Lawmakers debate message to state on CPV power plant

Orange County lawmakers weighing what to stance to take on the clamor and regulatory conflict over the power plant being built in Wawayanda approved a resolution in committee that urges the state Department of Environmental Conservation to take any legal actions needed to protect public heath and the environment.

The nearly completed Competitive Power Ventures plant appeared to have hit a major road block last month when the DEC denied a permit for a 7.8-mile pipeline that would supply the plant with natural gas. The decision delighted activists who have doggedly opposed the 650-megawatt plant as an environmental hazard. But the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission reversed the decision only two weeks later, declaring the DEC had waited too long to reach its conclusion. DEC officials said afterward that they were reviewing the decision and “will consider all legal options to protect public health and the environment.”

On Tuesday, the county Legislature’s Health and Mental Health committee took up two differently worded resolutions addressing the CPV controversy. One statement, sponsored by Middletown Democrat Jeff Berkman, took a more critical view of the project, saying that significant harm to air quality and “possible ground water degradation have been recently identified,” and calling on state officials to suspend final permits under further review is done. The health commissioner should analyze “new scientific data” about the plant, and the attorney general should investigate possible misconduct and “improper lobbying,” the resolution read.

Berkman’s resolution failed in a party-line vote, with three Democrats supporting it and three Republicans and an Independence Party member opposing it. Berkman himself was absent for the vote.

Mike Anagnostakis, a Town of Newburgh Republican and chairman of the committee, sponsored an alternative resolution simply echoing what the DEC said it would do after FERC rendered its decision. It called on the DEC to review that ruling and “take whatever legal actions are appropriate and necessary to protect the public health and environment for the residents of Orange County and the people of the State of New York.”

That resolution passed 5-2, with the three Democrats supporting it. The two Republicans who opposed it were James O’Donnell of Goshen and Paul Ruszkiewicz of Warwick. The full Legislature will vote on the resolution on Oct. 5.

The resolutions show how significantly elected officials’ stances on CPV have shifted since a former top aide to Gov. Andrew Cuomo was charged with bribery in connection with the plant’s approval process, and since activists have protested the plant for its planned use of fracked gas and for its future air emissions. The Legislature voted 20-0 for a resolution praising and supporting the $900 million project in 2012, long before the controversies began.

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Cuomo warns of “devastating one-two punch” to health care in NY

Gov. Andrew Cuomo warned this week that New York faces two impending threats from Washington that would cripple the state’s health care system: a potential plunge in federal funding for indigent hospital care, and the latest attempt by congressional Republicans to repeal and replace Obamacare.

Cuomo said at a press conference in Manhattan on Tuesday that unless Congress acts before Oct. 1, New York will lose part of the Medicaid funding stream that reimburses hospitals for caring for poor and uninsured patients, known as uncompensated care. That loss would total $1.1 billion in the first 18 months and grow over time. By 2025, the state would be losing $2.5 billion a year. That was far worse than the losses he said other states face: $1.2 billion in California, $1.2 billion in New Jersey and $1 billion in Texas.

“It is not too strong to say that this would decimate the public and safety net hospitals in the state of New York,” Cuomo said.

He also had harsh words for the Graham-Cassidy Bill, a repeal-and-replace proposal that Republicans want to hustle through the Senate by the end of next week if they can secure 50 votes. Among other things, the plan would convert Medicaid into block grants and slash funding to states like New York that spend heavily on that program. By one estimate, New York would lose almost $19 billion a year by 2026 under the Graham-Cassidy Bill.

“They are designed, these cuts, to hurt states that have expanded Medicaid,” Cuomo said. “And we have expanded Medicaid. We believe in providing health care. We believe in this state that health care is a human right. Our health care system is something we’re very proud of, and Medicaid was a longstanding federal program that was designed to do just that.”

Cuomo also argued the bill would endanger 1.2 million jobs in New York’s health care industry and be “devastating to our economy.”

“This is a last-minute attack, and it must be stopped,” he said. “Between the repeal of Obamacare and the DSH (Disproportionate Share Hospital) cuts, this is a devastating one-two punch for the State of New York. They compound each other actually, because the DSH cuts are something we couldn’t absorb. On top of the DSH cuts, if we were to repeal Obamacare, it would be a crisis, a true crisis, in the state of New York, and I mean that word literally.”

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Conservative delegates meet on Rosh Hashanah to endorse judge candidate

Several Kiryas Joel residents who recently won primaries to participate in a judicial convention lost their chance to help the Conservative Party endorse a state Supreme Court candidate when the party scheduled its gathering for Thursday in the midst of Rosh Hashanah.

In an unsual primary for convention delegates and alternates on Sept. 12, three Kiryas Joel residents beat three other Conservative Party members to be named delegates, and three other residents of the Hasidic community won in a field of four for three alternate spots. Election turnout was minuscule, with 75 ballots cast for the highest vote getter in Orange County. But victory entitled the three delegates to represent the 98th Assembly District at a convention that would hand the Conservative ballot line to a judge running in the five-county 9th Judicial District.

In an email exchange forwarded to the Times Herald-Record, Kiryas Joel resident Eli Taub urged Hugh Fox Jr., Westchester County’s Conservative chairman, to schedule the convention on one of three days before and after Rosh Hashanah. He noted that the 2015 convention took place on Yom Kippur. Fox responded by reminding Taub of what he had said in 2015: “I do not follow a religious calendar when Conventions are put together, I follow the political calendar.”

That same day, Fox notified delegates the convention would take place at 7 p.m. this Thursday at the Westchester Manor in Hastings-on-Hudson. That was smack in the middle of the two-day celebration of the Jewish new year, which was set to begin on Wednesday evening and end on Friday night.

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Dems knock Faso for proposed spending cuts

Two Democrats in a crowded field of candidates hoping to challenge Rep. John Faso next year issued statements on Thursday rebuking the Republican freshman for spending cuts House Republicans proposed in legislation they passed that day to fund the government for the 2018 fiscal year.

Faso, whose district includes Ulster and Sullivan counties, praised that legislation as “a positive step toward reform and fiscal responsibility” for a chamber that had gone eight years without adopting all 12 annual appropriations bills before the Oct. 1 deadline. He also touted the contents, saying in a statement that it “makes the critical investments to advance our nation’s infrastructure and military, and it supports programs essential to fighting the scourge of heroin addiction and beating back Lyme Disease.”

Both Pat Ryan and Gareth Rhodes, Democrats angling to take on Faso for New York’s 19th Congressional District seats, fastened on the defunding of Planned Parenthood and other spending cuts in statements denouncing the bill and Faso, one of 210 Republicans who voted for it (184 Democrats, including Rep. Sean Patrick Maloney of the 18th District, voted against it).

Ryan, a Kingston native and Iraq war veteran who now lives in Gardiner, cited cuts in funding for parts of the Affordable Care Act, for Pell Grants and teacher training programs.

This is just the latest example of Rep. Faso voting for the interests of his party at the expense of hardworking families in NY-19,” he said. “I’m running to protect families in the district from crippling health care premiums, to ensure women have access to affordable health services, and to give more people access to education that will help them get good jobs.”

Rhodes, a Kingston High School graduate, mentioned the same cuts and also criticized what he said was the Republicans’ plan to cut funding for the Environmental Protection Agency by $500 billion.

Rhodes wrote: “Rep. John Faso sits on the powerful House budget committee, but instead of using this position to protect and support the residents of the Hudson Valley and Catskills, he has sold us out again to advance an arch-conservative agenda that is an attack on women’s health, will allow corporations to pollute our beautiful natural environment, and hurts public schools.”

A third Democrat hoping to run against Faso, Brian Flynn, had released a campaign video and launched a new web site two days earlier: www.brianflynn.us. In his announcement, he referred to concerns about President Trump and Faso that he said he has heard in the 19th District.

“Protesting is important, and I’ve been right there at the marches, but even more important is getting results,”  Flynn said. “And that’s what I’ve always been about.  John Faso and Donald Trump made a bunch of big promises when they went to Washington – and thus far, they have nothing to show for it. Folks around here are ready for a Congressman who actually gets things done on their behalf.”

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Gillibrand joins push for single-payer health system

New York’s Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand was one of 16 Democratic senators to announce their support this week for Sen. Bernie Sanders’ “Medicare for All” bill, a progressive dream for universal, public health insurance that has gained ground among Democrats.

“Health care should be a right; it should not be a privilege once and for all,” Gillibrand said at a press conference in Washington with her colleagues on Wednesday. “So I’m standing with Bernie and I hope all of you to make sure that every single American gets access to affordable, high-quality health care with a single-payer system in America.”

A House bill to establish single-payer coverage was introduced in January and has 118 sponsors, representing more than half of the 194 Democrats in the House of Representatives. Rep. Sean Patrick Maloney, the Cold Spring Democrat who represents Orange County, is not among the sponsors.

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Navy SEAL who killed Bin Laden will speak at Neuhaus fundraiser

Retired Navy SEAL Robert O'Neill, left, with Orange County Executive Steve Neuhaus

Robert O’Neill, the former Navy SEAL whose gunshots killed Osama Bid Laden in the raid on the Al Queda leader’s hideout in Pakistan in 2011, will speak at a campaign fundraiser for Orange County Executive Steve Neuhaus next month.

The Oct. 4 fundraiser at Anthony’s Pier 9 in New Windsor is the second military-themed campaign event for Neuhaus, a Navy reservist who’s being challenged for re-election by Patrick Davis, an Army veteran who attended West Point and served two combat tours in Iraq. Neuhaus and the county Republican Committee sponsored a dinner with retired General David Petraeus in July that started as a campaign fundraiser but turned into a benefit for the families of 16 service members who died in a plane crash in Mississippi.

O’Neill retired from the Navy in 2012 and is now a public speaker and the author of “The Operator: Firing the Shots That Killed Osama bin Laden and My Years as a SEAL Team Warrior.” He’ll sign copies of his book, pose for photos with “VIP” ticket holders and give a speech at Neuhaus’ fundraiser.

“Rob O’Neill is an American hero and we are honored to have him join us and share his amazing story,” Neuhaus said in a press release from his campaign.

Ticket prices range from $65 for general admission to $2,500 for 12 VIP tickets and five signed books. Details are on the campaign website: www.steveneuhaus.com.

Patrick Davis

Davis, who entered the race late – in May – and lagged far behind Neuhaus in campaign funds as of July, sent out an email this week soliciting donations of $20.17 and up and issuing a scathing critique of the Republican incumbent.

“Nobody epitomizes what is wrong with politics and our broken system more than my opponent,” the solicitation read. “As a faithful Trump delegate, he has remained completely silent on the serious issues that have emerged nationally and worsened over the past several months. He has been a political operative his entire career, serving nothing other than his own ambition and the interests of his party. He is great at getting photo ops, pushing people around, and running pay-to-play schemes, but he has failed to demonstrate any real leadership as the CEO of the County Government.”

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Brabenec, Skoufis support Palm Tree proposal

Two assemblymen from opposite parties and neighboring districts both voiced their support for separating Kiryas Joel from Monroe by forming a new town before the Orange County Legislature voted on the proposal on Thursday.

Karl Brabenec, the Deerpark Republican whose district includes Monroe, emailed his statement just as the Legislature began its 7 p.m. meeting, apparently anticipating the approval that came later in an 18-3 vote.

“I have long advocated that separation of the residents of Kiryas Joel into a new town was a solution that should be explored, and I am glad that the leaders on both sides of the issue sat down and have come to an amicable agreement, Brabenec wrote. “The creation of the Town of Palm Tree for the people of Kiryas Joel will allow self government for both the people of Monroe and the people of Kiryas Joel, and will mitigate the differences and disagreements between them. Following a yes vote tonight the destiny of both Monroe and KJ will be in the hands of the voters, and I wholeheartedly endorse such a result.”

James Skoufis, the Woodbury Democrat who represents the neighboring 99th Assembly District, spoke emphatically in favor of Palm Tree during the public comments that preceded the vote at the county Emergency Services Center. He made the case that legislators were voting not only on the Palm Tree petition before them but on concessions Kiryas Joel made in negotiations with the United Monroe citizens group that were contingent on the town’s creation. Village officials had agreed to forgo efforts to annex land from Monroe and Blooming Grove for 10 years and drop their court case to try to annex 507 acres from Monroe.

Skoufis said that though the deal wasn’t perfect, the prudent vote for the Legislature was to let the proposal advance to a referendum in Monroe.

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Amedore prods Assembly to pass fentanyl bill

State Sen. George Amedore called on the Assembly on Friday to take up a bill his chamber has passed that would outlaw new derivatives of the deadly fentanyl drug, reacting to the announcement a day earlier that authorities had seized 500 fentanyl-laced pills headed to the Buffalo area.

“Fentanyl is stronger and deadlier than heroin, and as it continues to make its way onto our streets, we see more deaths and overdoses,” said Amedore, a Rotterdam Republican who represents part of Ulster County and is co-chairman  of the Senate Task Force on Heroin and Opioid Addiction. “The Senate has repeatedly passed measures to add fentanyl to the controlled substance list and to crack down on the dealers who are using this poison to increase their profits. I hope the Assembly and the Governor will get serious and join us in passing these critically important enforcement measures that will finally properly punish these dealers.”

The Senate unanimously approved the bill, S933A, in May, but it never made it out of committee in the Assembly. The Senate passed 22 bills in all this year that were meant to address the opioid crisis and that the Assembly never took up. Many were proposals the Senate has approved in past years as well.

State Attorney General Eric Schneiderman announced Thursday that investigators from his office had intercepted a package with 500 pills that were made to resemble oxycodone, a prescription painkiller, but instead contained fentanyl, an even more powerful opioid. His office described fentanyl as 50 times stronger than heroin.

“These dealers were playing Russian Roulette with the lives of New Yorkers,” Scheiderman said in a press release.

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Almost 60 percent of upstate voters are sour on Trump

Only 29 percent of New Yorkers surveyed by Siena College for a poll released this week had a favorable view of President Trump, a sourness that was nearly as bad in the upstate region that Trump largely won in 2016 as in heavily Democratic New York City.

The split between favorable and unfavorable views upstate – an area in which Siena includes Ulster and Sullivan counties but not Orange – was 36 percent to 59 percent. By comparison, the divide was 34 percent to 61 percent in the suburbs – including Orange – and 21 percent to 73 percent in New York City.

Even a third of Republican voters had an unfavorable opinion of Trump.

Respondents rated the president poorly on several specific topics, but none worse than his handling of race relations. Half flunked him for his response to the white supremacists’ rally in Charlottesville last month, a melee that featured chanting neo-Nazis and left one counter-protester dead, and 68 percent said he has done a poor job improving race relations.

A possible consolation for Trump and his supporters is that New Yorkers hold Congress members from both parties in even lower esteem than him. Only 11 percent of the voters Siena surveyed thought Republicans were doing an excellent or good job, and 21 percent said the same of Democrats. Twenty-two percent said Trump was doing an excellent or good job.

Trump beat Hillary Clinton in most counties further upstate than Rockland and Westchester counties in 2016. He won Orange County by 6 percentage points and Sullivan by 14 points – both counties that Barack Obama won in the 2012 election. Clinton beat Trump by 9 points in Ulster.

The House Democrats’ campaign arm seized on Trump’s poor standing in the Siena poll as evidence of trouble on the horizon for Republican incumbents in 2018.

“Democrats clearly have the wind at their backs as we head into 2018,” Evan Lukaske, a spokesman for the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, said in a press release.

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Maloney, Faso agree Congress must replace DACA

Democratic Rep. Sean Patrick Maloney and Republican Rep. John Faso both demand that Congress pass legislation to restore protection for children of illegal immigrants that President Trump will eliminate in six months by rescinding the executive order known as DACA.

Maloney, a Cold Spring Democrat, called for a broader immigration reform bill that would spare those so-called dreamers from deportation and “get folks out of the shadows” but also tighten border security, a Republican priority.

“In America we don’t punish children for the sins of their parents,” Maloney said in a statement on Tuesday, after Attorney General Jeff Sessions announced the demise of the Obama-ordered Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program. “These kids only know life in America, they work hard, they do things the right way, and make a contribution to our country. It is a cruel and stupid idea to ship these children to some country they barely remember and throw away their talents all because their parents did something wrong a long time ago.”

Faso,  a Kinderhook Republican, said in a statement: “I support Congress addressing DACA legislatively and believe that Congress must address this issue within the next six months.  This is why I sent a letter to Speaker Ryan last week urging him to address and protect DACA legislatively.”

Faso pointed out that has co-sponsored two pending bills that would allow the children of undocumented immigrants work visas and a deportation reprieve. One’s a bipartisan bill – HR 496 – that would grant a three-year reprieve to dreamers who were younger than 16 when their parents brought them here and meet other conditions. The other – HR 1468 – is an all-Republican bill that would grant a five-year “conditional permanent resident” status to dreamers who satisfy another set of criteria.

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