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LIPA criticizes senator's claims over Northport power plant emissions

The Northport power station is seen on Wednesday,

The Northport power station is seen on Wednesday, Aug. 26, 2015.  Credit: Newsday/John Paraskevas

LIPA and National Grid on Tuesday called “inaccurate” a series of claims by a state senator about excessive emissions from Long Island’s largest power plant in Northport, even as the state Department of Health said it had fielded concerns from the community over the plant’s possible health impacts.

In a letter to State Sen. James Gaughran (D-Northport) on Tuesday, LIPA general council Anna Chacko charged the senator’s statements at a news conference last Friday were a “misreading” of a report by the state Department of Environmental Conservation.

Gaughran has said a DEC report from 2019 showed that the Northport plant “violated some state and federal emission levels,” including for certain volatile organic compounds. He also charged that LIPA wasn’t providing access to the emissions reports, as required.

“We had to FOIL for the information,” Gaughran told Newsday Monday, referring to a state Freedom of Information Law request. “All we’re looking for is transparency. It’s concerning."

Chacko in her letter noted that the excessive ozone reported by the DEC in its 2019 emissions report referred to the levels in the Town of Huntington and beyond, and not at the Northport plant.

“In fact,” she wrote, “it is the entire New York Metropolitan Control Area, which consists of Northern New Jersey, New York City, Nassau County, Suffolk County, Westchester County and Fairfield County, Conn.,” which is in “nonattainment for ozone, including all the local towns, villages and hamlets within the jurisdictions.”

She further noted that reasons for the excessive ozone are manifold, including car emissions, “stationary sources” such as power plants, and emissions from polluters from the mainland United States to the west. 

Chacko said the reporting and emissions requirements for plant are the responsibility of plant-owner National Grid, which has since “reaffirmed” that it meets its contract requirements with LIPA and is “unaware of any current regulatory citations from the state.”

“The Northport power station complies with DEC permits that regulate all aspects of the power plants activities, including air, water and waste,” Chanko wrote, adding that LIPA would ask National Grid to provide Gaughran and the Town of Huntington with copies of the reports.

Gaughran in response said Huntington Town "never released LIPA from the obligations and reporting responsibilities that were undertaken in the Original Siting Agreements with the Northport Generating Station."

He said that while he was "pleased LIPA has heeded my calls for transparency and is finally directing" National Grid to release reports to the town, he added: "It's a shame LIPA continues to act as a runaway authority operating in darkness, while expanding their already bloated staff year after year at ratepayers' expense. If LIPA is nothing more than a holding company, what is their actual purpose?"

Meanwhile, in a Dec. 20 letter to residents the state Health Department said it was “aware of concerns raised by the community over the possibility of health effects related to the Northport power station in Northport, and conditions at the Northport Middle School.”

The Health Department has begun an investigation in cancer occurrence within the district “to see how it might differ from what is typically found in communities.”

In a statement Tuesday, the Health Department said it has been working since March 2019 to "confirm and gather additional information about the cancer (primarily leukemia) cases reported to have occurred among the 2016 Northport High School class."

Notably, the Health Department said it was "now expanding its cancer incidence investigation to look at cancers over a longer time period and to look at cancers among children and adults in the entire school district."

The investigation will include "all types of cancer among all ages, with a focus on young people and young adults," and review "whether there are cancer elevations among residents of the school district as a whole, certain geographic areas within the school district, in specific time frames, or within specific age groups."

Gaughran said he’s had regular communications from residents about possible health impacts from the plant, which LIPA has said has been used significantly less than it had been 20 years ago.

LIPA’s contract for the National Grid-owned plant expires in 2027. And LIPA is separately awaiting a court verdict from a challenge to the more than $80 million the plant pays in annual property taxes, a verdict that could significantly raise taxes within the school district. Gaughran said the health and tax issues are unrelated.

Wendy Ladd, a spokeswoman for National Grid, said: “The information reported last week regarding the Northport Power Station was inaccurate and misleading. There is no connection between the Northport Power Plant operations and the recent health issue in Northport.”

She said the company operates the plant “in compliance with Department of Environmental Conservation permits that regulate all aspects of the Power Station’s activities. The power plant is routinely monitored and complies with all State and Federal Regulations. The health and safety of the community and our employees is our highest priority.”

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