Cuomo administration cites new climate law in denying controversial New York, New Jersey pipeline, Politico

By Marie J. French • 05/15/2020 07:51 PM EDT

Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s administration denied a permit for a pipeline to supply natural gas to Long Island and New York City in a landmark decision citing the state’s sweeping climate law.

The Williams Northeast Supply Enhancement pipeline, which also would need some permits in New Jersey, was proposed to run 37 miles from New Jersey across the New York Harbor to connect to the pipeline system off Long Island. The Department of Environmental Conservation said the construction of the pipeline in the ecologically sensitive, historically contaminated and recovering area — particularly near Raritan Bay — would have an unacceptable negative impact on water quality.

It’s also incompatible with the state’s goal to reduce emissions by 85 percent from 1990 levels by 2050.

“New York is not prepared to sacrifice the State’s water quality for a project that is not only environmentally harmful but also unnecessary to meet New York’s energy needs,” DEC spokesperson Erica Ringewald said in a statement announcing the decision.

National Grid has agreed to buy gas supplied over the pipeline if it is ultimately built. The utility has identified it as the most reliable option to meet the growing demand from new construction and buildings switching off oil over the next 15 years. But in a report released last week, the utility also identified a preferred alternative to the pipeline that involves trucking in more gas and upgrading an existing pipeline system.

DEC cited that report in its decision, as well as the potential need for Williams Co. to bury the pipeline six feet deeper than in its analysis, in order to accommodate transmission cable for offshore wind in the area.

The construction of the pipeline would re-suspend contaminants such as mercury and copper, and harm clams and other shellfish beds, according to the letter DEC sent to the company proposing the pipeline.

By blocking the pipeline, a move sure to draw widespread celebration from environmentalists, the Cuomo administration is signaling once again that new pipelines aren’t welcome in New York.

The DEC’s letter also cites the emissions impacts of the pipeline as grounds for denying the project. It declared the pipeline would prolong the use of natural gas and is thus inconsistent with the Climate Leadership and Community Protection Act, which mandates net zero emissions by 2050.

“While the Department recognizes that many building assets in the State currently rely on natural gas for heating and other energy uses, the continued long-term use of fossil fuels is inconsistent with the State’s laws and objectives and with the actions necessary to prevent the most severe impacts from climate change,” the letter states. “Without appropriate alternatives or GHG mitigation measures, the Project could extend the amount of time that natural gas may be relied upon to produce energy, which could in turn delay, frustrate, or increase the cost of the necessary transition away from natural gas and other fossil fuels.”

The permit was denied last year without prejudice, meaning the company could reapply. At that time, National Grid imposed a moratorium on new gas hookups. The decision drew outrage from local officials, residents and business leaders. Ultimately, the company found some alternate supplies for the winter of 2020, agreed to pay a penalty and begin evaluating all options for supplying gas demand downstate.

By blocking the pipeline, a move sure to draw widespread celebration from environmentalists, the Cuomo administration is signaling once again that new pipelines aren’t welcome in New York.

Williams Co. could petition for an adjudicatory hearing to review the decision.

The decision, if it stands, marks a new era for utility gas planning — and National Grid, the administration and local officials must now grapple with the potential need for new trucked gas supplies and associated infrastructure, as well as the risk for supply disruptions and moratoriums in the coming years.

National Grid’s other preferred option to meet demand may also run into roadblocks because it requires permits and agreements for new liquefied natural gas infrastructure with Mayor Bill de Blasio’s administration. The mayor has said he won’t support new gas supplies for the city but hasn’t required new construction to go electric, which would cut demand.

Environmental advocates want National Grid to close its forecasted supply-demand gap, which they also question, but with energy efficiency measures, demand response (whereby some customers would switch to fuel oil on the coldest days) and heating electrification.

Those could be more costly than proposed infrastructure solutions depending on how much demand grows, but advocates say they’re the only choice to support city and state emissions reduction goals.