On Wednesday night, the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) rejected a key certification for a controversial pipeline that would have brought loads more natural gas into New York City. This decision comes on the heels of major opposition, including a hunger strike that began the day before—all in the name of ending fossil fuel expansion in the state.
The Northeast Supply Enhancement (NESE) project, which opponents call the Williams Pipeline to call out its developer that goes by the same name, is supposed to bring up to 400 million cubic feet of natural gas a day into New York City. It’s slated to be the city’s first big new pipeline project in more than five years, something local utilities argue is needed to help address the city’s growing energy demand. The pipeline would traverse some 47 miles through New Jersey to eventually arrive in the Rockaways, a Queens community that was left particularly paralyzed in wake of Superstorm Sandy in 2012. For many of these residents, the effects of climate change are all too real, and they don’t want anymore fossil fuel development that contributes to it.
And it appears that the State of New York doesn’t, either. Governor Andrew Cuomo hopped on the Green New Deal wave back in January when he announced a set of initiatives to help the state’s power sector become 100 percent carbon free by 2040. That sounds unlikely if new natural gas pipelines continue rolling into the state, bringing with them emissions of methane, a greenhouse gas that carries 25 times the warming potential of carbon.
The DEC, however, didn’t deny Williams its water quality certification on the basis of climate change. It denied the company the certification because the project “would likely have significant water quality impacts in New York State,” as the denial letter states. To be more specific, the DEC says that the project, which would run underwater on its way to New York, could cause the mercury and copper-laden sediment on the seafloor to become suspended in the water with “significant” water quality impacts. The project could also disturb shellfish beds along the harbor, the DEC notes.
So, yeah, the state department is not about that life. And neither are state congresspeople, including Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, the Green New Deal champion, and 10 other members of Congress who sent a letter Wednesday to Gov. Cuomo expressing their concerns over the project. According to the letter, they especially take issue with the record of the developer, whose infrastructure has experienced explosions and fires.
This doesn’t mean that the pipeline is a no-go, though. Williams can still re-apply for the permit once it addresses the state agency’s concerns. From there, if it’s still denied a permit, the company could challenge the DEC’s decision in court. The state’s power is questionable these days under an administration that is trying to kill the ability for states to deny these types of energy projects; President Donald Trump signed a series of executive orders on this back in April.
Whatever happens next, opponents are unlikely to back down.
“The hunger strike was one small, but important, act in a powerful grassroots movement that has been working for years to stop this pipeline,” said Lee Ziesche, the community engagement coordinator with the Sane Energy Project, an organization dedicated to accelerating a just transition away from fossil fuels, in an email to Earther.
Since the project was announced in 2016, the effort to stop it has only grown. The New York Times even equated the resistance to that seen against the controversial Keystone XL Pipeline in the Midwest.
“New Yorkers are winning the fight against the Williams fracked gas pipeline, and we’ll make sure this dangerous and unnecessary pipeline is never built,” said the Stop the Williams Pipeline Coalition, in a statement.
In the era of rapid climate change and extreme natural disasters, can we afford another energy project of the past? Many residents don’t think so.
Earther reached out to Williams for comment and will update if we hear back.