LBANY, Sept. 4 — Settling a dispute with
environmental and community groups, New York State has agreed
to shut down a power plant in Astoria, Queens, that is the
largest source, by far, of toxic pollution in New York
The State Power Authority is to announce Thursday that it
will close the facility, the Charles Poletti plant, at some
point between 2008 and 2010, and that until then it will
steeply cut emissions by changing the plant's mix of fuels.
The Power Authority wants to build a 500-megawatt plant
next to the existing 825-megawatt Poletti plant, near the East
River. Environmentalists usually favor building new plants
because they are far cleaner than older ones, but they have
been fighting for two years to block this project, using their
resistance as leverage to persuade the authority to eliminate
Two recent court decisions gave environmental groups
powerful new ammunition, and they threatened to sue to block
the new plant when it seemed likely earlier this year that a
state board would approve it.
Gov. George E. Pataki stepped in, according to people
involved in the case, and directed the Power Authority to
settle the dispute. The resulting agreement, which is legally
binding on the authority, provides for closing Poletti and
clears the way for approval of the new plant next door.
"To me, it was very simple that we had to get this thing
done, and not simply because we wanted to have a new plant
online, but because we wanted to end the pollution from the
Poletti plant," the governor said today in an interview. "The
new plants are so infinitely cleaner that those who just
blanket oppose any new construction do the state and its
environment a disservice."
The deal saves the governor, who is in the middle of a
re-election campaign, from the prospect of a high-profile
lawsuit and accusations that his administration is on the
unpopular side of an environmental issue.
An Environmental Protection Agency report released in
August named Poletti as far and away the largest source of
toxic air, ground or water emissions in New York City, at more
than 250,000 pounds per year — more than all reported sources
in Brooklyn, Manhattan and the Bronx, combined.
"This community has been pleading for years to shut the
thing down, and the E.P.A. report added fuel to that," said
Assemblyman Michael N. Gianaris, who represents the
neighborhood. "It's the one plant in the city the governor
really has control over, and I'm obviously thrilled he did the
Lisa Garcia, a lawyer for the New York Public Interest
Research Group and one of the people who negotiated the
agreement, said Poletti frequently violated the terms of its
environmental permits. "We made it very clear that we were
ready to go to the court and say, `They can't build a new
plant until they do some environmental mitigation, and the
best mitigation is to close Poletti,' " she said.
Poletti can burn either natural gas or oil, and in recent
years it has used oil more than 60 percent of the time; oil
creates much more pollution than gas. Under the agreement,
starting in January, it will burn oil no more than 25 percent
of the time from May through September, and no more than 40
percent the rest of the year.
The new 500-megawatt plant will use oil even less often,
and will have up-to-date emission controls that Poletti lacks.
When that plant is running and Poletti is closed, the net
effect, environmental groups say, will be a 95 percent
reduction in both sulfur dioxide and nitrogen oxides.