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By JOE MAHONEY CNHI State Reporter Jan 27, 2019
ALBANY — With two proposed natural gas pipelines stuck in neutral after they failed to secure permits, business leaders are warning that the state faces calamitous economic consequences if energy infrastructure projects can't clear hurdles erected by the Cuomo administration.

Meanwhile, environmentalists who oppose the projects are worried that President Donald Trump will use his executive authority to circumvent New York's obstacles to pipelines by declaring that the need to boost the supply of gas constitutes a national emergency.

 

DEC PERMITS DENIED

The State Department of Environmental Conservation has refused to issue water quality permits to the Constitution Pipeline, which would carry gas extricated in Pennsylvania to Schoharie County, as well as National Fuel's proposed Northern Access pipeline, which would slice through Niagara County.

Both projects have received the green light from the federal government and Pennsylvania regulators.

"It's very concerning and alarming that we're at the point now where there is not enough gas to supply existing customers and we're forcing companies to burn dirtier fuel (oil)," said Gavin Donohue, president of Independent Power Producers of New York, a statewide trade association.

"If the very cold weather we've been having doesn't show the value of natural gas, I don't know what does."

 

NEW DEMAND

The alarm bells are also being sounded by public officials in Westchester County, an affluent suburb of New York City.

Con Edison, one of New York's biggest utilities, has announced that beginning March 15 it will commence a moratorium on gas service to new customers.

The company explained that “new demand for gas is reaching the limits of the current supplies to our service area.”

Meanwhile, National Grid, another major utility, has signaled that an adequate supply of natural gas is needed to accommodate demand needs in the New York City region.

The utility has also suggested that a proposed pipeline advanced by the same leading investor behind the Constitution pipeline, Williams Partners, is needed to bring natural gas to a hockey and concert arena planned for Belmont Park.

Natural Gas has indicated that the 37-mile pipeline hinges on getting approvals from state and federal regulators.

 

FEDS FRUSTRATED

The Trump administration, allied with the fossil fuel industry, has voiced its frustration with the posture of Gov. Andrew Cuomo towards snarled pipeline projects.

"If a polar vortex comes into the Northeast part of the country, or a cyberattack, and people literally have to start making decisions on how to keep their family warm or keep the lights on — at that time, the leadership of that state will have a real reckoning," U.S. Energy Secretary Rick Perry said at the World Gas Conference last year.

"We have to have a conversation as a country. Is that a national security issue that outweighs the political concerns in Albany, N.Y.?"

 

EXECUTIVE ORDER?

The White House, according to a report first posted by Politico, is now considering taking steps that would crimp the ability of states to stop interstate pipelines, possibly through the issuance of an executive order.

The Politico report, subsequently confirmed by Bloomberg News, suggested that if Trump declares there is a "national emergency" requiring greater transmission capacity for gas, it could put projects such as the Constitution and Northern Access back on track.

Darren Suarez, director of legislative affairs for the Business Council of New York, said there is no doubt that New York businesses, in order to grow, will need expanded access to natural gas.

"I don't think any state as gas-dependent as New York has taken a position so much against new natural gas infrastructure," Suarez told CNHI.

He said there has been " a real disconnect" between current state policy and utility customers who prefer gas because "it burns clean; it is efficient; and it is available at a price that is very competitive."

 

GOVERNOR CITES RISKS

Cuomo, in his most expansive remarks to date regarding natural gas pipelines, acknowledged in 2017 that he has concerns about environmental impacts and suggested the number of jobs the projects create is relatively small.

Commenting on the denial of a key permit to the Northern Access project, Cuomo told the Buffalo News editorial board: "The risk to the environment and the water quality and degradation to the environment outweighed the five permanent jobs."

This month, he outlined his goal of a major expansion in reliance on renewable sources of energy — wind and solar — to meet New York's power needs.

Advocates for added state investment to expand wind and solar power production contend that the utility industry is trying to concoct the appearance of a supply crisis, suggesting that the moratorium declared by Con Edison in Westchester County backs up that assertion.

"Con Ed can't even point to a pipeline project that would have solved the problem," said Alex Beauchamp, Northeast Region director for Food & Water Watch, an advocacy group.

"It's very clear that building more pipelines would lock us into decades-long reliance on fossil fuels."

 

ALTERNATIVE ENERGY

He argued that the demand needs should be addressed with "a huge investment in energy efficiency," with a vigorous effort to increase production of power from wind and solar, which now make up only about 4 percent of New York's overall energy supply.

An environmental lawyer who has been battling the developers of the Constitution Pipeline project, Anne Marie Garti of Delaware County, said it remains to be seen if Trump will try to cite national security reasons to get around the denial of the state water permits.

"You can't just say something is a national emergency when there is no emergency," Garti said. "You can't change the Clean Water Act through an executive order."

 

HALTS OTHER PROJECTS

While the industry is keeping a close eye on Trump's next move, officials from Westchester County are amplifying their push for a solution to the moratorium declared by Con Edison.

Westchester's residents include Cuomo and his partner, television star Sandra Lee, who live in Mount Kisco.

"We just can't stop all economic development, all affordable housing projects, all residential development, which is what this moratorium will do," said Assemblywoman Amy Paulin (D-Scarsdale).

"This is going to halve every single revenue producer for every community that we have. It's going to devastate our communities."

 

 

James Denn, spokesman for the state Public Service Commission, said the utility regulator is "monitoring Con Edison's engagement with customers to explore options to reduce their energy needs or meet their needs through non-natural gas energy sources."

Cuomo's re-election effort last year was supported by many union leaders and the Business Council. Some of his backers are involved in a coalition of labor, community and business leaders supporting natural gas infrastructure expansion, New Yorkers for Affordable Energy, which is now calling for an ened to the pipeline "blockade."

"There is a human cost to these policies, and vulnerable New Yorkers will bear the burden with higher home heating bills, lack of affordable housing and lost jobs," said Peter Kauffmann, the coalition's spokesman.

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