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Williams NESE Pipeline Defeated, Again

Issue 255.5

DEC denies water quality permit for the third time.

Carrie Klein May 16

On Friday, The New York Department of Environmental Conservation denied a water quality permit necessary for construction of the Williams Pipeline. The ruling blocks the final 23-mile section of a pipeline that would have carried fracked gas from Pennsylvania through New Jersey and then beneath New York Harbor and out to the Rockaways. This marks the third time the permit has been denied due to intense public opposition.

‘New Yorkers spoke loudly and clearly that they don’t want an even more terrifying future.’

“This is a victory for the people by the people,” said Dominique Thomas of the environmental group 350.org. “It is an affirmation that the future is not in fracked gas or other dirty fossil fuels peddled by multibillion-dollar gas and utility companies.” 

Over the past three years, tens of thousands of New Yorkers have canvassed, lobbied, signed petitions or sent in comments urging Gov. Andrew Cuomo to oppose the pipeline. Even amid the COVID-19 pandemic, public participation remained strong. When National Grid’s public info sessions were moved online in April, over 800 individuals participated. In its decision to deny the permit, the DEC reviewed over 16,000 public comments. 

JK Canepa of Sane Energy Project commented, “While grappling with the unprecedented crisis of being at the center of a worldwide pandemic, New Yorkers spoke loudly and clearly that they don’t want an even more terrifying future.” 

The pipeline was denied by the DEC largely on the basis of water quality concerns. Construction in New York Harbor would have dredged up sediments and contaminants, including mercury and copper. 

The DEC deemed the project “unnecessary to meet New York’s energy needs.” 

Responding to the ruling, Williams continued to repeat its claims that the pipeline would actually reduce pollution and lower energy costs. 

“We continue to believe that the fundamentals of our project align with New York’s clean energy goals because it would have improved local air quality and, at the same time, supported economic development and led to lower heating bills,” the company said in an email to Reuters

Williams did not elaborate on what its next steps would be.

Opponents of the pipeline have long questioned its necessity and National Grid has taken extreme measures in an effort to convince the public that energy needs are direr than the numbers show. Most famously, National Grid imposed a moratorium in November 2019, denying new or expanded service to 2,600 applicants in Brooklyn, Queens and Long Island. In a settlement with the Public Service Commission, National Grid agreed to pay $36 million in penalties and to research alternatives to the pipeline.

National Grid’s research included predictions for gas demand based on data collected between 2010 and 2014 when the rate of increasing demand was higher. David Hill of Energy Futures Group explained, “The forecast National Grid put forward is equivalent to a growth of over 9.3 percent over the coming decade, while the Energy Information Administration’s forecast is for 1.6 percent growth.” 

With demand for gas having slowed even further due to the pandemic, National Grid has revised its predictions. In a supplemental report published this month, the utility also outlines non-pipeline options that can adequately meet New York’s energy needs. Alternatives include improving existing infrastructure and energy efficiency measures.

The Stop Williams Pipeline coalition noted that the Tulsa, Oklahoma-based Williams Co. may file a lawsuit to have the DEC’s decision overturned and push to expand their Greenpoint Liquified Natural gas facility, along with other infrastructure. Construction on National Grid’s MRI Pipeline in North Brooklyn is set to resume this week, after a temporary pause for public health reasons. 

For now, anti-pipeline organizers have cause to celebrate, especially in a time when so many are feeling hopeless. Activists across New York see the decision as a sign of New York’s commitment to ambitious climate goals but intend to press the state to go much further. 

“Cuomo still needs to do much more,” Stop the Williams Pipeline Coalition commented. “If he really wants to be a leader during a crisis while reaching the goals of his own climate law, he’ll stop with the austerity politics and seize on this opportunity to institute a green recovery, which must include banning all new fossil-fuel infrastructure across the state for good.” 

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