The state’s environmental agency said “no” once again to a pipeline that would have carried natural gas into New York City – the second time in three months that energy giant Williams has been foiled in New York.

Back in February, after an eight-year regulatory battle with activists and the state of New York, and after what the company called a diminished anticipated return on its investment, Williams pulled the Constitution Pipeline project.

What You Need To Know

  • In May, DEC again denied a water quality permit to a Williams Co. pipeline project.

  • The Northeast Supply Enhancement (NESE) was to carry natural gas into New York City.

  • National Grid & Con Ed had placed moratoria on new natural gas hook-ups last year, saying new demand was out-pacing supply.

Then, in May, the New York Department of Environmental Conservation denied a water quality permit for Williams’ Northeast Supply Enhancement project (NESE).

According to Natural Gas Intelligence, a provider of natural gas and market data to the energy industry, the NESE “has been billed as a way to fill natural gas supply shortages in the city and help reduce the use of dirtier fuels for energy needs there.”

One of NESE’s customers would have been National Grid, which had declared a moratorium on natural gas hook-ups in Westchester County last year after it determined that demand was out-pacing supply. 

One environmentalist told Spectrum News that, to him, it appears the DEC ran Williams’ NESE permit request through an analysis informed by the new Climate Leadership and Community Protection Act – an aggressive piece of climate legislation passed last year in Albany that commits the state to reaching net-zero greenhouse gas emissions. 

Peter Iwanowicz, executive director of Environmental Advocates of New York, says a good portion of the DEC’s written decision addressed why the pipeline was inconsistent with the state’s new climate law.

Here is part of the excerpt:

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. Therefore, the State must continue to support the ongoing transition to renewable and other clean sources of energy, as it works to ultimately eliminate all fossil fuel combustion sources that cannot be counterbalanced by guaranteed permanent carbon sequestration. 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.

“That’s a really significant finding because we know that the goals of the law require New York state to move its entire economy off of fossil fuels, and the first step is obviously to stop the build-out of new stuff,” Iwanowicz said. “This is the first strong test and a great indication of where New York is going as it relates to analyzing new fossil fuel infrastructure in the state. They (DEC) stood up and said ‘no’.”

But the chair of the State Senate Environmental Conservation Committee isn’t willing to read that much into the DEC’s letter.

“Instead of trying to predict the future, I kind of want to assess what I think it means for now, which is that it’s really good news,” Senator Todd Kaminsky said of the agency’s denial.

In an emailed statement to Spectrum News, DEC Commissioner Basil Seggos said, “DEC evaluates every project on its own merits, including fossil fuel projects. In undertaking this case-by-case evaluation, DEC considers all applicable laws and regulations including the provisions of the Climate Leadership and Community Protection Act.”

A spokesperson for National Grid emailed Spectrum News a statement, which said the company would “continue to work with New York State on a final long-term solution.”

While Kaminsky said he is pleased by the DEC’s permit denial, he says the state is falling behind when it comes to building new renewable capacity, which is key to moving off of fossil fuels.

“We need to bring these projects on-line now. Yesterday. There’s not enough time. We’ve got to get moving and we’ve got to do it soon,” he said.

Kaminsky is hoping the federal government funds an infrastructure plan that promotes both green jobs and green infrastructure. 

“We can really tackle two crises at once, the economic crisis and the unemployment crisis that we’re hit with, maybe the worst since the Great Depression, and the climate crisis,” he said.