For the second time in less than a week, climate activists and fracking opponents in the northeast find themselves celebrating.
The latest applause comes after a state regulatory agency on Friday—which happened to be Earth Day—announced it was denying a permit for a major fracked-gas pipeline in the state. Just days earlier, another similar project was halted in New England.
Calling it "amazing news" and a "huge victory" for New York residents and the planet as a whole, the decision by the Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) to reject the controversial Constitution Pipeline project was welcomed as a timely gift by Frack Action, a state coalition opposed to hydraulic drilling and further expansion of fossil fuel projects in the state.
"It’s time for fossil fuel industry enablers and apologists to step aside and let the rest of us continue the work necessary to solve the climate crisis and transition our society to 100 percent renewable energy."—Moneen Nasmith, EarthJustice
In a statement explaining its decision, the DEC said the project "fails to meet New York state’s water quality standards."
"Thanks to Governor Cuomo and the DEC, over 1800 acres of beautiful rural farmlands and forest, 277 streams, rivers and waterways, over 700,000 trees and the properties, health and lives of hard-working New Yorkers are protected from being destroyed by the Constitution Pipeline," said Julia Walsh, campaign director of Frack Action. "This Earth Day, New York State lived up to our role as a national environmental leader."
Because the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) had already approved the 124-mile pipeline, designed to pump gas from fracking sites in Pennsylvania to the eastern part of New York, a state permit was the final hurdle before construction could begin. However, after heavy grassroots lobbying from landowners, conservationists, and climate activists in the state, the DEC specifically cited environmental concerns when announcing its rejection. Agreeing with one of the central arguments of opponents, as the local York Dispatch noted, "The agency said the project's construction would affect 251 streams and 500 acres of valuable forest as well as extensive wetlands."
Mark Ruffalo, the well-known actor and New York resident who also serves as advisory board member of New Yorkers Against Fracking said it was "incredible" for the news to be delivered on Earth Day. "Thank you again to Governor Cuomo and the Department of Environmental Conservation for putting the protection of our precious water and the public health and safety of New Yorkers ahead of the special interests of the oil and gas industry," Ruffalo said. "This is what real climate leadership looks like."
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According to Moneen Nasmith, a staff attorney for EarthJustice, the timing was also striking given that world leaders were gathered in New York City to officially sign the international climate agreement struck during Paris talks in December. Nasmith made a contrast between actions proving that leaders understand the threat posed by fossil fuels and others who continue to ignore the warnings of the scientific community about human-caused global warming and climate change.
"World leaders and our leaders in New York State are doing what’s necessary," she said. "Unfortunately their efforts are undermined by rogue agencies like the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission which is failing to do its job and evaluate the environmental and climate impacts of the massive fossil fuel infrastructure projects it approves. FERC is an outlier agency that, with every day, is exposed as being drastically out of step with its peers. It’s time for fossil fuel industry enablers and apologists to step aside and let the rest of us continue the work necessary to solve the climate crisis and transition our society to 100 percent renewable energy."
The permit denial for the Constitution Pipeline comes just days after another major gas pipeline was also defeated in the northeast region of the country.
As Common Dreams reported on Thursday, a project being pushed by Kinder Morgan in nearby New England states, known as the Northeast Energy Direct (NED) pipeline, was halted after the company—also facing stiff local opposition across the region—said the project was no longer financially viable.
In a company statement, Constitution spokesman Christopher Stockton said the company was "very disappointed" by the DEC's decision and is now considering how to move forward.
"We remain absolutely committed to building this important energy infrastructure project," Stockton said. "We are in the process of analyzing the stated rationale for the denial. Once that review is complete we will assess our options, which may include an appeal to the U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals."