A few weeks ago, the New York Regional Interconnect finally threw in the towel on their plans for a monstrous power line running from Oneida to Orange counties. This marks the end of a three-year battle by a consortium of citizens to turn back the project. EveAnn Schwartz and Chris Rossi of Stop NYRI, the oldest and loudest anti-NYRI group, savor the victory.
I began following the anti-NYRI effort because of my interest in the unprecedented level of unity between citizens in areas of Upstate that usually have little consciousness of each other. The opponents didn’t have a lot of power, but seemed to be doing everything right, for a change. The “divide and conquer” strategy did not gain enough momentum to scatter them. NYRI seemed not to understand that New Yorkers aren’t exactly hillbillies, and that people who are both educated and financially downtrodden don’t make the easiest marks. Of course, it didn’t hurt that NYRI’s public relations were inept and that the State’s PSC application process was glacial.
It also didn’t hurt that world economy went into the toilet. All congratulations aside, that was what really killed the project. The anti-NYRI people needed a miracle to go along with their ragtag cannon-fired silverware, and they got it.
What was really threatening the green hills of Madison County and the valley of the Delaware was a rising tide of affluence that was creeping steadily northward. It was not an inclusive affluence. It was affluence that was going to be good for those inside the charmed circle — the already affluent, of course, but also those who served the New York City economy. But bad for those on the outside, those who were not connected to the downstate economy. Those people would be expected to cheerfully relinquish their property values, and either take jobs servicing the summer people, or leave.
In order to believe that NYRI was a good thing for the region, you had to believe that Wall Street was a benevolent driver of “trickle-up” (trickle-North) prosperity for the entire Empire State. Up here people knew this was not true, unless one envisions that Upstate can exist forever as what the Brits would call a “dole queue” economy. And there’s just so long you can tell the provincials that pretty story. NYRI was an attempt to extend the NYC economy’s area of resource extraction out of the Catskills where it has traditionally remained confined. That the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) had also declared Syracuse and Rochester to lie within a “National Interest Energy Transmission Corridor” (NIETC) should have been cause for alarm too.
We still don’t have a statewide conversation on what to do about energy generation and transmission to areas that need it (or “need” it – considering that people downstate are happy to tear down smaller homes and build bigger, energy-gobbling homes in their places). We still don’t have a statewide conversation on the vast economic imbalance between Upstate and Downstate, either, so… cry me a river about the demise of NYRI. Downstate needs power, Upstate needs a meaningful economy with a future.
However, the ongoing collapse of Wall Street has the potential to change everything, so this isn’t a time for an extended victory dance. We still need that discussion on energy transmission. We still need a discussion on whether we’re all in this together or not. But Wall Street’s answer has always been the clink of champagne glasses as they toast more wealth and more political status quo in New York.
Now that the champagne has stopped flowing, here’s the reply of the good people of Oneida, Madison, Chenango, Otsego, Delaware, Sullivan and Orange counties: not the hum of a giant new power line, but the sound of crickets.