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Green Activists Urge State to Block Greenpoint Gas Plant Facility Upgrade

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A National Grid depot in Greenpoint, Brooklyn, March 1, 2021.

Ben Fractenberg/THE CITY

State environmental protection officials must decide next month whether to grant a permit for a contentious upgrade to a Greenpoint natural gas plant, the planned terminus of an embattled pipeline making its way through Brooklyn.

Environmentalists are urging the Department of Environmental Conservation to deny a permit to National Grid to add two liquid gas vaporizers to the facility, on the basis of New York’s sweeping 2019 climate law.

DEC’s decision on the National Grid permit application is due Feb. 7. 

Local environmental groups charge that the state should not allow new fossil fuel-burning machinery and capacity given the Climate Leadership and Community Protection Act’s carbon-reduction goals.

“In 2022, while we’re seeing the impacts of the climate crisis [and] we are all struggling with the economic impacts of the pandemic, National Grid still wants to build expensive, dirty fracked gas infrastructure,” said Lee Ziesche, community engagement coordinator for the Sane Energy Project, at a Thursday news conference in Maspeth, Queens. “No more fossil fuel infrastructure.”

U.S. Reps. Nydia Velazquez and Carolyn Maloney, along with Councilmembers Lincoln Restler and Sandy Nurse, appeared at the event to join the call.

Meanwhile, the DEC — along with and the state’s utility board — is under federal investigation for whether its environmental review of the vaporizer plans should have included the impact of the pipeline as well, after local groups filed civil rights complaints. Attorneys who filed those complaints have reiterated their call for DEC to undertake the expanded review before it issues an air permit for the vaporizer.

Karen Young, a National Grid spokesperson, said the expansion proposal is meant to bridge a gap between gas demand and supply, and warned that permitting delays could result in risks of the company not being able to supply gas to future customers.

Gas and Air

The project would add two new vaporizers to an existing six in Greenpoint to gassify low-temperature but combustible liquefied natural gas, or LNG. Then the gas could be injected to the pipeline and sent to households.

The company said that while temperatures have been “warmer than normal in recent winters,” it must plan to meet peak demand at a temperature of zero degrees and therefore anticipates a need for more gas in upcoming seasons. The new vaporizers, according to the company, are more efficient than the existing ones and will be used before the older ones, which should lead to fewer greenhouse gas emissions.

Community leaders protest at Newtown Creek the Brooklyn natural gas pipeline, Jan. 27, 2022.

Samantha Maldonado/THE CITY

But community members opposed to the plan have called on the state to deny the request on the grounds that it wouldn’t comply with the Climate Leadership and Community Protection Act.

That law mandates a 85% cut in greenhouse gas emissions by 2050 and reductions in carbon — meaning the state will have to electrify and largely have to come off gas to mitigate climate change.

The DEC invoked the act in October, when it denied a permit from the energy company NRG to replace an old peaker plant, which burned fuel to create electricity at high-demand times, with a newer — but still gas-powered — plant in Astoria, Queens. 

In deciding whether to allow the new infrastructure, the state must decide whether it would serve a useful purpose, such as long-term reliability, as National Grid says, and whether it would be consistent with state greenhouse gas emission limits.

In an emailed statement, DEC spokesperson Jeff Wernick said that the agency’s review of each application includes consideration of public input and ensures “the agency’s decision is protective of public health and the environment, upholds environmental justice and fairness, and meets applicable standards, including those related to the Climate Leadership and Community Protection Act.”

More Battles in the Pipeline

National Grid also plans to extend to that facility the in-progress North Brooklyn pipeline, which it says will improve “reliability and flexibility” of the existing system without increasing the amount of gas into the network.

The pipeline is slated to run nearly seven miles, from Brownsville to Greenpoint, with four of five phases already operational. The final phase is awaiting further review and approval before it’s built.

National Grid has said the pipeline and the vaporizers are separate projects.

But lawyers representing Brooklyn community groups have urged state agencies to consider the projects together. Their civil rights complaint, filed in August, alleged the pipeline’s location, approval and operation discriminate against communities of color along its route and violate federal and state environmental laws.

In response, the federal Environmental Protection Agency and Department of Transportation agreed to investigate whether the DEC and state Department of Public Service, respectively, indeed violated civil rights laws in their roles advancing the pipeline.

DPS and DEC have agreed to participate in an informal resolution process with the federal agencies, spokespeople for the state agencies confirmed. The EPA and the DOT did not respond to requests for comment.

On Wednesday, those same community groups’ lawyers sent a letter to those federal agencies, saying DEC should conduct an environmental review that considers the pipeline and vaporizers jointly before issuing an air permit decision on the vaporizers. 

“The EPA now has a choice as to how it will influence DEC’s decision-making on a permit that we allege is discriminatory,” said Anjana Malhotra, a lawyer at the National Center for Law and Economic Justice and one of the letter signatories. “The agency heads have articulated as one of their priorities of correcting the historical discrimination, building, unchecked toxic infrastructure and communities of color. This will be a critical moment to see whether they work to protect those communities in their investigation.”

It’s unclear whether DEC’s approval or denial of the new vaporizers would have any bearing on the pipeline expansion. But Brooklyn residents have been protesting the pipeline and National Grid’s plans to expand its facility for nearly two years, and plan to continue.

“We need clean air in our lives, “ said Elisha Fye, a Greenpoint resident and vice president of the Cooper Park Resident Council. “We need not to have this vaporizer.”

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