WHAT DO YOU THINK?
Editor’s Note: This is our opinion, expressed in the editorial that appeared in the Sept. 10-11 editions of The Freeman’s Journal & Hometown Oneonta. What do you think? Send your opinion to firstname.lastname@example.org, to appear in this week’s editions of the newspaper.
Clearly, Stop the Pipeline has dominated the debate about the Constitution Pipeline since January 2013, when “Alternate M,” the route through Otsego County, was rejected.
There was parity before that: The Otsego County Board of Representatives’ chair Kathy Clark, R-Otego, and her then-ally, county Rep. Linda Rowinski, D-Oneonta, had marshaled colleagues behind the effort to win the pipeline and garner an estimated $13 million in property taxes for towns and school districts along the route.
Since, the route through Delaware County has been mired in debate, some of it smacking of hysteria, from Stop the Pipeline and its allies. Whether as a result or not, the state Public Service Commission is taking its time coming to a decision. Pipeline construction was supposed to begin in the spring, and is still awaiting the go-ahead.
The decision on the pipeline is a different animal than the fracking ban. It’s a technical decision – does the Constitution meet the requirements of the regulations? – not a policy one. If it meets parameters, the PSC should approve it.
The impacts of the PSC decision are more than technical, though. In convincing Amphenol Aerospace to build a new plant in Sidney after its downtown workings suffered extensive damage in the floods of 2006 and 2011, the Cuomo Administration, in addition to offering a $20 million package, assured the company it would have a ready supply of natural gas – from the Constitution.
Amphenol proceeded on that assurance, building a futuristic-looking structure on the heights above Back River Road, ensuring the future of 1,000 jobs and a $30 million annual local payroll. It opened last spring and all is well.
Then, in late August, Leatherstocking Gas President Michael German, in an interview, acknowledged his company is focusing its operations on Northeastern Pennsylvania until the Constitution gets approval. He said, sensibly, “You need a supply to build a utility.”
In January, Amphenol’s then-general manager, John Wall, wrote the PSC, emphasizing the state had promised natural gas for the plant. “We suffer a 30-40 percent energy-price disadvantage by not having access to natural gas.” Wall’s successor, Ryan Fisher, said energy prices might impact the company’s strategic decisions in the future. “We work for Wall Street,” he observed.
The Sidney plant – as Scintilla, Bendix, Allied and now, Amphenol – has been an economic mainstay for Otsego, Delaware, Chenango and northern Broome counties for 90 years now, providing our ever-fewer coveted manufacturing jobs. The impact is more than economic; Its salaries allowed such local titans as former Oneonta mayor Sam Nader to remain here, raise families locally, and contribute to our common good.
Amphenol’s departure would be a tragedy of massive proportions to our relatively happy Otsego County, which is doing somewhat better economically than Upstate generally, but still lost another 2 percent of its population since the 2010 Census. Dropping school enrollments, with declines up to 40 percent anticipated in ONC BOCES schools in the next 15 years, are scarier indicators.
Ah, true believers! Stop the Pipeline leadership is sanguine about 1,000 families losing their livelihoods. Absent the pipeline, tourism will grow, they say, and there will be seasonal, minimum-wage jobs aplenty! The focus, of course, is saving the world, and our little corner of it can go to blazes.
In reality, not Stop the Pipeline or anyone can say, with certainty, how the challenge of climate change will be met. Certainly, renewables, but not yet, and perhaps never. Possibly upgraded nuclear – horrors! Possibly technologies that haven’t been invented yet; (the multi-billion, multi-nation ITER, exploring hydrogen-based fusion, is particularly promising.)
Meanwhile, some argue that burning more natural gas has actually slowed climate change by substituting for dirtier fossil fuels.
The point is, there are counter-arguments to Stop the Pipeline, and those counter-arguments need to be made. The Otsego county board, given its support of Alternate M, could certainly lead the way, making common cause with the Delaware supervisors, Otsego Now, the Delaware Economic Development Department, the Otsego, Sidney and other chambers of commerce, and the many other potential beneficiaries.
The municipalities of Sidney, Unadilla, Otego and Delhi are in conversations with Leatherstocking Gas, pending the Constitution’s approval. Any major institution – SUNY Oneonta and Hartwick, Fox and Bassett hospitals, public schools, you name it – would also be strengthened by a 30-40 percent reduction in energy costs.
When Stop the Pipeline and its allied organizations can bring a few hundred antis to public hearings at short notice, our local politicians get one message. There’s a legitimate counter- message, and legislators have to get that one, too.