New York State is expected to issue a determination Friday on whether or not to approve an environmental permit for a contested natural gas pipeline to the region, as National Grid weighs a series of alternatives to the controversial project.
The state Department of Environmental Conservation has twice rejected the pipeline in its first two applications, citing environmental impacts of toxic sediment that would be released to bury the $1.4 billion pipeline in New York waterways. The pipeline would increase regional natural gas capacity by around 14%, addressing what National Grid has characterized as a looming gas shortage.
Environmentalists who oppose it say that the crisis scenario is vastly overstated and that the pipeline would commit the region to a fossil fuel future when green-energy alternatives are gaining ground.
National Grid last year imposed a moratorium on new gas hookups in the downstate region, setting off a firestorm of protest by businesses and homeowners whose ability to expand with gas was cut off — and incurring the wrath of Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo, who ultimately threatened to revoke the company’s operating franchise.
In a settlement reached in November, National Grid agreed to pay $36 million to compensate those impacted by the moratorium, and to explore a range of alternatives to the pipeline, which would be built by Williams Co.
Earlier this month, after a series of public hearings to present a list of a dozen projects and concepts to address the shortage, National Grid narrowed the list to two: the same Northeast Supply Enhancement pipeline it first proposed and a second that used enhancements to existing infrastructure, including the Iroquois pipeline, as well as energy efficiency and demand-reduction options to address a shortage that has also grown smaller because of the COVID-19 pandemic and warmer weather.
Representatives for the DEC and National Grid didn’t immediately respond to requests for comment about the pipeline permit decision.
Kyle Strober, executive director for the Association for a Better Long Island, a regional economic development group, said regardless of whether the permit is approved, it’s vital that the region have a plan to meet demand.
“The most important aspect of this whole process is that there isn’t a future moratorium that would stymie the ability to obtain natural gas as we enter a post-pandemic recovery phase,” Strober said.
Robert Catell, a former chief executive of Brooklyn Union Gas and KeySpan and former U.S. chairman of National Grid, said it would be “disappointing” if the state rejects the permit and the pipeline isn’t built.
“I really do believe the pipeline is the best and only long-term solution to be sure we have secure, reliable supply of natural gas here on Long Island” and the downstate region, said Catell, who is also chair of the Advanced Energy Research and Technology Center at Stony Brook University and chair of National Offshore Wind Research and Development Consortium.
By Mark Harrington