Entergy issues warning to minority neighborhoods

By Roger Witherspoon and Keith Eddings, The Journal News, October 24, 2003

The company that owns the Indian Point nuclear reactors is warning low-income, minority neighborhoods in Westchester and New York City that new power plants might be built in their communities if Indian Point is forced to close.

In Westchester, the company is collecting signatures on petitions containing the warnings in the Yonkers, Mount Vernon and Greenburgh neighborhoods represented by the three blacks and one Latino who serve on the county legislature, but it is bypassing the 13 districts represented by white legislators.

The petition drive, orchestrated by Entergy Nuclear Northeast, warns that the low-income neighborhoods where there already is "an over-representation of facilities that produce air pollution ... will be disproportionately affected by the efforts of regional environmental groups seeking to close Indian Point."

A memo attached to the petitions that Entergy sent to the four legislators on Monday is more direct: "In recent years, nearly all proposals for new power plants in New York State have been in or adjacent to areas with high concentration(s) of people of African descent and Latinos," the memo says.

Legislators recoiled at what they said is an effort by Entergy to use race to pressure them on Indian Point, and at the company's presumption that any company would get needed approvals to open new plants anywhere in Westchester. Thirteen months ago, the legislators voted 16-0 for a resolution calling for the shutdown of the Indian Point plants in Buchanan.

"It was an inappropriate approach to the African-American and Latino community on the Indian Point issue," Lois Bronz, D-Greenburgh, the Board of Legislators' chairwoman, who is black, said yesterday. "They thought they would get a reaction based on ethnicity."

James Steets, an Entergy spokesman, acknowledged the company is conducting the campaign in low-income neighborhoods of Westchester and New York City as part of a larger media campaign to sway public opinion on Indian Point. Entergy bought the three reactors - including one that has been permanently closed - from Consolidated Edison and the New York Power Authority in 2001. It bought the last reactor five days before the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, which has intensified public efforts to close the reactors.

"There are people who live in urban areas who suffer from poor air quality, which would get worse if you close Indian Point, and (that's) where replacement plants would be built," Steets said. He said the campaign is aimed at minorities "who have no idea, who are not familiar with the Indian Point issue, are not familiar with the fact that there are people trying to shut it down, and have no knowledge of the consequences of shutting it down. This is an educational campaign and a call to action."

Kyle Rabin, the Indian Point analyst for Riverkeeper, an environmental group that has called for the plants to close, criticized the Entergy campaign as "a dirty, underhanded public-relations tactic." He added that it would be unlikely that a power plant producing 2,000 megawatts around the clock could be replaced by the small, 45-megawatt gas units of the type that Con Edison has built in New York City neighborhoods to provide additional power during periods of peak demand. He noted that the state has recently approved 11 new power plants to meet increased energy needs.

Entergy began the petition campaign last month when the company called the four legislators Bronz, Andrea Stewart-Cousins of Yonkers and Clinton Young of Mount Vernon, who are black, and Jose Alvarado of Yonkers, who is Latino asking to meet with them to describe the effort before it got under way in their legislative districts. The four legislators, all Democrats, met with Entergy representatives individually in their offices at the county's Michaelian Office Building in White Plains. Three said they told Entergy the campaign was inappropriate; Young said his main concern was the political damage that could be done to Stewart-Cousins and Alvarado, who are in tight re-election races.

Entergy petitioners appeared in the neighborhoods shortly after the meetings. The first batch of petitions arrived at the legislature Monday. Within another day, the legislators' telephones started ringing. Carmen Jorge, a secretary to Stewart-Cousins, said she received 37 phone calls in one afternoon, including several from callers who she said were being coached through the call.

"I just heard, 'Say your name and your address, and then say, you know, about Indian Point,' " said Jorge. "It was staticky; I couldn't hear that well. But I know they were prompted to say something."

Steets confirmed the telephone campaign. "One of the components (of the campaign) is for constituents who have concerns to call their legislators," he said.

The petitions are being circulated by an organization called the Campaign for Affordable Energy, Environmental & Economic Justice, which has offices at 545 Eighth Ave. in Manhattan.

"They are a group working with us," said Steets. "We would of course fund them."

The organization did not return three messages left on its telephone answering machine yesterday.

Susan Tolchin, chief adviser to County Executive Andrew Spano, who has proposed condemning Indian Point and replacing it with a power plant fueled by other energy sources, said she believed the group was a fake and condemned the Entergy campaign.

"It's obvious that this is a sham front group fabricated by the nuclear industry," Tolchin said. "It's an outrageous and disgusting attempt to exploit the minority community for corporate greed."

One of three signatures on an Entergy petition obtained by The Journal News belongs to Aida Martinez of Yonkers, who said yesterday that she knew nothing about Indian Point until someone came to her door on Abeel Street and asked for her signature.

"I wasn't aware of it until they came by," she said. "If it is going to affect the community, I don't think they should close it."

Rabin, the Riverkeeper analyst, said the Entergy plant's nuclear fuel cycle has been harmful to minority communities. He said Indian Point's low-level radioactive waste is sent to a facility in Barnwell, S.C., a low-income, rural community where nearly half the population is black. He said a 100-acre "radioactive plume is migrating from the dump to the single-source aquifer for the community."

In addition, he said, Entergy and other nuclear plants hope to send their high-level radioactive waste to Yucca Mountain in Nevada, which is located on American Indian land, and a temporary nuclear dump on the Goshute Tribal Reservation in Utah.

"It's a scare tactic," Legislator Alvarado said of the company's neighborhood campaign. "They want to renew their license (to operate the plants). It's just planning ahead, and once again minorities become targets, and it shouldn't be."