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Alexander C. Kaufman
HuffPostMay 15, 2020, 6:16 PM EDT
 

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New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D) rejected a permit to build a controversial pipeline that would lock the nation’s largest city into decades of dependence on fracked gas when scientists say the world needs to rapidly wean off fossil fuels. 

The proposal for the Northeast Supply Enhancement Pipeline ― better known as the Williams Pipeline, after the Oklahoma company behind the project ― is to lay a new conduit under Lower New York Bay to carry gas from hydraulic fracturing sites in Pennsylvania to homes in Brooklyn, Queens, Staten Island and Long Island. Methane, the primary component in fracked gas, produces potent emissions that, at least in the short term, trap more heat in the atmosphere than carbon dioxide. 

Late Friday afternoon, the state Department of Environmental Conservation denied the company’s second application for a permit to extend the pipeline from New Jersey via Raritan Bay through the southern portion of New York Bay. In an 18-page letter, Daniel Whitehead, director of the agency’s Division of Environmental Permits, cited the “apparent lack of need for the Project, as well as its increased impacts to water quality as compared to identified alternatives” to reject the proposal with prejudice, meaning the company cannot reapply. 

“That’s the end of the line,” said Suzanne Mattei, a former regional director at the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation, who campaigned against the project. “A denial with prejudice means the department has determined the environmental impacts of the pipeline are unacceptable and that the company has not given it reason to believe that it can make changes to its proposal that would convert it into an acceptable proposal.”

But the rejection could spur new challenges from the Trump administration, which last year sought to limit the state’s ability to use the federal Clean Water Act to block projects like the pipeline.
 
National Grid, the city’s main gas utility, argued that the pipeline was necessary to meet growing demand for gas in one of North America’s most densely populated regions, and it proposed to pay for the $1.4 billion project with a nearly 7% rate hike.

Last summer, state officials in New York and New Jersey rejected the Williams Companies’ application for a permit for failing to meet environmental standards, but they did so “without prejudice,” inviting the company to reapply. Yet as negotiations hit an impasse last fall, the London-based National Grid illegally imposed a moratorium on new gas hookups to put pressure on the states by illustrating the need for a new fuel supply line. 

Studies from the nonprofit Institute for Energy Economics and Financial Analysis and two energy consultancies found no evidence of supply shortages. Cuomo denounced National Grid’s moratorium as extortion and fined National Grid $36 million. 

Still, Cuomo put the company in charge of drafting a report outlining how the state could meet the downstate region’s long-term energy needs. The decision drew fire from activists who said the company’s primary business model involves burning fossil fuels, disincentivizing it from proposing renewable or energy-efficiency solutions. 

The state, meanwhile, is struggling to meet the lofty clean-energy goals mandated under ambitious climate legislation passed last summer. From March to April, more than 20,400 New Yorkers who worked in renewable or low-carbon energy sectors lost their jobs, according to an analysis of unemployment data published this week by researchers at a group of environmental nonprofits. 

“We know Cuomo only did this because we pressured him to do so,” said Lee Ziesche, one of the lead campaigners against the pipeline. “At the end of the day, he still needs to make a plan to get New York off of gas.” 

She called the decision “such a big victory” but warned that National Grid announced earlier Friday that it plans to resume construction on a smaller gas pipeline project in northern Brooklyn. 

“The fight continues,” she said.

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