This story was originally published on 2/14/20 by THE CITY. (By: Claudia Irizarry Aponte)
Construction of a 6.8-mile natural gas pipeline stretching from Brownsville to North Brooklyn has hit a wall in Greenpoint, where community leaders and elected officials are vying to halt the project as it reaches its final stage.
The National Grid gas main — which has been in the works since 2017 — would supply fracked gas from Pennsylvania, where the extraction is legal. The controversial practice was banned in New York state in 2014.
On Saturday, a community coalition of environmental advocacy groups, schools, and social justice groups will host a rally at the pipeline’s latest construction site, the intersection of Moore Street and Manhattan Avenue.
“I am familiar with the history of environmental devastation in my neighborhood,” said Kevin LaCherra, a third-generation Greenpointer who is helping organize the rally. “We need our elected officials to be taking bold steps to bring renewables on now.”
The pipeline opponents are calling on Gov. Andrew Cuomo and Mayor Bill de Blasio to stop the project on the grounds that it goes against both the state and the city’s clean energy goals.
“This is not the kind of system we want any more,” Kim Fraczek, director of the Sane Energy Project, an environmental advocacy group, told THE CITY. “This industry doesn’t have the interests of the community at heart.”
Their claims are quickly gaining momentum: On Tuesday, Brooklyn’s Community Board 1, which includes Greenpoint, voted unanimously to stop any construction of the pipeline.
Advocates say they have the support of every single elected official who represents North Brooklyn at the state and city level, from City Councilmembers Stephen Levin and Antonio Reynoso, to State Sen. Julia Salazar and veteran Assemblymember Joe Lentol.
Levin, Reynoso and Lentol all confirmed to THE CITY they oppose the pipeline’s construction, Salazar did not return requests for comment.
Left in the Dark
Construction of the gas main, which broke ground in April 2018 on Thomas S. Boyland Street in Brownsville, is about 80% complete, according to weekly progress reports posted online by National Grid. The current phase of the project is slated to be complete this fall, with the full pipeline on schedule for a 2021 debut.
But North Brooklyn residents contend they had no idea the pipeline was even being built under all the construction work they saw going on the street level. The subject was first brought up at a Brooklyn Community Board 1 meeting in November, when Fraczek spoke out against pipeline.
Fraczek said she only found out about the project in October, when construction broke ground a block away from her home in Greenpoint.
“It shows how opaque their process is,” Fraczek told THE CITY. “None of my neighbors knew about this either.”
Tensions boiled over at a Community Board 1 meeting on Jan. 14, when several members put National Grid representatives on blast for not being more forthcoming about the construction, the Brooklyn Eagle reported.
‘We Got Really Frustrated’
It marked the first time the company spoke about the project with the community, and did so only after Lentol insisted.
“We got really frustrated with their presentation,” Emily Gallagher, who sits on Brooklyn CB1’s Environmental Protection Committee and is challenging Lentol in a June primary, told THE CITY. “They gave us kind of a public relations presentation about how green they are, how they drive electric cars … things that had nothing to do with the issue.”
Critics have blasted the project as counterintuitive to both the state and the city’s ambitious renewable energy goals.
National Grid did not respond to multiple requests for comment. Its website states: “the Metropolitan Natural Gas Reliability Project will improve Brooklyn’s natural gas system by increasing the system’s safety, reliability, and operational flexibility. The project will also improve the gas system’s capacity to support the area’s economic growth.”
The extraction of natural gas via hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, was prohibited in the state of New York six years ago, when Cuomo signed legislation ending the practice because of health concerns. Last month, he announced he would make the ban permanent as of next year.
But that hasn’t stopped the state’s use of fracked natural gas: In 2018, almost two-fifths of the state’s electricity net generation came from natural gas, according to the federal U.S. Energy Information Administration. Most of the natural gas consumed in New York is extracted in other states and Canada, with “an increasing share” coming from Pennsylvania, the EIA notes.
The official city tally of greenhouse gas emissions shows that the bulk of the residential greenhouse gas emissions in the city were a result of natural gas.
Last year, Cuomo reached a deal with state lawmakers to eliminate net greenhouse emissions by 2050, laying the groundwork for a future where electricity would come from carbon-free resources. Though it has much lower carbon emissions than coal and oil when burned, natural gas is considered a fossil fuel, and advocates argue that the state should move toward greener sources of power, such as geothermal loops, biofuels, wind and solar energy.
Looking to the Future
Advocates and elected officials see this battle as the latest in the fight for environmental justice in the neighborhood.
Greenpoint’s Newtown Creek, one of the nation’s most contaminated areas, was designated a Superfund site in 2010. Four years earlier, a dozen neighborhood residents sued ExxonMobil for damages stemming from an oil spill half a century prior.
Northern Brooklyn also has some of the city’s lowest air quality rates, according to the city Department of Health, which some blame on the Brooklyn-Queens Expressway cutting through the neighborhood, as well as the area’s industrial landscape.
“At one time it seemed like it was one environmental challenge after another that we faced in this community,” said Lentol, who has represented the district in the state legislature for the past 48 years.
Rally organizers — ranging from environmental action groups like Sane Energy Project and the Sunrise Movement to local schools and the local chapter of the Democratic Socialists of America — say they’re trying to safeguard the neighborhood for future generations.
“It won’t be me cleaning this up — it’ll be my kids and my grandkids,” LaCherra said. “If this neighborhood still exists in 100 years.”