Cornell Researchers Determine 98% of Public Comments Oppose Permit Renewals for Greenidge Generation
ITHACA, N.Y. (WENY) -- The Department of Environmental Conservation has pushed back the decision to approve or deny Greenidge Generation's Title V (Air) and Title IV (Acid Rain) permit renewals twice, saying more time is needed to review the application materials and nearly 4,000 public comments.
Cornell researchers have obtained the public comments, and are providing some insight as to what was submitted to the DEC. Owen Marshall, postdoctoral researcher, science and technology studies and information science at Cornell University along with Marina Zafiris, Ph.D student of Information Science at Cornell University felt that the reason the DEC kept pushing back its decision were because the comments were ambiguous or unclear in some way. However when Marshall received the comments through the Freedom of Information Act, he said that was not the case.
“The DEC has been repeatedly deferring its permit decision partly because it was having trouble reading through the thousands of comments it received,” said Marshall. “Based on analysis of the file names alone, my information science colleague, (Marina) Zafiris was able to identify the general sentiment of the majority of the files based on their filename.”
Marshall stated that 38 of the submitted public comments showed support for Greenidge Generation's permit renewal, while 3,872 were opposed. Nine of the comments did not fit into either category.
“The fact is that this is a time-sensitive regulatory question and one in which the prevailing public sentiment based on our analysis appears to, quite strongly, oppose Greenidge’s permit renewal,” said Marshall.
Marshall said the main goal of looking over these comments is to better understand and facilitate meaningful democratic governance around environmental, technological and political eeconomic issues.
Within the file names the researchers were able to obtain the last name, the first name of the commenter and the subject of the email as well as the date it was submitted.
“When we had that information we were able to manipulate it as a data frame and that's when we began to notice very distinct patterns within the submitted comments,” said Zafiris.
Breaking Down the Comment titles:
- 1,820 Comments: Save NY from Climate-Killing Cryptocurrency
- 1,015 Comments: Deny Greenidge’s Title V Air Permit
- 748 Comments: Greenidge Generation Power Plant
- 38 Comments: Greenidge Generation Station
- 12 Comments: Greenidge Comments
The researchers then did a text analysis where they searched for the pattern “I am against the renewal” and according to researchers, that text appeared in 725 of the 748 Greenidge Generation Power Plant emails but all of the comments titled Greenidge Generation Power Plant expressed some form of opposition to the permit renewals.
“What that text analysis did is provide us with a baseline number of comments we knew with certainty contained anti-renewal sentiment,” said Zafiris.
The results from the researcher's data show that:
- 3,872 Anti-renewal comments
- 38 Pro-renewal comments
- 9 Neutral comments
The researchers were also able to geographically map out where 2,611 of the comments came from. The results can be found by following this link: http://nbviewer.org/github/Marina-Zafiris/DEC_Counts/blob/main/Geomapping%20Comments.ipynb
“In total out of the 3,919 files provided by the DEC, about 38 of them represented opinions clearly in favor of Greenidge's permit renewal, that's less than 1 percent,” said Marshall.
“The red dots express anti-renewal sentiment comments and the green were comments that express pro renewal sentiment and so this is the state of New York,” said Zafiris.
With a large majority of the public comments coming from the New York City area, WENY News asked the DEC if there were State or County boundaries and their reply was as follows:
“Before making a final decision on the draft air permits, DEC is thoroughly reviewing all comments received and any additional information submitted by the applicant. On March 25, the applicant, Greenidge Generation, LLC, proposed GHG mitigation measures for the facility as part of the current Title V and IV permit renewal process. DEC has not made a determination regarding the sufficiency of the proposed GHG mitigation measures in meeting these requirements.
"Recently DEC and Greenidge Generation, LLC mutually agreed to further suspend the Uniform Procedures Act (UPA) timeframe for permit reviews.
"DEC’s determination to further review the facility’s newly submitted proposal and materials was solely its decision. DEC has the sole authority to make a determination regarding this facility’s Title V Air Permit, as dictated by regulation and statute.
"Based on that authority, and the need to review additional and new information regarding proposed GHG measures, DEC and Greenidge mutually agreed to further suspend the Uniform Procedures Act (UPA) timeframe for permit reviews. The new UPA schedule is June 30, 2022. That is the date by which an action must be taken by DEC, including whether a hearing would need to be scheduled. The additional time for review is not unusual for such an application.
"DEC would never fast track any permit decision that could potentially impact public health and the environment. Anyone could submit public comments.” -DEC
WENY News reached out to Greenidge Generation in regards to the Cornell researchers' report. They responded with the following statement:
“Our few remaining opponents have offered zero factual or legal basis for a denial of our permit renewal, but they did run a statewide digital campaign to generate thousands of pre-packaged submissions, which the researchers here admitted. We didn’t need to employ campaign-style tactics; our community support is indisputable, as the record reflects. The IBEW strongly supports renewal. Yates County Legislature voted 13-0 in favor of renewal. The local Farm Bureau, which represents hundreds of family farms who live near our operation, voted unanimously for renewal. The Town of Torrey voted to support Greenidge’s operations. To those who know Greenidge best, those people who actually live near our facility, the call is clear; the permit should be renewed.”- Greenidge Generation