New York Republicans Trying to Slip Pricey Biofuels Mandate into Budget

- by Fredric U. Dicker, March 2, 2015, New York Post

[[{"type":"media","view_mode":"media_large","fid":"406","attributes":{"alt":"","class":"media-image","style":"width: 300px; height: 200px; margin: 3px 10px; float: left;","title":"Photo: Gabriella Bass"}}]]With a bitter-cold winter and skyrocketing heating oil use, the GOP’s timing couldn’t be worse.

Senate Republicans, under pressure from maverick supermarket billionaire John Catsimatidis, are trying to slip a “green biofuels” mandate into Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s new budget that could add $150 million a year to heating costs in New York, business sources have told The Post.

Catsimatidis, a Republican mayoral hopeful in 2013 and a heavy campaign contributor to Senate Republicans as well as Cuomo, is well known in the city for owning the Gristedes supermarket chain.

But he’s also the owner of United Metro Energy Corp., a large company that is putting the finishing touches on a massive Brooklyn biofuel-processing plant that will be the largest in the Northeast when it opens this fall.

Catsimatidis told The Post that his lobbyists, including the well-connected firm Connelly McLaughlin & Woloz, “are trying to get it done’’ and that he’s “hopeful’’ the biofuel mandate — forcing homeowners and businesses to use a mix of traditional petroleum heating oil with soybean- and other vegetable-based oils — will be approved this year.

He stands to make a windfall profit, both in terms of the increased value of United Metro and from the opening of a massive new market for biofuel sales, energy industry insiders said.

Senate Republicans were described by nervous business groups as moving to put the mandate into Cuomo’s budget because of Catsimatidis’ influence and heavy lobbying from Senate-connected biofuel interests, including the National Biodiesel Board, a producers’ umbrella group that includes United Metro and Midwestern soybean farmers.

Among the politically connected lobbyists hired by the Biodiesel Board is Mike Avella, former chief counsel to Senate Majority Leader Dean Skelos (R-Nassau). Avella’s firm, Meara Avella Dickinson, includes Brian Meara, a key cooperating witness in US Attorney Preet Bharara’s corruption case against former Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver (D-Manhattan).

Other politically “wired’’ lobbyists pushing biofuels include Mike Trunzo, son of former Republican Sen. Caesar Trunzo and one-time chief of staff to Sen. Kemp Hannon (R-Nassau); Evan Stavisky, son of Sen. Toby Stavisky (D-Queens); and Cynthia Shenker, former counsel to three Assembly majority leaders, official records show.

Asked about the biofuels mandate, Skelos spokesman Scott Reif would say only that Senate Republicans “are now reviewing it and considering all relevant issues.’’

However, National Federation of Independent Businesses New York director Mike Durant said there’s a widespread belief that the Senate GOP is trying to convince Cuomo to include the mandate in the budget.

“Some advocates of this requirement have close ties to the Senate Republicans and they’re trying to work those relationships to get this done,’’Durant said.

Another business lobbyist said, “It’s hard to imagine that the Senate, with its Long Island and upstate members whose constituents depend on heating oil to stay warm on these frigid days, would consider mandating additional costs to benefit a well-connected New York City billionaire.’’

The biofuels mandate would require all petroleum-based heating oil sold in the state to contain 2 percent or more of soybean oil and/or spent vegetable oils, such as those used in frying foods, a supposed effort to reduce greenhouse gases.

Many business leaders, however, contend the mandate is actually an unjustified subsidy to the company of a wealthy campaign contributor as well as out-of-state soybean growers that will do nothing to address climate concerns.

“Biofuels,’’ much like the ethanol added to petroleum-based gasoline, contain less energy per gallon than oil from petroleum, and therefore, add to the cost of producing heat and energy.

Last year, Cuomo vetoed a biofuels mandate that wasn’t part of the budget, citing cost concerns.

But this year, business groups fear that the governor, who has increasingly embraced environmental causes, may allow the mandate to be slipped into the budget.


Manhattan Democratic Sen. Liz Krueger will soon submit legislation designed to block Cuomo’s controversial new “burn and shred’’ rule for official email communications.

“With everything that is happening in Albany, it is crucial that we shine a light on the governor and increase transparency,’’ Krueger told The Post.

“To have a policy of deleting ­emails after 90 days sends the exact wrong message and is extremely tone deaf to the problems state government is facing.

“Government cannot adopt a ‘burn and shred’ policy,’’ she added.