent anyone else from coming in, and we didn’t realize there were already people there from maybe a night shift or something, so that came up around the second hour of the protest. I think the day’s work is cancelled here, which is a huge victory for us. So they were instructed to leave. We allowed them this one little gate; we handed out some flyers. I was talking to one of the outreach people, and they said 5 percent of them were super behind us. We got some thumbs up. One person even said, “I’m with you.” So we were really respecting the workers. They weren’t the villains in this story.
JOHANNA FALLERT: My name is Johanna Fallert. We’ve been opposed to the CVEC, and we’ve held many actions. We went to town boards to talk to the people about what this plant represented. When you burn natural gas, you’re putting pollutants into the air that harm people and harm the environment; they accelerate global warming. In 2011, an environmental study was conducted and based on that study that the plant would not harm the environment, a permit was granted in 2012 to build this plant. Now we’re here in 2019; it took five years to find the foreign investors and national investors so they could make profit over people. We’ve gone to town boards, to school boards to warn about the dangers. In April, we presented a petition to the Department of Environmental Conservation, the governor and other New York state legislators, asking them to conduct a Supplemental Environmental Impact Study of Cricket Valley, because since 2011 we have a host of research from climate scientists and medical experts that say we can’t continue to put natural gas emissions into the air. We can’t continue to burn natural gas. This plant has to be stopped and it has to be stopped sooner rather than later.
Just three-quarters of a mile from here, there’s a middle school/high school complex of 800 school children. Children are more vulnerable to pollutants than other groups of people, as are the elderly, as are people who have immune systems that are compromised due to lung conditions or cardiac conditions. This is a danger to humanity and what we do here affects the world. The air doesn’t belong to Dover. It belongs to all of us.
BETWEEN THE LINES: I wanted to ask you a question. One of the articles I read about this said this is being proposed to fulfill half the energy that’s now being provided by Indian Point nuclear plant when it closes down. Do you or does your group have a position on nuclear power, and what do you think should have been done instead of building the fracked gas plant?
JOHANNA FALLERT: Well, this may have been a good idea back in 2009 and ’10 when they were conceiving of this plant. It’s not a good idea now because we know there are alternatives. If they had taken the $1.5 billion they put into this plant into research that’s required for renewable energies, we’d be far ahead of where we are now. We have geothermal, we have solar, wind, we have all forms of renewable energy, and those are the forms that don’t hurt people and those are the forms we have to pursue.