NEWBURGH — Scenic Hudson hosted a public webinar on Wednesday to discuss the ongoing Danskammer fracking gas plant controversy, raising concerns about public health in light of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Dr. David Carpenter, head of the State University of New York’s Institute for Health and the Environment, headlined the discussion.
Carpenter highlighted a Harvard School of Public Health study stating that air pollution has been linked to a higher number of COVID-19 deaths. The proposed construction of a new power plant would create greater susceptibility to respiratory illnesses such as coronavirus-related pneumonia. The current old facility would be shut down when a new one is constructed.
“The Coronavirus causes pneumonia, a very serious pneumonia,” Carpenter said. “Air pollution causes an increase in respiratory symptoms, so it should not be surprising that if you have both damage to your lung from air pollution and the coronavirus, that your chances of surviving are reduced.”
Orange County Legislator Kevindaryan Lujan and City of Newburgh councilman-at-large Anthony Grice were also on hand to discuss the impact of the coronavirus and air pollution on the community they represent.
Lujan discussed how the COVID-19 pandemic only illuminates issues such as income inequality and access to healthcare.
“If there’s one thing that COVID-19 has really illustrated in these last weeks, it’s that there was already issues that were already there,” he said.
During last October’s vote by the Orange County Legislature in favor of supporting construction on the plant’s new addition, Lujan was one of seven members who voted in opposition.
He explained that representation of different voices in office is key to achieving optimal results for any community.
“Our movements are predominantly male and white,” he said. “This limits our effectiveness, especially when we’re addressing issues about the people that have to frontline to these communities.”
Grice conceded his point, and added how the City of Newburgh will only be adversely affected by the Danskammer power plant construction, even as it promises jobs for a community with around a five percent unemployment rate.
He explained how he argued with officials behind Danskammer LLC over some of the alleged fallacies of its job creation potential.
“The promise of jobs aren’t necessarily promised to the City of Newburgh residents,” he said. “It just wasn’t worth the tradeoff of damaging our environment for the possibility of those few jobs.”
Danskammer Generating Station went back online in 2014 after it was set to be decommissioned following storm damage from Hurricane Sandy.
It was eventually sold to a private equity firm, with a promised upgrade that generated controversy almost immediately from environmental groups. They argue that the upgrade is mischaracterized, in that it expands on the existing facility and therefore will create greater air pollution.