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New proposed guidelines suggest more scrutiny on NY air permit renewals

Air Permit Renewal Guidance WEB

VESTAL, NY (WSKG) — Newly released draft guidelines from the DEC suggest the environmental regulator will apply stricter scrutiny toward the renewal of air pollution permits for facilities, under the state’s climate law.

The draft guidance lays out methodology and criteria for consideration by DEC regulators to evaluate when considering whether an existing permit holder is consistent with the state’s climate goals. Those goals, legally instituted under the Climate Leadership and Community Protection Act, or CLCPA, include a stipulation requiring the energy generation sector to be carbon neutral by 2040 among other requirements.

Roger Downs, Conservation Director of the Sierra Club’s Atlantic Chapter, said the document codifies a change in practice by the DEC, which previously only evaluated new air permit applications for consistency with the CLCPA.

"In this policy shift, DEC clarifies that they'll be applying more scrutiny to their permit renewals if there's any aspect of the power plant or factory that's changed since the issuance of the original Title V air permit. And the DEC may ask for additional information and weigh those changes against the requirements of the climate law," Downs said.

The guidance specifically notes a number of conditions that would constitute a facility being noncompliant with the CLCPA. They include creating significant new sources of greenhouse gas emissions or new demand for sources of greenhouse gas emissions. Projects that interfere with the requirement of the energy generation sector being carbon neutral by 2040 would also be considered noncompliant.

The move comes as the DEC is considering renewal of the air pollution permits for Greenidge Generation, a natural gas fired power plant and Bitcoin mining operation along Seneca Lake in Yates County.

The Greenidge facility has been operating under air permits issued before it expanded its capacity to generate cryptocurrency using excess electricity generated at the plant.

Earlier this year, the DEC held a public hearing and opened a public commentperiod on Greenidge’s permit renewal application, contending that the facility did not demonstrate compliance with the CLCPA.

Downs advocates against the facility and the Sierra Club is currently one of several parties asking for a judge to halt construction of new Bitcoin mining equipment at the plant. He said the new DEC guidance creates a strong argument for the DEC to shut down Greenidge.

"It really does read like they, while it's cryptic, they're trying to address this industry and Greenidge is really the first industry that will be put to the test here,” Downs said.

The new guidance is subject to public comment until Jan. 7, 2022.

A spokesperson for Greenidge did not reply to a request for comment Wednesday evening.

Vaughn Golden has been reporting across New York since 2016. Working as a freelancer while studying journalism and economics at Ithaca College, Vaughn has reported for a number of outlets including the Albany Times Union, New York Post, and NPR among others. Prior to coming to WSKG full-time, Vaughn was a reporter for the Watertown Daily Times. Vaughn now covers government and politics for WSKG.