Tonawandas ‘disappointed’ Schumer, Hochul reportedly pressured agencies to speed up permitting at STAMP

Posted 9 July 2024 at 9:36 am

Press Release, Tonawanda Seneca Nation

TONAWANDA SENECA NATION – The Tonawanda Seneca Nation Council of Chiefs condemns recent revelations that Senator Chuck Schumer and Governor Kathy Hochul interfered in the environmental review process for the Western New York Science, Technology and Advanced Manufacturing Park (WNY STAMP) mega industrial site.

Political pressure by the two powerful politicians sped up the issuance of key permits at both the state and federal level, violating the law and leading to mistakes and environmental damage.

“We are disappointed but not surprised that Hochul and Schumer put corporate profits ahead of protecting the environment, the Nation and surrounding communities,” said Chief Roger Hill of the Tonawanda Seneca Nation. “For centuries New York State has tried to push aside our people and destroy our homelands, and we see that continuing up through the present day.”

Reporting by J. Dale Shoemaker at the Investigative Post shows that staff for both Hochul and Schumer pressured officials at the NYS Department of Environmental Conservation and US Fish and Wildlife Service, urging those agencies to expedite the issuance of permits needed by the developer, the Genesee County Economic Development Center. GCEDC also serves as lead agency for state environmental review of the WNY STAMP project.

Shoemaker’s reporting shows that intervention by aides to Hochul and Schumer succeeded in pushing the regulators at the DEC and FWS to speed up their review process. This push resulted in violations of state and federal law and immense environmental damage like the spills of 500-700 gallons of hydraulic drilling fluid in the Iroquois National Wildlife Refuge, which remains unremediated.

The Tonawanda Seneca Nation, a federally recognized Indian Nation, has raised concerns about the WNY STAMP industrial mega site since its inception. The project poses an existential threat to the people and culture of the Nation, as well as threats to birds, fish, deer, water, and medicinal plants in the Big Woods that border WNY STAMP.

Federal law requires robust consultation with the Nation on projects that affect it, and federal guidance directs agencies to aim for consensus with Indian Nations. Shoemaker’s reporting shows that pressure from Schumer’s aides led the USFWS to violate consultation requirements, leading the Nation to file suit in November 2023.

According to Shoemaker’s reporting, Schumer and Hochul pressured regulators at the urging of WNY STAMP developer GCEDC, which has struggled to draw industrial tenants to the proposed WNY STAMP site. While the agency has received $100 million in state funding for WNY STAMP since 2005, including $56 million recently awarded by Governor Hochul, WNY STAMP lacks any operational tenant. Plug Power, one of two tenants, has suspended construction of a facility there due to cash shortages and market conditions. The other tenant, Edwards Vacuum, only recently broke ground.

Political influence from Senator Schumer and Governor Hochul explains why efforts to develop the WNY STAMP mega industrial site continue despite the failure to bring a single tenant online; rescission of a key permit; multiple lawsuits; financial instability; increasingly negative local press coverage; and searing critiques from entities including good governance groups, environmentalists, regional planners, and the Tonawanda Seneca Nation and their allies.

“This investigation shows what we’ve known all along, that it makes no sense to put a mega-industrial development next to the Nation and state and federal wildlife areas,” said Tonawanda Seneca Nation Clan Mother Linda Logan. “Now is the time for stakeholders in this misconceived plan to rethink it.”