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OpinionColumnistsMark Chiusano

Underwater pipeline for NYCHA?

Controversial push for NYC gas pipeline has met support in unexpected places.

Protesters chant, carry signs, and march across the

Protesters chant, carry signs, and march across the Brooklyn Bridge to protest the Williams pipeline, April 18, 2019. Photo Credit: Jeff Bachner

Energy behemoth Williams wants to build an underwater pipeline that would carry natural gas from New Jersey under New York Bay to the Rockaways. The fight is imminent.

Opponents say the pipeline wouldn't be right for a climate-friendly future and that it would be dangerous for the health of New York waters. Surfers and environmental advocates have rallied against it.

Williams and its supporters say a pipeline would add gas capacity and is better than heating new buildings with more harmful oil.

Add a new supporter to this side, citing a surprising rationale: New York City Housing Authority tenant leader Danny Barber says the pipeline would be a way to bring what he calls “a more solid and sustainable” heating system to NYCHA. Readers of this space will be familiar with the fact that NYCHA residents have endured years of malfunctioning boilers.

Barber’s support is part of an all-out push by the pipeline’s boosters to strengthen their argument as the company seeks government approvals.

Barber is the chairman of the public housing authority's Citywide Council of Presidents, an advocacy role for residents. His pipeline support is being promoted in Facebook ads paid for by New York State Laborers' LECET, which is affiliated with the Laborers' International Union of North America (LIUNA).

LECET stands for Laborers-Employers Cooperation and Education Trust, and it facilitates partnerships between labor and contractors, according to its website.

The group has said the pipeline construction would lead to lots of union jobs.

So no surprise that NYS Laborers' LECET has paid for dozens of pro-pipeline ads via an Energy Justice For All Facebook page created last March. Between May 2018 and April 20, the page spent almost $200,000 on political or issue ads on Facebook, according to the social media giant’s archive.

Look at the bright green Energy Justice logo quickly and you might imagine it argues for wind power or more Earth Day activities.

An Energy Justice For All website  which is also “a project of NYS LECET,” according to the site's fine print  makes various claims about why NYCHA residents need the pipeline project, known as Northeast Supply Enhancement, or NESE.

“IF NESE IS DENIED, MANY NYCHA BUILDING UPGRADES WILL BE PUT ON HOLD,” the site reads.

And “The Northeast Supply Enhancement (NESE) project will increase natural gas capacity in NYC, which will result in: The continued upgrades of NYCHA heating systems.”

Fair access to energy has become a component of the environmental movement, but the validity of these NYCHA claims is a little unclear. The environmental group 350.org released an anti-pipeline report this year noting that the “serious heating problems that NYCHA housing residents face are due to NYCHA’s persistent failure to replace or repair old equipment, not gas supplies.”

When asked about that claim, a city spokeswoman emailed that “Old infrastructure is mainly the problem. Still evaluating impact of pipeline.”

Some NYCHA developments in flood-prone areas have become symbols of what can happen if carbon emissions continue and the waters rise. Particularly after developments were flooded during Superstorm Sandy.

But as a rhetorical strategy, it seems the Energy Justice For All campaign hopes to tap into the general outrage that comes with most things NYCHA.

So NYCHA leaders like Barber are finding themselves at the center of a tense if not-particularly-housing-related political issue.

Barber says his pipeline support comes from advocacy for NYCHA residents.

“The residents are suffering,” he said.

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