Actor and activist James Cromwell is an active participant in the anti-fracking movement and is currently opposing the opening of a new power plant in Orange County, New York. He sat down with uInterview to talk about the ongoing court case against Joseph Percoco, Competitive Power Ventures (CPV) and corruption in New York state.

Percoco, who was once an aide to Gov. Andrew Cuomo, is currently on trial for corruption and bribery. The indictment states that Percoco was bribed to use his influence on behalf of CPV to build a 650-megawatt fracked gas fired powered power plant in upstate New York, specifically in a town called Wawayanda. “This is a small farming community about an hour and a half outside of New York in the Hudson River Valley,” Cromwell told uInterview exclusively. “It’s principally an agricultural community… it doesn’t have a rail line to it so it can’t be a commuter destination.”

“In order to accomplish this, they basically bribed the New York State government to pass the lead agency authority, in other words the person who would grant the permits and establish the regulations for this plant, from the department of energy and conservation in Albany to a local town board that knew absolutely nothing about fracked gas,” Cromwell said. “Percoco, who is a close aide to Governor Cuomo… he and a man from the [CPV] discussed on their private email state business involving sums of money to be paid to government officials in order to grease the rails to enable this project to go forward.”

Then-District Attorney Preet Bharara filed the charges against Percoco and his three associates because he had evidence against them in the form of email correspondence. He also had evidence that Percoco left Albany to continue to run Cuomo’s campaign from the Governor’s office in New York City, another illegal act.

What Cromwell finds most disturbing about the current case, is that while much discussion has occurred about the wrongdoings of Percoco, there has been “no discussion as to the raison d’être for their corruption, which was the building of the power plant and its effect on the local community… This one plant,” he said, “will necessitate 150 new fracking wells every year over a 40 year period in order to sustain this plant, and it’s only one plant. And this company… plans 300 more of these plants all over the country.”

Contrary to popular belief, Gov. Cuomo did not ban fracking in New York; in fact, he only issued a moratorium, meaning there is no law prohibiting fracking in the state. “It was his moratorium. That’s where we begin to get into conjecture,” Cromwell stated. Cuomo wants to shut down Indian Point Power Plant in Westchester County, but in order to sell the land to New York City, he must guarantee the people in New York that they will have a power source. In the sale, Cuomo will have Indian Point shut down but will also be telling businesses that fracking plants are allowed. “We now use more fracked gas in New York than we did before the moratorium,” Cromwell said.

The actor was jailed for a time in 2017 because he refused to pay a fine incurred for obstructing traffic when he and fellow anti-frackers locked themselves at a CPV gas site. Cromwell explained that the judge asked for proof that the dangers of the sit-in were outweighed by any imminent danger from the company they were protesting. In the end, despite hiring two of the top environmental lawyers in the country, the judge did not agree that the plant, because it was unfinished, represented an imminent danger to the local community.

“The only use that I serve this movement really is my celebrity,” the actor explained. “Because of the limited celebrity that I do have, people want to talk to me. I get to speak not so much for myself, but for the people who don’t get asked.”

When asked if he had a message to Governor Cuomo, Cromwell said, “Love New York, and don’t frack it up.” The actor believes that Cuomo has the power to stop the ongoing fracking rampage, and hopes that he will take a stand against it. “What we have to do is we have to elect progressives who have made a commitment not to take dark money from pacts or large corporations and to owe their allegiance to the people who elect them… Money and politics is what is corrupting this country,” he said.

Q: What is the case about and why does it matter?

A: [James Cromwell]: “Ok first you understand, you have to understand what’s behind the case. And this is a small, other than a small farming community about an hour and half outside of New York, in the Hudson River Valley. It’s principally an agricultural community now those small
farmers can’t make it so they sell off their land to build to build very modest houses, it doesn’t have a rail line to it so it can’t be a compute- a commuter um destination. So we’ve sort of you know, what has happened on the other side of the river in Westchester sort of passed over us. They decided to build a, um well it was actually haha yes, I sup- they decided, whoever “they” is
a 650 watt, megawatt fracked gas fired power plant in the small community called Wawayanda and in order to accomplish this, they basically bribed the New York City Government to pass the lead agency authority. In other words, the person who would grant the permits and establish the regulations for this plant from the Department of Energy and Conservation in Albany to a local town board that knew absolutely nothing about fracked gas, about power plants, about distribution, about what the objective of the oil companies- the overreaching objective was and Joseph Percoco who is a very close aid to Governor Cuomo, in fact some people refer to him as
Governor Cuomo’s other brother. He and a man from the um, from the company which is called “Competitive Power Ventures,” which builds these kinds of fracked gas fire powered plants all over the country. They discussed on their private email, state business which is illegal involving
sums of money, basically bribes to be paid to government officials in order to grease the rails to allow this project to go forward. So the use Attorney General, Preet Bharara, had a- what I consider um a, a airtight case against these conspirators because he had their emails in which they referred to the actions that they were taking on behalf of the company and the money that exchanged hands and the various other things that Percoco actually left Albany to run Cuomo’s reelection campaign from the Governor’s office in New York, which is also against the law. So, a lot of laws were broken just as they as broken now every day in Washington, every day we hear of another law that’s been broken or another protocol that’s been broken or a regulatory agency that has been eviscerated um and much the same thing happened here. The trial has been going on, one of the co- conspirators pleaded guilty and became the star witness for the prosecution. Unfortunately, he has a history of these kind of shenanigan’s and so whether the jury will choose to believe him um remains to be seen. What is peculiar about the case, well I should say is not so peculiar is that there is a great deal of discussion about the law and um what someone may or may not have done, but no discussions as to the, the raison d’etre for their
corruption, which was the building of this power plant and its effect on the local community. Why the local community has been fighting this, we don’t need a 650-megawatt power plant, we only use 43% of the energy that we have available in New York as it is. We- this one plant will necessitate 150 fracking wells, new fracking wells every year, over a 40-year period in order to sustain this plant and it’s only one plant and this company and the government under The Clean Air Plan, planned 300 more of these plants to be built all over the country. If you look at a map of the county where most of the frack gas comes from, it’s called- near a town called Dimick, they have 1,075 w-wells in this small community and each one of those wells is connected by pipeline to a compressor station and then the compressor station drives it out to pipelines that carry it to, up to, out where we are. This is going to happen all over the country, what they are basically doing is turning the best parts of America into an industrial zone which will make us look like Eastern Poland because what you have is you have leaking methane, you have water that is contaminated by fracking fluid which has to be pumped into the ground, high pressure jet back into the ground. Now, it’s one thing to say in Pennsylvania probably nothing will happen
but when you think that this is going to happen in California whose shale field is ever so much larger than the Pennsylvania shale field, the Marcellus shale field and then pump that water, inject that water back into the ground. We live in California on the San Andreas Fault, who knows if, if fracking turned Oklahoma into the earthquake capital of the country, actually maybe even of the world. They have so many earthquakes, you don’t hear about them in Oklahoma – what would it do to California?”

Q: Didn’t Governor Cuomo ban fracking in New York?

A: [James Cromwell]: “That’s a, that’s an interesting thing he did not ban fracking it’s a moratorium. The difference is, if it were a ban it would have had the weight of law behind it. It does not have the weight of law, it did not involve the legislature. There was not a vote, it was a moratorium which can be lifted at any time.”

Q: Did Governor Cuomo know this was happening?

A: [James Cromwell]: “It was his moratorium. Now that’s where you begin to get into conjecture. Governor Cuomo needs or wants very much to close down Indian Point Nuclear Power Plant, one because the plant is so old that it now represents a danger, two because it involves a great deal of very valuable real estate but in order to sell that to New York City which
receives a lot of its power, it has to guarantee the people the money interest in New York that they will have a power source. Now, since we only use 43% there’s plenty of power but what he got was, he got two for one. He got to close down Indian Point because it will be closed down and he also got to the oil and gas industry to sort of um you know as you can tell in Washington our gov- our leaders really only serve their donors. They are elected by money interests mostly the corporations uh and pacts and they do the bidding of those packs whether their republicans or democrats because those are the people that guarantee their election, they know
that. So, Governor Cuomo not only is going to a very popular move of closing down Indian Point but he’s also saying to the business community “and you see, we can develop frack, er frack gas infrastructure. We now burn/use fracked gas in New York than we did before the moratorium
and they, Con Ed is trying to convince everybody in New York to get rid of their electrics owed and use what they call “natural gas” but that is fracked gas. In other words, it becomes very much more difficult if there’s a downside to this plan. Across the Hudson River, away from New
York that is affecting people’s health in the local community if everybody in New York is connected to this, yes. However, if everybody in New York turns on their stove and it doesn’t go right on that is methane, that goes up into the air and it’s 86 times a more potent greenhouse gas than CO2. So, the whole process is fraught.”

Q: What was it like going to prison for this cause?

A: [James Cromwell]: “Well I’m a, I’m not- the only use that I serve this movement really basically is my celebrity because of the limited celebrity that I do have, people want to talk to me. News agencies want to talk to me I get interviews, they put a microphone in my face and I get to speak not so much for myself but for all of the people who don’t get asked like Pramila
Jayapal who started this organization who knows an infinite amount more than I do. What I supported and I still do is um civil disobedience, nonviolent civil disobedience and a- we finally convinced at least several people, to join us in doing a nonviolence civil disobedience action to
close down the plant. Which is of course, it’s simply symbolic you only close it down for as long as it takes highway patrol to cut the bicycle lock which you’ve locked yourself together. You go to trial and the judge in the trail allowed us what is called a necessity defense, that is the ca- the, the problem that you were addressing with your action is more dangerous and inimicable to the health and safety to the people of the local community. Then, the violation of the statute of which you are charged, what you basically have to prove is that this danger is imminent and that of course that it is greater. So we’ve got two of the best environmental scientists uh Bob Howarth and Tony Ingraffea to come down and they laid out in no certain terms- what this plant means not only for the people, the local people and the people in the state of New York but also in terms of global warming uh in the planet’s entirety uh the rising sea levels um the danger from the afluvients in the burned gas and the judge decided/ ruled that our blocking of traffic for 20 minutes on route 6 eventhough it was really not blocked at all traffic went on, was more, was more wrong because the plant was not finished yet and therefore, did not pose an imminent danger. So that gives you an idea of the stupidity and the obtuseness of the kind of
thinking which says “we can go on doing what we’re doing, the releasing of these, of methane gas and the pollution from the burning of fossil fuels and somebody else is going to have to pay for it,” when it really gets bad and New York is under water then we’ll put our helps together and see what we can do about it, because then the danger will be imminent.”

Q: Do you have a message for Governor Cuomo?

A:[James Cromwell]: “Well a message to Governor Cuomo is to love New York and don’t frack it up. Governor Cuomo has, with uh in his office the power to stop this. Given the amount of corruption and what we now know is going to come out of this plant and the emissions’ of this plant, what’s going to happen in Pennsylvania in the fracking fields, the hypocrisy of having a moratorium on the- on hydro fracking New York State but hydro fracking Pennsylvania until you know. They go take peoples maple trees down to build these pipelines um they come with M-16’s and body armor and dogs uh and so I would say, basically what we have to do is, we have to
elect Progressives who have made a commitment not to take dark money from hacks or large corporations and who owe their allegiance to the people who elect them. If we could elect Progressives from the local level and on state level and on a federal level, we could begin to shift this because then their priority will be the well-being of ordinary citizens on whose vote they depend rather than their donors. Money and politics is what is corrupting this country, money interests understand this um they were given carpe blanch by the Supreme Court and probably the stupidest decision ever rendered by the Supreme Court except for Trent Scott and uh the, the affect that it has had if any of them had any conscious at all they would, they would, they would rescind this they know they can do it because they sure want to do it with Roe v. Wade anytime they get a chance so this is one that has really got to be changed but the only way to change this is to do it through a graphs well and the only voice that we have as citizens is our vote but we have to inform ourselves and if there is not a candidate running, we have to run like the wonderful woman in West Virginia who stood up in the House of Delegates of West Virginia and started reading out all the donors, of all the deputies in the room who were in support of changing a regulation which imperil the State of West Virginia. They shut off her microphone and they physically p-pushed her out of the State House but that woman is going to run, her name is Lisa Lucas and ashes going to run and by god she’s going to win, and she’s not going to take orders from The Petro-Chemical industry.”

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