Gov. Cuomo, stop this gas pipeline
Addressing the federal government’s very visible retreat from climate leadership, and reaffirming New York’s participation in an alliance of states that will strive to meet carbon reduction targets on their own, Gov. Cuomo this month said, “it is more important than ever for states to take collective, common-sense action.”
There is a pressing decision that Cuomo can make all by himself to demonstrate his commitment to combating climate change. As the summer heat dies down, a fight for the city’s coast is heating up.
Williams, an Oklahoma-based gas pipeline and processing company with a poor safety record, wants to build an expensive new pipeline from New Jersey to the Rockaways. It says this is important to “help meet the growing natural gas demand in the Northeast, including the 1.8 million customers served by National Grid in Brooklyn, Queens, Staten Island and Long Island.”
The Northeast Supply Enhancement Pipeline would run within a mile of Staten Island, then continue past Brooklyn’s beaches to link up with two existing pipelines off the Rockaway shore.
The project would require more than a year of construction, some of it around the clock, which could endanger beachgoers and marine life by churning up arsenic, lead, DDT, dioxins and harmful PCBs.
And the end result would be a new pathway for fracked gas — fuel that New Yorkers don’t even need, and that would worsen climate change.
This is exactly the wrong direction to head in if we really want to shift toward renewable energy sources such as wind, solar and geothermal, which is the direction public policy and the market are really moving.
New York City has pledged to cut greenhouse gas emissions 80% by 2050 (compared with 2005) by retrofitting buildings for greater energy efficiency, switching to electric vehicles and using more renewable energy. New York State says that 50% of the state’s electricity will come from renewable sources by 2030 — just 13 years from now.
As fossil fuels go, fracked gas has some particularly bad qualities. It’s essentially methane, a greenhouse gas that captures 84 times as much heat as carbon dioxide in the initial 20 years after its emitted.
And from an economic perspective, this pipeline is unnecessary. Even if all of the city’s boilers currently burning oil made the switch to gas, demand for gas would rise only 6%, according to a report prepared for the Mayor’s Office of Long-Term Planning and Sustainability.
Meantime, the New York region is rapidly building out more solar and wind capacity, as advances in battery storage are making renewables even more attractive.
Williams says the proposed project would cost $926 million to build. You can bet National Grid’s gas customers in Brooklyn, Queens and Staten Island will wind up footing most of that bill through higher rates, which will rise even higher if gas demand were to fall short, as seems likely.
But ultimately, the case against a new pipeline comes back to climate change. We remember all too keenly the damage from Superstorm Sandy. It’s taken years, but now you can stroll on newly fortified boardwalks past rebuilt homes and grab a hot dog after a swim.
This pipeline will threaten that uniquely New York combination of city and shore, because even if the gas never leaks, burning it will worsen climate change. That will make storms more frequent, more deadly and more costly.
The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission holds most of the cards when it comes to deciding whether this new pipeline gets built. FERC has rarely met a pipeline it didn’t love. But New York State also has some cards it could play.
Williams can’t build unless the state’s Department of Environmental Conservation issues a water quality certificate and a protection of navigable waters permit. Williams would also need an easement for use of underwater land from the state’s Office of General Services.
In other words, Cuomo can stop this pipeline. Having just announced a redoubled commitment to climate action and the Paris accord’s goals, this is his perfect opportunity to lead.
New Yorkers who enjoy a swim at our beaches and who hope for a more livable planet should will let the governor know we are counting on him to do the right thing.