What killed a bill to stop the Finger Lakes trash incinerator project?

Jul 2, 2018

In the waning days of the New York State Legislature's session, a bill meant to stop a trash incinerator from being built in the Finger Lakes sailed through the Senate and an Assembly committee with unanimous support. But when it reached the Assembly floor, it sat untouched as the session came to a close.

Finger Lakes area state Sen. Pam Helming (R-Canandaigua) says she doesn't know for sure why her legislation, which would take the permitting process for the trash incinerator away from a state board and instead allow local officials to decide its fate, ultimately stalled in the Assembly. Speaker Carl Heastie's office did not respond to requests for comment.

Helming says she has heard it may have been withheld as a tactic to get the Senate to renew a speed camera program for New York city schools. Both failed to pass before the session ended.

"Why they would tangle this up with a downstate issue, I just think is politics at its worst," Helming said.

Helming says what's especially frustrating is that Assemblyman Joe Morelle (D-Irondequoit), the deputy majority leader, and Gov. Andrew Cuomo signaled their support for the legislation, but it still died in a chamber that Democrats control.

"I'm wondering if this has actually been manipulated by the governor, if he's put the pressure on the downstate majority in the Assembly not to bring the bill forward," Helming said. "If he truly, truly believed that this incinerator is in the wrong location, I think he would have motivated the Assembly to push the bill through."

Cuomo's spokesperson Richard Azzopardi says the governor has made his opposition to the incinerator clear, and the senator is just trying to deflect blame for the failure of the Senate GOP to reach a deal with Assembly Democrats. 

However, A spokesperson for Circular enerG, the company behind the trash incinerator, says lawmakers rejected the bill because it relied on quote junk science in its claim that the facility will cause significant harm to the area with air and ash pollution.

Still, there may be another chance for the Assembly to take up the bill. Cuomo has threatened to call lawmakers back for a special session over the speed camera legislation. Finger Lakes resident Joseph Campbell says that's a critical opportunity for his opposition group to avoid a fight before the state siting board.

"That could go for years and literally cost the residents of the Finger Lakes and the town of Romulus hundreds of thousands of dollars," Campbell said. 

It's a fight with which Campbell is familiar. He's president of Seneca Lake Guardian, a grassroots environmental group that has fought a proposal to store liquified petroleum gases in abandoned salt caverns on the shore of Seneca Lake. The bitter battle has lasted several years. 

"We’re in our eighth year, we’ve literally spent hundreds of thousands of dollars and countless hours fighting that," Campbell said. "We don’t want to go down that road again."