Presenting their decision as rooted in a responsibility to protect state waters from pollution, New York State regulators have rejected a contentious US$1-billion dollar natural gas pipeline that would have linked their state to the gas fields of Pennsylvania.
The state’s conservation department “laid out its decision in technical terms, noting that construction would contaminate New York’s waters with mercury and copper,” reports the New York Times. But while the authorities made no mention of the climate crisis, climate advocacy groups celebrated the win, after arguing for months that the pipeline would “handcuff New York to fossil fuels and hobble the state’s march toward renewable resources.”
Oklahoma-based Williams Companies and other business interests countered that the decision “could devastate the state’s economy and bring a gas moratorium to New York City and Long Island.” In the lead-up to the decision, Williams had pitched the Northeast Supply Enhancement (NESE) pipeline “as a crucial addition to the region’s energy infrastructure, one that would deliver enough fuel to satisfy New York’s booming energy needs and stave off a looming shortage.”
But that was little more than crisis-mongering, concluded Suzanne Mattei, a former state official hired by 350.org to review the company’s claims. She noted that Williams itself, in a 2018 company presentation, predicted “flat to negative gas demand growth” over the next 20 years, as renewables surge.
With 90% of more than 45,000 comments to state regulators coming in opposed to the project, NESE was also rejected by multiple Democratic officials, including New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio and the city’s comptroller. As well, shortly before the regulatory decision was rendered, 11 state representatives including Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY) wrote a letter to Governor Andrew Cuomo. They stated their strenuous opposition to the pipeline on public health and environmental grounds, with explicit reference to its climate impacts.
Although Cuomo was lauded by progressives for banning fracking in the state in 2015, the governor “has demurred when asked to stop taking money from fossil fuel companies,” writes the Times, and was the indirect recipient of $20,000 in in-kind campaign contributions from a lobbying firm that works for Williams.
The operator and other business interests are not the only ones decrying the rejection of the pipeline, however. Representing more than 40,000 workers in the construction industry, the New York State Laborers’ Union “spent more than $600,000 on Facebook ads in the past year promoting the pipeline.”
And the battle is far from over. Williams plans to reapply for regulatory approval, and its opponents stand ready to pick up the fight.“The state has made it clear that dangerous gas pipelines have no place in New York,” said NRDC Senior Attorney Kimberly Ong, and “we will continue to ensure this reckless project is shelved forever.”