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With just over a week left before a decision must be made, elected officials gathered in Queens yesterday morning to put pressure on the New York Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) and Governor Hochul to deny a permit for two new fracked gas vaporizers that National Grid is trying to build at its Greenpoint facility. 

U.S. Congresswomen Carolyn Maloney and Nydia Velázquez, Councilmembers Lincoln Restler and Sandy Nurse, and a spokesperson for Councilmember Jennifer Gutiérrez were all present on the banks of the Newtown Creek in Maspeth, Queens, where across the water, the large white National Grid gas tanks loomed. 

The DEC is expected to make a decision on Feb. 7 on the approval or denial of a permit that would allow National Grid to build two new liquified fracked gas vaporizers. Lee Ziesche, an organizer with Sane Energy Project noted that National Grid already has six vaporizers on its premises. This permit would be for an additional two new ones. 

Activists and elected officials gather at Newton Creek
Activists and elected officials gather at Newton Creek. Image: Ariana Perez-Castells

The decision on the vaporizers has already been delayed three times. Most recently, it was expected to happen on Dec. 6, before being rescheduled to February. As was previously reported by the Brooklyn Paper, the DEC asked for more time to process and prepare a response to all of the public comments they received on the permits.

“National Grid has yet to show any real need for these LNG vaporizers, but still they charge ahead with more and more investments in climate-killing technology,” said Congresswoman Maloney. 

In an Instagram live video from No North Brooklyn Pipeline’s account, on Monday, Jan. 24, Anna Tsomo, an organizer, explained how the vaporizers work. Fracked gas is cooled to store in liquid form in National Grid’s large white tanks near Newtown Creek. The vaporizers then reheat that gas “using an enormous amount of energy and also polluting the local air” she noted, to turn the liquified gas back into a gas when it is needed. 

Ziesche said that the fight is much larger than these two vaporizers. “We are very suspicious that if the vaporizers are built, National Grid will be much more likely to pursue phase five of the pipeline.” Phase five of the pipeline is located at the northern end of the project, in Greenpoint, and is the last remaining part to be built. The construction of the pipeline was temporarily halted after much advocacy work and two lawsuits. If phase five is completed, Ziesche said the pipeline will connect directly to the Greenpoint facility where the vaporizers would be installed if approved. 

The No North Brooklyn Pipeline coalition sent a petition on Thursday to Governor Hochul and the DEC with over 11,000 signatures calling on them to deny the permit. The petition argues that the vaporizers do not comply with the The Climate Leadership and Community Protection Act, which was signed into law in 2019. The act requires the city to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 40% by 2030 and by 85% by 2050 (from 1990 levels.)

Willis Elkins, the executive director of Newtown Creek Alliance, participated in the Instagram live video on Monday. He said that National Grid is “one of the major polluters responsible for the contamination in Newtown Creek, which is one of the most polluted waterways in the country.” He noted the land, water and air are polluted in the immediate area. “It’s really an assault on all fronts of the environment, on all fronts of community health coming from this facility.”

Newton Creek
Newton Creek. Image: Ariana Perez-Castells.

Elisha Fye (“E.W.”), a resident of Cooper Park Houses, and on the Cooper Park Residents Council, explained that the community in the area has faced many environmental challenges throughout the years which have had a detrimental effect on the health of local residents. On Thursday morning, he shared his personal story. “Coming up, we experienced all types of fuels and pollution in the air that was harmful to us, and riddled us, our community — Cooper Park and the surrounding community — with all types of medical issues. Me, myself, I think I’m a part of that. My condition, my medical condition is in jeopardy, and I think a part of that stems from this pollution going on in the area.”   

Congresswoman Velázquez later added that communities of color have disproportionately been affected. “If there is a lesson that we learned through Covid-19, it’s that it laid bare the systemic racism that has permeated in communities … Communities of color — Black and Brown communities — have borne the brunt of environmental racism and environmental injustice.”

There are currently two civil rights investigations open in relation to the pipeline. On Wednesday, a group of lawyers on behalf of community groups, sent a 24-page letter to the Department of Transportation and the Environmental Protection Agency, which are currently investigating the  civil rights cases brought against the Department of Public Service and the DEC, respectively. 

The letter explains that the DEC issued a “‘negative declaration’ finding no significant environmental impact to warrant further review” when it assessed the LNG expansion project of the two new vaporizers, but that it failed to evaluate the liquified natural gas facility and the pipeline project together. The group of lawyers who originally made the civil rights complaints argue that the DEC needs to “undertake a full environmental assessment of the North Brooklyn Pipeline (pipeline) with National Grid’s Liquified Natural Gas (LNG) facility in Greenpoint before it makes any decision about whether to issue an air permit to National Grid.” 

Activists are hopeful that the permit for the liquified natural gas vaporizers at the Greenpoint National Grid facility will be denied. One promising sign is that the DEC has recently denied two permits: one in Astoria at the Astoria Gas Turbine Power, LLC and one at the Danskammer Energy Center in Newburgh, upstate, this past October. 

Many groups have been building pressure and raising awareness of the issue for some time, including No North Brooklyn Pipeline, Frack Outta Brooklyn and Sane Energy Project, among others. Most recently, this past Monday, Jan. 24, No North Brooklyn Pipeline teamed up with The Illuminator, a NYC-based artist and activist collective, to project messages onto the white tanks where National Grid stores liquified gas. Two messages read “Reject National Grid’s permit” and “This tank is full of fracked gas.” Another featured a picture of Governor Hochul’s face with the words “Governor Hochul, Deny the LNG Permit,” and others read “No NBK Pipeline”. 

Senators Julia Salazar and Michael Gianaris, Assemblymembers Brian Barnwell, Maritza Davila and Emily Gallagher, and Councilmember Julie Won could not make the press conference on Thursday morning, but they were named as supporters who are standing against the vaporizers. Many of them have shared their support via Twitter. 

No North Brooklyn Pipeline held an “Orientation” Zoom meeting last night to get residents and others interested up to speed on the issues at hand. On Feb. 6, the group will also be hosting the “Artists Against Pipelines Fundraiser”. 

Featured image: Taken by Ariana Perez-Castells.

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