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TIME FOR SENATE TO ACT
BILL TO PROTECT LOW-COST INDUSTRIAL POWER NEEDS TO BE APPROVED BY END OF NEXT MONTH

State senators from around the state convened for a one-day session in Albany last week and still managed to ignore the single-most important piece of unfinished business on the Western New York agenda: saving the "replacement power" program that secures more than 24,000 jobs.

The program, which provides 445 megawatts of low-cost electricity from the Niagara Power Project, was designated for local industrial use about 50 years ago, after the Schoellkopf power plant collapsed into the Niagara River. The law expires next year and without it, 77 local industries with a $1.5 billion payroll in 11 upstate counties could be put at risk.

The program was supposed to be extended earlier this year, and the Assembly did its part. The Senate, however, buckled under the bellyaching of a Watertown Republican who demanded immediate protection for a similar program in his region. Even though months remain before the program expires, companies are already having to consider the impact of its potential demise.

The failure of Western New York's Senate delegation to see that this law was passed in the summer is all but unforgiveable, mitigated only by the fact that Majority Leader Joseph Bruno holds ultimate power in that chamber of the Legislature. With power comes the responsibility and, hence, the failure.

It would have been decent of Bruno to see that this matter was attended to in last week's session. It wasn't.

But some reports say that, with Sen. George Maziarz, R-North Tonawanda, burning up the telephone wires, action may come next month, which, given the Albany way, is truly the eleventh hour. After December, the Assembly bill will expire and some observers think it unlikely to find easy reapproval.

What is more, consideration of the program would wait until after a state budget is passed, and this year's didn't arrive until August. If that happened again next year, the Legislature might or might not get around to acting before the program's December expiration. The possibilities of economic calamity are too great to risk any further delay by the Senate.

Lawmakers are expected back in Albany early next month. The Senate needs to attend to this matter promptly, by passing a bill identical to the Assembly's, and sending it on to the governor in time for him to sign it before the clock strikes on 2005.