In case you haven't seen this:
The Cuomo administration's pipeline challenge
By Scott Waldman 10:22 a.m. | Jun. 11, 2015 1 follow this reporter
In the last six months, the Cuomo administration has come down firmly on the side of environmentalists on a number of controversial issues.
There was, most famously, the governor's decision in late 2014 to ban fracking in New York. There was also the decision in May to conduct a thorough environmental probe of a proposed crude oil facility that could turn the Hudson River into a major tar sands transportation route. And there was the recent declaration by a top energy official that the administration is actively working to close the Indian Point nuclear facility.
Now, the administration has the power to block, or substantially delay, a few natural gas pipelines that are opposed by some environmental groups, and which are awaiting final sign off.
Pipelines are generally overseen and approved by federal regulators not likely to fret over the political fallout of running a natural gas line through a forest or through rural communities. But states do have some authority over the pipelines, through the issuing of water-quality permits.
The state's decision-making process may yet take a while—this administration in particular tends to move excruciatingly slowly in revealing its position on controversial energy projects.
But in the end, the state's decision on pipelines is less likely than the others to go the objectors' way.
One reason is simply that the legal grounds for blocking the pipelines would be shaky—the state would have to show that they have an adverse impact on bodies of water—and a decision to do so could actually get overturned in court.
Perhaps more significantly, blocking the pipelines would greatly complicate the administration's energy policy, which has, among other things, made New York much more reliant on natural gas, which in turn necessitates the construction of more pipelines.
The future of energy in New York involves miles and miles of pipelines carrying natural gas from other states, a notion that has been reinforced both by Governor Andrew Cuomo and the governors of New England states that are also pushing for more pipeline infrastructure. New York and New England are increasingly powered by natural gas, thanks to the nation's fracking boom and ever-increasing pressure to shut down coal- and oil-fired power plants.
This movement toward natural gas isn't the stuff of blaring political press releases. Gas isn't renewable or emissions-free, and represents incremental progress, at best, toward New York's ambitious goals for reducing carbon output and reliance on fossil fuels.
But gas is cleaner than most fossil fuel sources and, for the moment, cheaper, with prices in the New York region expected to stay low for a generation due to booming production from the natural gas fields of Pennsylvania.
Under Cuomo, coal-burning power plants have been converted to natural gas, and the administration's plan to replace the potential loss of Indian Point's 2,000 megawatts of power involves new or repowered plants with natural gas.
In a region where capacity is already strained, that means more pipelines.
The "lights will go out" if significant resources are not invested in natural gas pipelines and transmission lines, said Stephen Whitley, president of the New York Independent System Operator, the state's grid operator.
Whitley, who was speaking to reporters last month at a conference hosted by the state's power producers, said proposed federal air pollution rules will place even more pressure on the state to bring in natural gas, which is cleaner than other fossil fuels.
"To make that happen reliably, we're going to have to have a lot of infrastructure built — transmission lines and gas pipelines," Whitley said. "It can be done. It's going to be very expensive. It's going to take a lot of time."
The chairwoman of the state Public Service Commission, which regulates the state's energy industry, also said recently that New York needs pipelines.
The chairwoman, Audrey Zibelman, said at a State Senate energy committee hearing in May that New York's economy will be buoyed by more pipelines.
"We certainly think that, from the economic perspective, additional pipeline capacity into the state will be useful," she said. "Right now, the state has pipeline capacity that gives us an advantage of low-cost natural gas, and as we increase, really demand for natural gas as a resource that's necessarily going to give us an opportunity to look at investments and there are pending investments now in front of the D.E.C.."
There are right now at least three major proposed pipelines that would cross New York. The Algonquin project includes 37.4 miles of pipeline in New York, Connecticut and Massachusetts, most of which would be within or adjacent to existing pipelines. The 124-mile Constitution pipeline will cross through Broome, Chenango, Delaware and Schoharie counties. It also calls for the upgrading of an existing compressor station. The Northeast Energy Direct would run Pennsylvania to New England.
Williams Company has all of the necessary pipeline for the Constitution pipeline already in place, spokesman Chris Stockton said.
He also said the company "remains optimistic" the state will act soon.
"Right now we are just waiting," he said. "We're cooperating with them. We provided them with what they need. They're in control of the timetable. We can't do anything until we receive that authorization."
The state has not issued water quality certificates for any of the major pipelines that have been in the works for years. The Department of Environmental Conservation repeatedly extended public comments, as it did with other controversial projects on which the administration sought additional time before making a decision.
A D.E.C. spokesman did not respond to a request for comment for this article.
In the meantime, pipeline opponents are organizing.
Fracking opponents, buoyed by their unexpected victory in winning a state ban, are increasingly turning to pipelines, bringing together small grassroots efforts in pipeline-affected communities with each other, and with activists in other states.
Becky Meier and her group Stop NY Fracked Gas Pipeline have held meetings at schools, churches and community centers to build up interest. She said hundreds of local residents have shown up, and most walk away to spread the word that pipelines endanger the communities' health and property values.
"The process is so complicated, it's almost possible to know where the next decision gets made and where you go to," she said. "There's FERC, there's the Department of Transportation, the D.E.C. One of our goals is to see if the process can be streamlined so people can make meaning out of it."
This article appeared in the June edition of Capital magazine.
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