It’s NOT  About Fish vs Jobs


Many of the recent articles about the struggle over a water quality certificate for Indian Point have been framed as fish versus jobs.  The writer for the Westchester Business Journal contended that “the state must choose between jobs for working-class families and caviar for the resident elite on the Hudson…”. Nothing could be further from the truth. That writer, and many others, have swallowed the energy company’s publicity hook, line and sinker. The battle over a water quality certificate for Indian Point is not about fish vs.  jobs. This set up is a red herring put out by Entergy, the owners of Indian Point, to obscure the real issues.  It’s an old trick that corporations have used effectively time and time again to fool the public into believing that degrading our environment is a necessary component of economic growth.


And that’s too bad because it is just plain wrong. The plants will still be there and will come back on line with the same workers after closed cycle cooling is installed. The economic impact of Entergy on our economy is what many business people really seem to be referring to. And again, that’s too bad because their information is incomplete. You have to use statistics and look at a larger economic picture. Bill Freudenberg of the University of California, Santa Barbara, has done just that. According to his statistics, “Big polluters’ actual contributions to the economy have been more or less in line with the “benefits” that could have been delivered by a string of bank robberies. A few people really do make out like bandits but for the economy as a whole, the net effect is more likely to be negative.” He is quite clear that this is negative economically, as well as environmentally and he has the statistics to prove it.


It is no different with Indian Point and Entergy. Make no mistake about it, the super heated stream of water the plant dumps into the river 24/7 is pollution and it is harming the river.  You have only to read the state’s environmental studies and take a look at the court cases to know that this is true. Who benefits from this charade? Ultimately stockholders do by avoiding disposal costs. Who loses out?  The public. Framing the issue as fish versus jobs has made thermal pollution a virtually invisible issue.


Entergy has refused to comply with the Clean Water Act. That’s why a federal court case was necessary to settle this point. The court ordered DEC to enforce the law. Entergy is the single largest user of water in the state.  They could reduce their water consumption and thermal pollution by 95% by going to closed cycle cooling like so many in their industry already do.  It would make a huge difference because of the volume of water involved. Other smaller users of water are in dialog with DEC and are seeking to comply. Many of them taken together do not use the volume of water that Entergy does.


What this means is that Entergy uses a disproportionate share of the river and is responsible for the largest percentage of damage. The returns to our local economy from Entergy are minimal and are actually beside the point. Despite the orchestrated support from many of the trades, only about 400 union workers are actually employed at both reactors and Local 1 - 2, the union that represents these workers is notable by its absence from public hearings. There is no reason to think that any of them will lose a job during transition to closed cycle cooling. More importantly, Entergy is not a public works agency.  It is a multi-million dollar, multinational corporation that earns two million dollars a day from Indian Point.  That’s a billion dollars a year.  They have a special agreement called a PILOT (Payments in Lieu of Taxes) and so do not even pay their fair share of property taxes. Certainly they can afford to do the right thing, but they are in operation to turn a profit and have calculated that it is cheaper to wage a publicity campaign than to obey the law.


The jobs vs. the environment argument is the same kind of rhetoric used by logging companies in the Northwest thirty years ago. Remember the spotted owl? Big corporations of the day succeeded in convincing a lot of loggers and many members of the community that those “those damned environmentalist are using a bird to take jobs away and close down our economy.”  


Had they prevailed, owls and old growth forests would both be a thing of the past. Luckily they did not. Some of the old growth forest was saved, spotted owls still raise their young, there is some sustainable logging and many communities found that having a diverse forest ecosystem led to economic growth through tourism. It is now clear that large scale logging was doomed long before any environmental laws were passed because most of the old growth forest had already been cut down.  The spotted owl was just a convenient fall guy.


So it is with the fish and the Hudson River.  


Ford used to dump enough excess auto paint in the river, so much so that the river ran red or blue or whatever the color of the day was.  Who benefited? Stockholders did because profits were higher without disposal costs.  Who got the short end of the stick? The public. When the law finally caught up with the company and required them to clean up, Ford did not go out of business. They were big polluters and when they were stopped, it made a huge difference to the river and the river-town economies we now have.


General Electric dumped PCB’s in the river for years.  Who benefited? Stockholders.  Who is still being deprived of a vibrant fishing economy which used to be worth millions of dollars?  Fishermen and the public.  Remediation and paying for the damages is still an ongoing matter but it is not going to put GE out of business. Years from now when people can once again safely eat fish from the river and a vibrant fishing industry makes a comeback they will wonder how we tolerated the pollution for so long.


Electricity, like timber or cars is a commodity and it comes from many different sources. If it is not produced at Indian Point, it will be produced elsewhere for as long as there is a demand just like any other item in a market based economy. By playing on exaggerated fears of higher electricity rates the company has created an unwarranted  panic in the business community.


There are two power plants at Indian Point.  It is highly unlikely that both would come off line at the same time to be retro fitted for closed cycle cooling. Electricity will continue to get produced while one plant is fixed so we are talking about a temporary reduction of 1,000 MW of power, not 2,000MW which is the total  output when both reactors are up and running. This is the exact same amount that goes off the grid during planned outages every 18 months or so. The lights do not go off then and the subways still run. Producers of electricity will do as they have always done - compete for long term contracts which will help keep costs down. That’s the way the free market works and it is amazing that some in the business community do not support capitalism in this instance.

Requiring closed cycle cooling is not an arbitrary whim on the part of DEC. They are doing what the law requires them to do - enforcing the Clean Water Act. The studies have been carefully done and the courts have rendered a verdict. Entergy needs to clean up its act, go to closed cycle cooling and stop trying to make out like a bandit.  

  Marilyn Elie               Westchester Citizens Awareness Network