Plug Power lawsuit dismissed

Tonawanda Seneca Nation had challenged the findings of environmental impact study of hydrogen power plant at Genesee County industrial park

A judge has rejected the Tonawanda Seneca Nation’s legal challenge to the findings of an environmental review of  the planned construction of a $264 million hydrogen fuel plant in rural Genesee County. 

In a Sept. 28 ruling, Genesee County Judge Charles Zambito determined that the nation failed to add the plant’s developer, Plug Power, as a “necessary party” in a lawsuit that sought to prevent the company from building its new plant near “sacred” hunting grounds on the nation’s territory in the Town of Alabama. 

“The Nation is considering next steps in light of this decision,” said Gussie Lord, an attorney with the group Earthjustice, the nonprofit environmental law firm that assisted the Tonawanda Seneca Nation in filing its legal claim. 

Plug Power, an Albany company that specializes in the development of hydrogen fuel cell systems, announced in May plans to build the new “green hydrogen” plant at the Science, Technology and Advanced Manufacturing Park, a 1,250-acre industrial site that is being developed near the edge of the Nation’s territory in Genesee County. 

The nation filed an initial lawsuit on June 4, naming the Genesee County Economic Development Agency as the lone defendant and challenging the agency’s finding that “all potential impacts” associated with the project had been “adequately addressed.” On June 18, the Nation filed an amended motion to add as defendants officers of Plug Power and the Genesee County Economic Development Agency. 

In both legal filings, leaders from the Nation argued that the project had the potential to infringe upon “property of religious and cultural significance” on the nation’s territory, including the “Big Woods,” a dense forest area near the western edge of the STAMP site. 

In his ruling, Zambito determined that the nation filed its initial lawsuit within the four-month window allowed for objecting to the findings of environmental reviews. However, he also determined that the nation’s amended filing failed to add Plug Power as a respondent in a timely fashion and ruled the company was a “necessary party” to allow the nation’s lawsuit to move forward. 

Officials with the Genesee County Economic Development Center have spent $26 million in mostly state funds on land acquisition, design, engineering and other “soft” costs at STAMP. Plug Power is scheduled to become the first commercial tenant at the site and has agreed to build a $55 million substation that would provide electricity to its plant as well as future STAMP tenants.

In exchange for creating 68 full-time jobs at the hydrogen fuel facility, Plug Power will receive tax breaks and power discounts totaling $270 million, representing a subsidy equal to more than $4 million per job.