After spending much of 2020 opposing a fracked gas pipeline being laid through the neighborhood, Greenpoint residents say they’ve notched up a few wins — but the fight’s not over.
Right now they’re asking North Brooklyn residents to “flood” a state department with comments opposing National Grid expanding its facility at Newtown Creek. A virtual meeting on this and the North Brooklyn Pipeline is happening this Sunday at 5 p.m.
The North Brooklyn Pipeline, or Metropolitan Natural Gas Reliability Project, is being built by National Grid to carry gas under Brownsville, Bed-Stuy, Bushwick, Williamsburg and Greenpoint, ending at a depot on Newtown Creek.
National Grid says the new pipeline will allow the current gas supply to move around with more safety, reliability and efficiency.
But opponents say it’s an unnecessary piece of infrastructure designed to allow the utility to ask the state for more money from ratepayers. It wants $185 million for the final sections through Bushwick, Williamsburg and Greenpoint.
A coalition of Brooklyn residents have spent the year fighting the pipeline — which they say is dangerous and contributes to climate change while running through neighborhoods most vulnerable to pollution and extreme weather. And it seems to be working.
In the last month, New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio has joined the No North Brooklyn Pipeline Coalition in opposing the project, the Greenpoint section of the pipeline is on hold, and residents are mobilizing against National Grid expanding its facility at Newtown Creek.
Mayor joins fight
For fourth generation Greenpoint resident Kevin LaCherra, the issue is personal.
He pointed out that Greenpoint has a long history of environmental devastation, remembering one of the largest oil spills ever recorded in the US was discovered around Newtown Creek in 1978.
“The pipeline is the next phase of all that, and we don’t have four generations to clean it up or realize it’s bad,” he said. “Climate change is coming for Greenpoint, it’s coming for NYC. We have to start figuring out yesterday how we extricate ourselves from this.”
LaCherra is a member of the No North Brooklyn Pipeline Coalition, which saw Mayor de Blasio come out against the “unnecessary” pipeline expansion on Dec. 3, calling for National Grid to “withdraw this project immediately.”
He said while the coalition had been effective at pressuring politicians to come out against the pipeline, de Blasio needed to do more to stop it. “Maybe the mayor is afraid to act, hopefully the governor is not.”
In response to the mayor’s comments, National Grid spokesperson Wendy Ladd said the pipeline is necessary to improve the integrity of the system and ensure people can heat their homes on the coldest days of the year. “It’s a safety and reliability project,” she said.
Phase 5 stops
Much of the pipeline has already been completed, but Phase 5, the part slated to run through Greenpoint, is at a standstill.
National Grid is currently going through a ‘rate case’ with the New York Public Service Commission, where it is decided how much it can charge ratepayers for the pipeline and a proposed addition to its Greenpoint facility.
So far, the commission has not approved any ratepayer increase to pay for the Phase 5 Greenpoint section of the pipeline, Lee Ziesche, an organizer at SANE Energy Project, a non-profit opposing the pipeline, said.
In the meantime, the utility is moving forward with proposed upgrades to its facility on Newtown Creek near the Kosciuszko Bridge, she said.
This would include two new LNG vaporizers, which heat up liquified gas so the utility can add more gas into the system during peak demand. National Grid said the vaporizers would not add more LNG to the facility, but allow it to transform gas quicker on the coldest days.
But Ziesche said SANE and the coalition are opposing them.
“If they don’t have Phase 5, [National Grid] can’t fully use this expansion,” she said. “They are moving forward with this expansion that they would then need the pipeline to use.”
The New York State Department of Environmental Conservation is accepting comments from the public on the issue right now until Dec. 26, and SANE Energy is encouraging Greenpoint and Williamsburg locals to write in.
Ziesche says National Grid is also looking to get permission to start trucking bottles of LNG into Greenpoint, which is not currently allowed by law.
“LNG trucks are incredibly explosive,” Ziesche said. She added that fracking contributes to climate change, which Greenpoint is at the coalface of, and that the LNG facility is on a floodplain. “It’s so insane to be investing tens of millions dollars in this when this site is so vulnerable to climate change. We should be figuring out a way to retire this facility.”
In response to concerns, National Grid said safety was its “number one priority.”
“The fact is that National Grid has been providing safe and reliable service to customers for 100 years,” Ladd said. “The upgrades are really critical to serve our millions of customers and keep them warm during the winter.”
Under our feet
While construction on the pipeline started in May 2017, many Brooklyn residents only found out about it late last year.
Greenpoint artist and activist Katherine Conkling Thompson said she learned of the pipeline during a community meeting last winter, during a time in her life that she was becoming passionate about fighting climate change.
“I couldn’t believe it. Like, wow, here I am trying to fight climate change on a global level and it’s happening right here in Greenpoint under our feet.”
She said she felt like Greenpoint was a ground zero for the climate fight. “If you can succeed in somehow stopping this fossil fuel infrastructure right here in Greenpoint, in one of the most industrial and polluted areas in all of New York City, that would be setting an example.”
It’s now important New York’s elected officials start planning a renewable energy strategy to replace fossil fuels, she said. She hoped those issues would be at the forefront of the mayoral race.
Painter Margot Spindelman has lived in Greenpoint for 20 years and said she learned about the project in January. But since then she’s occupied the pipeline to halt construction, helped inform others and even become a party to the rate case.
“Everyone can weigh in on all of this by going to the No North Brooklyn Pipeline website and signing our petition and sending a comment to the Public Service Commission and Governor Cuomo,” she said. “He has the power to stop all of it — we are building the power to make that happen!”