Issues & Advocacy

Published on April 10th, 2017 | by GrowWNYAdmin

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NYSDEC Denies Water Permits for Northern Access Pipeline

Albany, NY — Nearing midnight on Friday’s deadline to make an official decision regarding permits for the controversial Northern Access Pipeline, New York’s Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) announced the proposed pipeline failed to comply with state and federal water-quality standards. This decision follows opposition from nearly 150 organizations across the state, as well as three heavily attended public hearings and more than 5,700 public comments. Residents and environmental advocates expressed concerns over adverse impacts to air and water quality, ecology, tourism, and property values among other issues, many of which were echoed in the DEC’s 13-page denial.

Northern Access would have transported gas from fracking fields in northwest Pennsylvania through Allegany, Cattaraugus, Erie, and Niagara counties, eventually into Canada. The high-pressure pipeline would have moved half a billion cubic feet of gas per day, running counter to DEC’s commitments to conservation, as well as Governor Cuomo’s plans to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and the use of fracked gas.

“Governor Cuomo’s rejection of the Northern Access Pipeline continues unparalleled national leadership in thwarting harmful gas infrastructure projects that threaten irreplaceable water resources and the stability of our climate. This project was identical in scope and impact to the Constitution Pipeline that Cuomo rejected a year ago. The water quality certification denials for the two pipelines together represent a precedent that is a strong counter to Trump’s anti-environmental agenda, which seeks to lift all barriers to new fossil fuel infrastructure development.” Roger Downs, Sierra Club Atlantic Chapter Conservation Director.

In its denial, the DEC stated that the project would cross an unacceptable number of streams and wetlands and cause far too much damage to the local environment. It stated that the pipeline would damage more than 70 acres of wetlands, some permanently; it would likewise cause harm to significant animal species, including brown and rainbow trout. DEC further stated that “the Project fails to avoid or adequately mitigate adverse impacts to water quality” and “causes a negative cumulative effect on water quality to that watershed or basin.” DEC went so far as to note that National Fuel, the company behind the pipeline, did not try to avoid harm where possible.

Lia Oprea, a local landowner facing eminent domain for the export project, said, “the decision by the DEC renews our family’s faith and our rural Western New York neighbors’ faith in local action. It feels as if a tide is turning in the right direction and our voices are finally being heard. When a fuel company comes to you with threats to condemn your fourth-generation farmland under eminent domain for a pipeline right-of-way, it can be very intimidating. It has been a long fight. You don’t get much sleep when your land, your livelihood, your heritage and your future is on the line. Every day, I hike through our fields and woods down to Cattaraugus Creek. which borders the farm that has been in our family for over 100 years. Our neighbors and I couldn’t live with a pipeline tearing through this. Now, thanks to the DEC, we don’t have to.”

Regarding Friday’s decision, Joe Schueckler of Cuba, NY, said, “I’m very happy about it. I am a little concerned that an appeal may find a different decision. But we’re going to continue to be against the Northern Access Pipeline on environmental grounds, and against National Fuel Gas taking advantage of people and misleading them. Joe and his wife, Theresa, never wanted National Fuel to cut through the land they’ve managed for over 50 years. “They say it’s going to benefit people in Western New York but it seems to me they’re gonna put it on the open market through Canada. And all of that is going to raise the price of gas. Ultimately, I think the DEC made the right decision.”

Diana Strablow, an organizer with the Sierra Club Niagara Group said, “We applaud Governor Cuomo and DEC’s decision to do the right thing in denying this pipeline. The temporary construction jobs the project would have created were not worth the price our climate, our waters and the health, safety and well-being of our residents would have to pay, now and in future generations. We stand ready to support labor union jobs that protect our air and water and ramp up our renewable energy sector. We should not have to choose between good paying jobs and a sustainable future. We need a just transition from fossil fuels that takes care of workers and provides a healthy, liveable environment.”

The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, the agency that oversees interstate natural gas pipelines, dismissed landowner objections and issued its final approval of the Northern Access project in February. That allowed National Fuel to petition a federal judge for eminent domain condemnation of properties whose owners have refused to sign contracts. National Fuel chose to file court papers early last week, in advance of DEC’s April 7 deadline. Landowners like the Schueklers have cried foul since the gas is not intended for local use, making this a matter of private profit rather than public need.

Joe Gibson, Western New York community organizer with Clean Air Council said, “I’m glad that Cuomo and the DEC didn’t heel to National Fuel. The denial of this pipeline following that of the Constitution Pipeline last year says to me that the governor won’t allow destructive fracked-gas pipelines through our state anymore. I hope he continues to stop the buildup of all fracked-gas infrastructure across the state.”

As of this writing, it is unknown whether National Fuel will move forward with eminent domain proceedings against landowners who refused to sign contracts allowing the 24-inch gas pipeline to cross their properties. Opponents of the pipeline and of the unjust use of eminent domain hope that National Fuel will withdraw the lawsuit, considering the state has denied its proposal to build the pipeline.

Landowners available for comment:

Lia Oprea: 310-770-3288

Jim & Gail Mangus: 716-877-0997

Russell & Darlene Vacinek: 716-982-2788

Joe & Theresa Schueckler: 585-933-8098

Contact:

Diana Strablow, Sierra Club Niagara Group: (716) 523-4446
Joseph Gibson, Clean Air Council: (716) 444-6427
Lia Oprea, landowner facing eminent domain: (310) 770-3288

DEC denial letter: http://tinyurl.com/nysdec-nonapl

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