Closing Indian Point, An Environmental Injustice
If global warming and climate change are the most important environmental issues facing us today, then the emission-free electricity generating technology represented by the Indian Point nuclear power plant is a virtual wonder of the world. This plant operates twenty-four hours a day, seven days a week for over 90% of the year. It is one of New York’s greatest infrastructure assets and particularly benefits our urban minority communities.
The New York State-approved Clean Energy Standard (CES) aims to make our state a national leader in clean energy by reducing carbon emissions 40 percent, and by producing 50 percent of our energy from renewable sources by 2030.
As New York begins to implement the CES, the Cuomo administration has recognized the importance of our nuclear fleet as a bridge to a renewable future. The case for it is compelling. According to the New York Independent System Operator (NYISO), which operates the electric grid, these virtually zero-carbon plants provide 10% of the state’s total electricity, and more than 25% of NYC’s and Westchester’s electricity. An Nuclear Energy Institute (NEI) analysis concluded that Indian Point provides nearly 60% of the state’s clean electricity, generating clean power around the clock, day and night, and when the wind isn’t blowing.
In 2013 our six nuclear plants prevented the release of 22 million metric tons of carbon into our air, equal to keeping nearly 5 million cars off the road. In distinct contrast, the U.S. Energy Information Administration (EIA) says that in the same year oil, gas, and coal burning released over 160 million metric tons of carbon into New York’s air.
Renewable electric generation cannot for the foreseeable future reach significant scale to replace Indian Point’s 2,000 megawatts of electricity. And history shows energy efficiency and conservation do not significantly reduce demand.
The retirement of Indian Point is likely to begin a chain reaction resulting in increased global warming gases, increased ground-level carbon emissions and negative health consequences for already vulnerable communities.
New York stands to lose a substantial amount of its clean power with Indian Point’s closure. To comply with reliability standards, power production would likely increase at fossil-fuel power plants, resulting in increased carbon emissions. Because zoning regulations limit the placement of power plants, minority communities, which are more often located in close proximity to districts zoned for heavy industry, will suffer increased health consequences associated with the increased air pollution. Closing Indian Point may very well be the most significant environmental injustice of our time.
About the Author and AAEA: Norris McDonald is president of the African American Environmentalist Association (AAEA). Founded in 1985, the AAEA is one of the nation’s oldest African American-led environmental organizations. The AAEA is dedicated to protecting the environment, enhancing human, animal and plant ecologies, promoting the efficient use of natural resources and increasing African American participation in the environmental movement.