Grassroots Activists Defeat Controversial Williams Fracked Gas Pipeline In New York Harbor
The decision ends the three-year fight, barring litigation; New Yorkers celebrate decision as essential for protecting public health and the planet during the crisis
New York, NY – The New York Department of Environmental Conservation today denied a needed water quality permit for the controversial Williams Northeast Supply Enhancement Pipeline, effectively putting an end to the epic fight against the widely opposed project. The pipeline was slated to carry fracked gas from Pennsylvania through New York Harbor and out to the Rockaways.
J.K. Canepa, of Sane Energy Project, said, “Governor Cuomo and the DEC showed they heard the people of New York today by ending the three-year bid by Williams Companies to trench an expensive, polluting, and unnecessary fracked gas pipeline into New York Harbor. That project would have caused untold harm to our waterfront communities and burgeoning marine life, locked us into 40 more years of fracked gas, and burdened ratepayers with a $1 billion price tag at a time when unemployment has hit a historic high not seen since the Great Depression. Even while grappling with the unprecedented crisis of being at the center of a worldwide pandemic, New Yorkers spoke loudly and clearly that they don’t want an even more terrifying future: rising seas and non-stop climate emergencies such as the release of other new viruses. The Governor’s next steps must be to deny all fossil fuel infrastructure and move us to 100 percent renewable energy, with jobs that put our workers in the forefront of these new technologies. ”
Governor Cuomo and the DEC have shown strength in stopping the Williams Pipeline and refusing to let one major crisis distract from another. The decision proves that Albany gets the bigger picture that connects the public with planetary wellbeing and will not be swayed by corporate propaganda that puts profits above the best interests of the people. But let’s be clear: this victory is mainly because of grassroots activism and the unflagging determination of New Yorkers; Cuomo still needs to do much more. If he really wants to be a leader during a crisis while reaching the goals of his own climate law, he’ll stop with the austerity politics and seize on this opportunity to institute a green recovery, which must include banning all new fossil fuel infrastructure across the state for good.
Sara Gronim, of 350Brooklyn, said “350Brooklyn salutes Governor Cuomo on his decision to deny the proposed Northeast Supply Enhancement project a Water Quality Certificate for the third and final time. 350Brooklyn also thanks to the NYS Department of Environmental Conservation whose scientific expertise and seriousness of purpose determined that this project would have had major negative effects on the waters off New York City. Their work enabled Governor Cuomo to make a decision that was in the best interest of New Yorkers. We thank Governor Cuomo wholeheartedly for the real leadership he showed in making this decision.”
Noelle Picone, of the SurfriderFoundation, NYC also expressed support for Cuomo’s decision, saying “ChapterSurfrider Foundation applauds Governor Cuomo and the NYS Department of Environmental Conservation on the decision to once again deny the water quality permit needed to build the proposed Northeast Supply Enhancement pipeline. In doing so, Governor Cuomo has proven that he is the climate leader that New York State—and the rest of the country—desperately needs. In addition to exacerbating climate change, the construction of this pipeline would have had a catastrophic impact on the water quality of the New York Harbor. The denial of this project protects the Harbor, the vast array of marine wildlife that inhabits it, the people who swim, surf, and fish in it, and the coastal communities that live on it.”
The victory over the pipeline is a momentous one for New Yorkers and demonstrates the unequivocal power of grassroots climate activism in the state, which outmuscled every corporate effort to convince the public that the project was in its interests. Those efforts were considerable and largely unethical and included an illegal gas moratorium, efforts to link the pipeline to the fate of a $1.4 billion development project, National Grid’s unethical lobbying of its own ratepayers, the manipulation of NYCHA residents, a dubious report asserting the climate benefits of the pipeline, hundreds of thousands of dollars spent on ads, and, most recently, two 100-page reports doubling down on the utility’s claims that more fracked gas infrastructure was needed because of a gas shortage.
Dominique Thomas, New York, and Mid-Atlantic Regional Organizer for 350.org said “The future is in community-based solutions, renewables, and efficiency programs. There’s no need to build out more fracked gas infrastructure in New York City, state or nation. Period.”
Yet the opposition proved too strong, growing until the very end. In a span of just two weeks after Williams submitted its most recent application, New Yorkers sent in over 25,000 comments to the DEC—nearly double what they sent in 2018. They also submitted over 6,000 comments to the PSC and a combined 48,000 petition signatures to Governor Cuomo asking him to stop the project. This is on top of countless other actions that included picketing, canvassing, marches, a banner drop, civil disobedience, street theater, community info sessions, lobbying, and more.
The COVID-19 crisis didn’t slow the momentum: after distancing requirements forced National Grid in April to move its public info sessions online, over 800 unique individuals—overwhelmingly anti-pipeline—still attended. Activists were emboldened by three separate reports (from IEEFA, Energy Futures Group, and
Synergy Energy Economics), along with an earlier study, that found National Grid to be severely inflating its gas demand projections while underplaying the potentials of renewable energy and demand-side solutions. Experts agreed: New York has heat pumps and induction stoves, not fracked gas, in its future.
Scores of local elected officials—including Mayor Bill de Blasio, City Council Speaker Corey Johnson, Assemblyman Robert Carroll, State Senator Julia Salazar, Assemblyman William Colton, Comptroller Scott Stringer, and Public Advocate Jumaane Williams—have opposed the pipeline. In April 2019, the New York City Council passed a near-unanimous resolution condemning the project. On the federal level, Senator Bernie Sanders and 11 U.S. representatives—including Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, Hakeem Jeffries, Jerry Nadler, and Nydia Velázquez—have spoken out against it as well.
Now that the Williams project has been blocked, New Yorkers are calling on Cuomo to make the most of the dire situation represented by COVID-19 and begin instituting a truly green recovery, one that doubles down on his commitments to renewable energy, creates thousands of high-quality jobs in the renewable economy, and bans all new fossil fuel infrastructure for good.
Laura Shindell, New York Organizer with Food & Water Watch put the decision in context saying, “While President Trump hustles to bail out oil and gas companies, New York has taken another step towards moving off fossil fuels. Stopping this fracked gas project was a necessary step towards achieving the ambitious climate goals established by New York last year, and we applaud Governor Cuomo for standing strong against National Grid’s campaign of lies and
Yvonne Walker, Sandy Survivor, New York Communities for Change, concluded “The Williams Pipeline would have been a massive step backward that we just can’t afford. The climate clock is ticking. In 2012, I lost everything to Hurricane Sandy: my clothes, my medications, my furniture, my apartment and I spent weeks living in a church shelter. It makes me feel heard and gives me some closure to see that Governor Cuomo made the right decision and denied the Williams Pipeline yet again.”