Ethanol in the Finger Lakes?

Is it good for the environment? Is it good for the economy? Is it good for the residents of Seneca County? Give us an Environmental Impact Statement, and we'll give you our answer!!

Friday, April 4, 2008

TIME Magazine: The Clean Energy Scam

Here is a devastating article in the March 27, 2008 issue of TIME Magazine:

Renewable fuels has become one of those motherhood-and-apple-pie catchphrases, as unobjectionable as the troops or the middle class. But several new studies show the biofuel boom is doing exactly the opposite of what its proponents intended: it's dramatically accelerating global warming, imperiling the planet in the name of saving it. Corn ethanol, always environmentally suspect, turns out to be environmentally disastrous. Even cellulosic ethanol made from switchgrass, which has been promoted by eco-activists and eco-investors as well as by President Bush as the fuel of the future, looks less green than oil-derived gasoline.

To read the entire article, click this link.

Thursday, April 3, 2008

Two Leading Experts on Finger Lakes Water Quality Weigh In

Two of the leading academic authorities on water quality in the Finger Lakes have gone on record with their concerns about the potential effects of the ethanol plant on the water quality of the lakes. Not surprisingly, the issues they raise have been completely ignored by the Seneca County IDA, the self-appointed "lead agency" for the environmental review under the SEQR law, in their rush to rubber stamp this project.

Robert Howarth of Cornell University points out that the ethanol plant, if it goes forward, would likely result in the formation of CAFO's, the concentrated animal feeding operations which are known to have serious negative environmental impacts. Read his letter here.

John Halfman of the Finger Lakes Institute in Geneva, meanwhile, in addition to sharing Howarth's concerns about CAFO's, raises the issue of environmental impacts resulting from the increased production of corn around the lake associated with ethanol. These include high concentrations of the toxic herbicide Atrazine, as well as problems with nutrient runoff into the lakes. Read his letter here.

Our Letter to the Seneca County Board of Supervisors

March 25, 2008

To the Seneca County Board of Supervisors:

As you know, there has been a great deal of concern among residents of Seneca County and throughout the larger Finger Lakes area that the Seneca County IDA, in its role as “lead agency” for a proposed ethanol plant at the Seneca Army Depot, has allowed it to go forward without a full environmental review. One would have a hard time finding any expert on SEQR--- the State Environmental Quality Review law---who would defend their decision allowing the project to proceed without an Environmental Impact Statement (EIS). The only defenders of this “Negative Declaration” are the SCIDA themselves, their legal counsel, and individuals with a financial interest in Empire Green Biofuels.

Recently, a number of municipalities around the Finger Lakes have adopted or are considering resolutions requesting that the SCIDA rescind its Negative Declaration and instead produce an EIS, as they should have done from the start. The original environmental review was so incomplete and full of errors that now even the SCIDA barely tries to defend it. Instead, they are now claiming in public and in the press that it is too late for them to correct their errors, and that they can no longer legally rescind the Negative Declaration. This is simply not true, no matter how many times they repeat it.

New York’s SEQR law specifically states that under certain circumstances, a lead agency not only can, but must rescind a Negative Declaration, regardless of time elapsed. These include situations where changes are proposed for a project, new information is discovered, or changes in circumstances arise which were not previously considered. In fact, all of these conditions apply. The following are a few of the issues which have arisen since the Negative Declaration was issued on February 8, 2007, and which require that the SCIDA reconsider its decision:

1) The Department of Environmental Conservation has designated an additional 2100 acres of protected wetlands at the Depot site, which were not previously considered. This includes acreage on the plant site itself, and also a substantial proportion of the 4500 acres which the ethanol developers have indicated they need for biomass production.

2) A number of projects directly related to the ethanol plant, whose environmental impacts were not previously considered, were added to the scope of the project. These include major work to the railroad, and new uses of lands which are proposed to be shared with the ethanol facility. These cumulative impacts must be considered. In addition, the scope of a critical Wildlife Management Plan for the Depot was only determined after the issuance of the Negative Declaration. This fact alone should have triggered a rescission.

3) It has now become clear that there are major indirect impacts from the plant which should have been considered. The project developers have admitted in their public presentations (which took place after the issuance of the Negative Declaration) that there will be increased local corn production as a result of the plant, and that large amounts of “distiller’s grains” created as a by-product will almost certainly result in new animal feedlots or “CAFOs”. This will have major environmental impacts to the area, both in terms of water contamination and quality of life (see attached information). None of this was considered during the SCIDA’s environmental review.

4) On February 12, 2008, the Authority Budget Office, which monitors IDAs around New York State, issued a report of its investigation of the SCIDA. They found shocking irregularities in the SCIDA’s procedures, including numerous conflicts of interest, and failures to make required disclosures of their internal financial dealings. It is no secret that there are personal connections between members of the SCIDA and Empire Green Biofuels which should have been disclosed, but were not. The response of the SCIDA has simply been that they are free to ignore state ethics laws, which their counsel refers to as mere “aspirational goals”. This position is not shared by state officials, who continue to be concerned by the conduct of the SCIDA. (The full report is available at this link.)

Seneca County has received a great deal of negative publicity in the region as a result of scandals in the Sheriff’s Department and elsewhere. Does the county really wish to invite more negative attention by continuing to support a process which was clearly flawed, and which has been tainted by questions of ethics and conflicts of interest? The actions of the SCIDA are a reflection on Board of Supervisors. It is for you to decide whether you stand for the interests of the public as a whole, or just those of a few well-connected individuals. We ask the Board to request that the SCIDA rescind its negative declaration as required by law, and require an Environmental Impact Statement so that the true impacts of this project can finally be assessed.


Members, Finger Lakes Future Alliance

Monday, February 25, 2008

Bio-Foolish Behavior

"Tree huggers", business people, and ordinary citizens concerned about high taxes don't always find a lot to agree on. Sometimes, it takes a really obvious Truth:


Posted 2/22/2008

The law of unintended consequences has reared its ugly head once again, with a study published in the Feb. 7 issue of the journal Science.

Environment: In 2005, America used 15% of its corn crop to replace just 2% of its gasoline. Two new studies say use of biofuels will leave the world a warmer and hungrier place.

According to University of Minnesota ecologist and study co-author David Tilman, converting the grasslands of the U.S. to corn for ethanol releases excess CO2 emissions of 134 metric tons per hectare (equal to 2.47 acres).

The reason is that plants, from grasses to trees, store carbon dioxide in their roots, shoots and leaves.

"I know that when I look at a tree that half the dry weight is carbon," says Tilman. "That's going to end up as carbon dioxide in the atmosphere when you cut it down."

"Any biofuel that causes land clearing is likely to increase global warming," says Nature Conservancy ecologist Joseph Fargione, the lead author of a second study also published in Science.

To read the entire article, click this link.

Wednesday, February 13, 2008

Biofuels Deemed a Greenhouse Threat

Published: February 8, 2008

Almost all biofuels used today cause more greenhouse gas emissions than conventional fuels if the full emissions costs of producing these “green” fuels are taken into account, two studies being published Thursday have concluded.

The benefits of biofuels have come under increasing attack in recent months, as scientists took a closer look at the global environmental cost of their production. These latest studies, published in the prestigious journal Science, are likely to add to the controversy.

These studies for the first time take a detailed, comprehensive look at the emissions effects of the huge amount of natural land that is being converted to cropland globally to support biofuels development.

To read the entire article, click here.

Wednesday, January 30, 2008

Ethanol Blamed for Contaminated Beef

The ethanol industry's toxic effects on air and water are well known, as are the enormous increases in food prices around the world attributed to ethanol.

Now a new risk risk has been identified: the risk of contaminated beef. Boosters of ethanol from corn have presented "distillers grains", a byproduct, as a useful animal feed to partially compensate for the shortages in feed that they themselves have created. Now, it turns out, consumers are at risk for more than just high prices. Check out this link to learn more.

Friday, December 14, 2007

The Public Pans the "Canned Hunt" at Seneca Army Depot

The Sesslers would really like to give wealthy clients from around the world the opportunity to corner one of the Seneca Army Depot's rare white deer against a chain-link fence, stare into its frightened eyes, and blow it away. And what could be more sporting than that?---as long as the shooters pay up for the privilege, and the Sesslers get to collect the big green bucks for the dead white buck, suitable for mounting on a wall of your palace in Dubai...if you happen to have one. Such is the business plan of the Sesslers, the "canned hunt" that takes land from the people of Seneca County, and money from the taxpayers of the State of New York, and gives it to...well...the Sesslers. (To see the actual Sessler business plan, as opposed to the warm-and-fuzzy statements they've been making to the press, see this link.)

The members of the Seneca County Industrial Development Agency (SCIDA) were happy to oblige, continuing their best efforts to hand over public lands and taxpayer funds on a silver platter to their well-connected friends, under the pretense of boosting the local economy. But their latest giveaway scheme hit a speed bump on December 13 in the Town of Varick. Apparently, to the IDA's horror, the public weighed in on the issue. The public showed up, and their verdict was--- HELL NO!!

It wasn't for lack of trying that the SCIDA failed to get this project rubber-stamped in favor of the Sesslers. They had done their usual routine. They had privately signed off on the project in their typically illegal executive sessions, keeping the public safely out of the way. To short-circuit the pesky "public comment" session, they scheduled it at 10am on a Thursday in a remote location, to keep the irritating "working classes" away. They were even lucky enough to have near-blizzard conditions at that time.

But a strange thing happened---THE PEOPLE SHOWED UP! About a hundred of them, with more overflowing outside the door. And they were not happy. The blizzard outdoors was nothing compared to the "perfect storm" of public outrage within the meeting room. The members of the SCIDA, who only the day before were meeting happily in the comfort of their illegal "public not welcome" executive session in the back room of Abigail's Restaurant, were nowhere to be seen. Not one of them bothered to show up to listen to the concerns of the public which they claim to serve. Had they been there, they would have heard from hunters incensed at the unsporting nature of this "sporting" proposal; from environmentalists and eco-tourism advocates who made the case for better uses of the site, none of which the SCIDA had bothered to consider--- in spite of over 1000 signatures in favor of this idea; and from good-government advocates who were appalled at the cronyism and self-dealing of the SCIDA. All this was occurring in a county already reeling from the indictments of the Sheriff and a number of his subordinates for their shocking corruption in using the former Seneca Army Depot as their private stash for stolen goods.

The SCIDA has never in the past shown much interest in public opinion. They answer to a higher God---themselves, and their special friends! Perhaps, even now, they intend to ignore public opinion and hand the Sesslers a free pass, as they previously did for the ethanol profiteers. But now they are being watched as never before--- a fact that perhaps accounts for the recent spate of resignations from the agency. As Abe Lincoln put it, "You can't fool all the People all the time". The People of Seneca County are in no mood to be fooled again. They are watching, and they are angry!

You can read media accounts of the meeting at:

Sign our Petition for an EIS

October 22, 2007

Our position from the beginning has been that the ethanol plant project in Seneca County needs an Environmental Impact Statement (EIS). The more we learn about this project, the more we realize just how essential this is.

The Seneca County Industrial Development Agency (SCIDA) sees its main role as promoting industrial development---especially industrial development that benefits members of the SCIDA themselves, their family members, and their friends and business associates. However, when the SCIDA saw to it they they were named "lead agency" under SEQRA, New York's environmental review law, they took on a legal obligation to defend the public by making sure any negative environmental impacts were identified and studied.

They have shown little interest in doing that. Despite overwhelming evidence that there would be huge environmental impacts, they issued a "negative declaration", and refused to require an EIS. In effect, they gave a free pass to a huge project with enormous giveaways of public lands and taxpayer funds. It would destroy a sensitive ecosystem and degrade air and water quality. There is little evidence that this project would benefit the public in any way. But there is overwhelming evidence that there would be serious negative consequences to the public.

But it's not too late.

Under the SEQRA law, the lead agency is not just permitted, but OBLIGATED, to rescind a negative declaration when it becomes clear that the scope of the project has changed, or new information has come to light. Both of those conditions clearly apply. The project as it is now discussed is different in many respects from the preliminary documents presented by the developers, which were used as a basis for the negative declaration. These documents were full of omissions and misrepresentations.

Will the IDA do its duty and rescind the negative declaration, and now require an EIS?

Maybe---but only if we hold their feet to the fire, and hold our public officials accountable.

That's where the petitions come in. Let it be known that we demand that the IDA do its duty and RESCIND THE NEGDEC!! We need an EIS for this project!


There are two ways to express your support for Finger Lakes Future, and demand that the IDA do the right thing and REQUIRE AN EIS :

1) Click here to sign our petition on the Care2 website.


2) Email us at and we'll add your name to our petition. Or, if you prefer, we'll send you a pdf of our petition, suitable for gathering written signatures.