Dear Governor Cuomo,
We thank you for your leadership at this very difficult time. With New York’s number of coronavirus infections now exceeding 250,000, with 57,000 New Yorkers in the hospital and almost 15,000 deaths, we are facing the worst disaster in the state’s recent history and we don’t know when it will end.
People old and young are fighting for their lives. Hospitals are overloaded and people are dying because of difficulty breathing and lung failure. Your battle to procure ventilators and PPEs for hospitals will help save lives but there is something else important you can do to not worsen the impact of this already disastrous pandemic.
You can exercise your executive power to suspend the closure of Indian Point. We, the undersigned and those who have signed onto this enclosed Change.org petition, urge you to stop this poorly-timed closure and keep New York City’s 2-gigawatt, zero-emission, zero-air pollutant clean energy generation facility operational.
Postponing the shutdown of Indian Point and preventing a surge of new, toxic fossil fuel pollutants from spewing into the air while people are perishing from respiratory failure, is probably the most critical, preventative thing you can do to ease suffering and additional deaths. We already know for sure that air pollution is linked to higher coronavirus death rates, as this Harvard study found.
Furthermore, closing Indian Point now adds unnecessarily to New York City’s vulnerability, just as state resources are stretched thin dealing with the pandemic. Do you really want to add grid fragility and unpredictability to the current crisis, when summer is rapidly approaching and the whole city may have to continue sheltering-in-place indoors? What if there is an extreme and prolonged heat wave?
Wall Street Journal columnist, Peggy Noonan, who is sick with COVID, said it best: “Everything works—and will continue to work—as long as we have electricity. It’s what keeps the lights on, the oxygen flowing, the information going. Everything is the grid, the grid, the grid.” With millions of New Yorkers’ lives dependent upon air-conditioners and/or ventilators, do you really want to arbitrarily shut down our most reliable, clean power source? Extreme weather impacts are already baked in, so chances are days will be hotter this coming summer than any prior year. How much hotter, we don’t know.
Last summer, you oversaw the passage of the Climate Leadership and Community Protection Act. You set New York on a path to reduce emissions by 100 percent—a highly celebrated achievement for you. With your planned, early closure of Indian Point, however, you are replacing New York’s largest source of clean energy with dirty fossil fuel generated power, not renewables. Frankly, this is not the deal that New Yorkers want. You are arbitrarily wasting an asset worth 10s of billions of dollars, shutting off 80 percent of New York’s clean energy, and adding more polluting energy and carbon emissions to boot. This would move us further away from your 0 percent emission vision.
If you want the credit for committing New York to meaningful emissions reduction, you have to do the hard work to prevent the closure of a safe, working, clean power plant. Shutting down Indian Point will reverse decades of progress in both clean air and carbon emissions and violate the vision you signed into law with the CLCPA. It also contravenes the latest scientific findings showing that nuclear power is utterly crucial to our decarbonized future and, frankly, sets another terrible example for the world, which for too long has ignored the scientists’ warnings about the urgency of emissions reductions.
Views about nuclear power have shifted dramatically since the deal to close Indian Point was inked. Germany’s failed and expensive efforts to shutter its nuclear plants and replace them with renewables forced Merkel to have to chop down ancient forests and arrest protesters to dig coal just to avoid blackouts. More scientifically-minded environmental leaders are recognizing that nuclear power is necessary in our fight to address climate change. The Union of Concerned Scientists, The Nature Conservancy, World Resources Institute, National Geographic and others have published revised recommendations regarding nuclear power within the last few years. Nuclear has moved from being viewed negatively to being seen as vital clean technology without which we cannot quickly or cost-effectively eliminate our addiction to fossil fuels. While anti-nuclear rantings may still help groups like NRDC and Riverkeeper raise donations, they reflect obsolete views not supported by the best science or scientists.
You have repeatedly stressed that you listen to healthcare experts to learn how to lessen the spread of Covid-19. We are asking you to also listen to leading climate experts, embrace the latest knowledge and work to bring science laggards along with you. Fortunately, in this instance, doing the right thing for climate aligns with doing the right thing to fight Covid-19 deaths.
Dr. James Hansen, the renowned climate scientist at Columbia’s Earth Institute who first testified to the Senate about the warming impacts of polluting emissions on the climate, recently wrote: “Coronavirus and human-caused climate change are both characterized by a delayed response which makes the problem and its solution more difficult. With the virus the delay time is of order weeks; with climate change the delay is of order generations. In both cases, by the time the effects become obvious, there is a much larger response ‘in the pipeline.’ We are in a race to find remedies in both cases, but the near-term focus on the virus provides a moment to assess the [near-term] actions needed for climate.”
The near-term action we need right now is protecting all sources of clean, reliable energy. As scientists, engineers, doctors, lawyers, environmentalists, businesspeople, mothers and fathers, we urge you to set an example for the whole world by recognizing the need to preserve all of New York’s nuclear power—as critical sources of carbon-free, pollutant-free baseload power. A pandemic is clearly the wrong time to fire up new polluting fossil fuel power but, given the climate crisis, no time is a good time to backtrack on your climate commitments.
We applauded your achievement with NY Renews to put New York on a path to a zero carbon future but New York’s failure to build the new renewables needed to replace Indian Point should have paused the plan to shutter Indian Point, not given life to new sources of fossil fuels. You need to keep your eye on New York’s long-term sustainability—which is deeply threatened by sea level rise and extreme weather events—and allowing fossil fuels to replace Indian Point’s clean generation digs a deeper hole. There is no excuse for this.
Governor Cuomo, you have the executive power to postpone the planned closure of Indian Point and we strongly urge you to do so. We think this issue is of such a critical nature to the long-term health and safety of everyone, that resolving it properly must supersede politics. Given the personal concerns you’ve expressed, we recommend that you impanel a scientific commission of experts to conduct a thorough review of the environmental risks and impacts of shuttering Indian Point and increasing gas usage. We welcome an opportunity to help you better understand the real impacts of closing Indian Point and the scientific and economic bases for nuclear’s critical role in resilient, cost-effective, decarbonized grids that do not take over all our open spaces and also have the juice to power the carbon sequestration New York will need to go from 85 to 100 percent carbon neutral by 2050.
This decision is a matter of life and death for New Yorkers today as well as for billions of people and species already direly impacted by climate change. You say you are a leader that listens to scientists. Millions of New Yorkers—and others around the world—need you to be just that: a leader with the courage to resist business as usual and embrace the scientific knowledge that enables you to protect people and the planet for real. You have the political capital, the talent and the smarts to be that leader. We’re counting on you.
[The Undersigned Parties: includes those with whom we were in direct contact and additional signers displayed as Commenters below]
UPDATE: EARTH DAY, April 22, 2020
Our letter was delivered to Governor Cuomo with well over 200 signers listed directly on the letter, along with a copy of the petition and a link to a page with the PDF print-out of over 5,600 petitioners’ names and more than a dozen pages of petitioner comments. The petition now has nearly 8,000 signatures, which you can access through our Petition page. We are still accepting signatures and comments below. You can find Press information here. Thank you everyone for your help supporting New York’s largest source of clean energy.