New York State faces a deadline this week to decide whether to grant a water-quality permit for a proposed natural gas pipeline under New York Harbor.
If only it were that simple.
The $1 billion plan to lay a 24-mile pipeline from New Jersey’s Raritan Bay to an existing offshore pipeline off the Rockaways has become the latest battle in larger wars being waged over the need to convert energy production from fossil fuels to renewable sources. That’s why the state Department of Environmental Conservation’s decision will be seen as signifying more than a bureaucratic determination on water regulations.
The timing stinks. The pipeline would bring an additional 400 million cubic feet of natural gas daily to NYC and Long Island. National Grid, which along with Con Ed would use the gas and which has a 15-year contract for the pipeline’s supply, says it’s badly needed. Some environmentalists say it’s not.
Allow pipeline for the short term
Grid’s argument is more convincing. At this moment. But it won’t be further down the road. The transition to wind energy and solar is underway, but not quickly enough to solve today’s problems — a lack of gas for heat on peak cold days in winter, for new critical development projects, and for the thousands of customers seeking to switch from heating oil to cleaner natural gas each year.
But gas also contributes to global warming, and we need to wean ourselves off it. So if the DEC says the pipeline’s environmental effects on water and marine life will be temporary or can be remediated, the state also must take steps to ensure this pipeline is the last piece of new fossil fuel infrastructure here.
The Public Service Commission is testing Grid’s claims by doing a statewide review of gas infrastructure needs, including those of Con Ed. That’s good. In December, the PSC accelerated energy efficiency goals for utilities that are expected to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 40 percent by 2030. That’s better. The PSC must keep up the pressure on the utilities. All options should be explored, including heat pumps, biogas from food waste and better insulation for residential structures. In its current rate-increase request, Grid smartly included programs to conserve and decarbonize the heating sector, like geothermal heating and cooling. Gov. Andrew Cuomo will soon award contracts for large-scale wind farms — 1,200 megawatts is a good guess — which when operating in 5 years or so will allow inefficient gas-fired power plants to be closed.
Make way for renewable energy
As National Grid’s other gas contracts expire in the years ahead, they should not be renewed as these greener measures take hold.
Whatever the DEC rules, the losing side likely will sue on grounds that process was not followed, miring the pipeline in a judicial slog that could last several years. Then it will take time to build the pipeline. By then, the landscape might have changed. Natural gas once was part of the climate-change solution by reducing greenhouse gas emissions. Now it’s part of the problem by locking them in. Today, it’s needed. Tomorrow, not so much.
In letting the gas flow now, the state also needs to make sure we can start closing the valves soon.