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Radioactive Money (2005)

by DANIEL WOLFF

Entergy Corporation — owners of the two Indian Point nuclear power plants in New York’s Westchester County ­ has annual revenues of over $10 billion. It owns ten nuclear plants, five in the Northeast, and, in fiscal 2004, its profits once again increased by over 10%.

Entergy’s publicity slogan for Indian Point is “safe, secure, vital,” but a series of events over the past year seemed to contradict that. Difficulties ranged from control rods not loading to radioactive water leaks to repeated failures of the warning system. A National Academy of Science report concluded that spent fuel pools at nuclear plants were a potentially high risk target for terrorists, and three out of four of Indian Point’s neighboring counties refused ­ for the third consecutive year ­ to certify that there was a workable emergency evacuation plan.

How did Entergy counter this negative publicity? Along with extensive advertising (including heavy buys during radio broadcasts of New York Yankee games), the corporation continued its policy of making widespread donations to politicians. In the 2004 election alone, it spent more than $1.2 million with federal candidates; for the upcoming 2006 election cycle, it’s already topped $400,000.

As well as giving money to candidates for federal office, Entergy also works on the local level. In a little over a year — from December 2004 through early January, 2006 ­ the company’s New York political action committee (ENPAC) contributed almost $75,000 to a wide range of elected officials, candidates, and committees: all potentially involved in decisions effecting the Indian Point plants.

Elliot Spitzer, New York State attorney general and candidate for governor, was a prime recipient. ENPAC ended 2004 by writing “Spitzer 2006” a check for $1000; it started 2005 by writing another for the same amount; and it celebrated Halloween 2005 by writing Spitzer two checks: both dated October 31, both for $1000, bringing the total Elliot Spitzer received from the owners of Indian Point to $4000. (In January, 2005, Spitzer declared his support for closing Indian Point, “when and as soon as we have alternate energy sources to substitute for the power that is currently being generated.”)

Meanwhile, New York Senator Hillary Clinton continued her record of receiving regular contributions from ENPAC. In 2005, “Friends of Hillary” cashed checks totaling $1420. (Senator Clinton has raised safety concerns but has not called for the closing of Indian Point.)

Entergy believes in making political donations on both sides of the aisle, though not always equally. Over the past year, the New York State Democratic Committee received $10,500 from ENPAC, where the Republican Committee took in only $1500. On the other hand, the Westchester County Republican Committee received its own $10,500 and the New York Senate Republic Committee got $3,000.

ENPAC gives money to politicians across New York and New Jersey. On the state level, since December 2004, it’s provided State Comptroller Alan Hevesi with $750, the Senate Majority Leader Joseph Bruno with $1000, and the chairman of the State Senate’s Committee on Energy and Transportation, Jim Wright, with $2500.

On a local level, small contributions can make a big difference. In the immediate area surrounding the Indian Point plants, ENPAC’s major funding includes two contributions totaling $1500 to James Gary Pretlow, assemblyman from Mt. Vernon and Yonkers, two contributions totaling $1175 to George Oros, minority leader of the Westchester County legislature, and two contributions totaling $1140 to Ed Diana, county executive of Orange County. The mayor of White Plains, Joe Delfino, received $750; the mayor of Peekskill, Joe Testa, got $250, as did the town clerk of Cortlandt, Jo-Ann Dyckman.

The following selective list of ENPAC’s contributions to local politicians offers a glimpse of how a national corporation operates in a small market: spreading relatively modest amounts widely, making sure to touch many towns and various levels of government. Not included here are dollars spent at the federal level, in other areas of the state, or the thousands given to politicians in New York City (within 50 miles of the Indian Point disaster zone).

BENNETT, DON (Peekskill Common Council) $250

BRUNO, JOSEPH (State Senator) $1000

CALHOUN, NANCY (State Assemblywoman, Washingtonville) $375

DELFINO, JOSEPH (Mayor White Plains) $500 + $250 = $750

DIANA, ED (Orange County Executive) $190 + $950 = $1140

D’ONFRIO, JOE (Mayor Highland Falls) $250

DYCKMAN, JO-ANN (Town Clerk, Cortlandt) $250

HASSELL-THOMPSON, RUTH (State Senator Bronx & Westchester) $300 + $250 = $550

HEVESI, ALAN (State Comptroller) $500 + $250 = $750

LEIBELL, VINCENT (New York State Senator, West., Putnam & Dutchess) $250

McDOW, PAT (City Council candidate, Yonkers) $297

NEVELOFF, RAND (candidate for Westchester legislator) $500

OROS, GEORGE (Minority leader, Westchester legislature) $1000 + $175 = $1175

PIRRO, JEANINE (Westchester DA, state candidate) $250

PRETLOW, JAMES GARY (Mt. Vernon and Yonker assemblyman) $1000 + $500 = $1500

TESTA, JOHN (Mayor Peekskill) $250

WESTCHESTER BUSINESS COUNCIL $500

WRIGHT, JIM (State Senator) $500 + $2000 = $2500

YOUNG, CLINTON (Westchester legislator, Mt. Vernon) $500

As it tries to control the political climate through donations, Entergy also works to control the economic climate through its policy of pre-selling power and cutting jobs. At the end of 2004, it had already contracted out for 95% of the energy that would be produced by its Northeast plants in the coming year, had sold almost 90% of what they would produce in 2006 and nearly 70% of 2007. With its income locked in, Entergy then proceeded to lower its costs by eliminating workers.

The Nuclear Energy Institute reported that Entergy employed 1683 people at Indian Point back in 2002, including 302 from Westchester, 646 from Dutchess, and 249 from Putnam County. The report cited these jobs as evidence that Indian Point was “an integral part of the local economy.” By 2005, the plant employed 1300 people: a loss of 346 jobs in three years. That number might decline further, a spokesperson declared, explaining: “You always look for efficiencies in how you own and operate a plant.”

Finally, as it reduced its workforce by 20%, Entergy received permission from the Nuclear Regulatory Commission to increase its generating capacity at each Indian Point plant by 5%. It was, as the company’s annual report put it, a year of “solid progress.”

DANIEL WOLFF is a poet and author of the excellent biography of the great Sam Cooke, You Send Me, as well as the recent collection of Ernest Withers’ photographs The Memphis Blues Again. Wolff’s Grammy-nominated essay on Sam Cooke and the Soul Stirrers is one of the highlights of CounterPunch’s collection on art, music and sex: Serpents in the Garden. Most recently, Wolff wrote the text for the collection of Ernest Wither’s photographs in Negro League Baseball. His latest book is 4th of July/Asbury Park: A History of the Promised Land (Bloomsbury USA) He can be reached at: ziwolff@optonline.net

 

Daniel Wolff’s “The Fight for Home: How (Parts of) New Orleans Came Back” is out in paperback this month.

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