New York State’s Fraught Energy Future

The incoming Trump administration is clearly dead-set on advancing policies that may produce short-term economic benefits but will ultimately result in catastrophic long-term, irreversible environmental destruction. Behind Donald Trump’s marketing of Big Oil & Gas as national policy, are actual tools of destruction: cabinet picks for Secretary of State, the Environmental Protection Agency and the Department of Energy- Rex Tillerson, Scott Pruitt and Rick Perry, respectively. The intent is clearly defined: fossil fuel development at all costs, while trashing any progressive climate-related policy found languishing on the floors of severely diminished federal agencies.

Diagram adapted via foodandwaterwatch.org | The Fracking Influence Pipeline: Trump’s Cabinet Nominees

Against this alarming national backdrop is an equally consequential drama -New York State energy policy. Its most recent incarnation is the New York State Energy Plan 2015 which features 3 critical benchmarks to be achieved by 2030 (13 years away) :

  • 40% reduction in greenhouse gas emissions from 1990 levels
  • 50% of energy generation from renewable energy sources
  • 600 trillion Btu increase in statewide energy efficiency

Without exception, these are extremely aggressive goals, and New Yorkers would be right to believe they are achievable. New York State indeed trends progressive across a myriad of issues and its well known Governor Andrew Cuomo continues to maintain the state moratorium on specific shale gas drilling operations known as fracking. Further, the closure of the Indian Point Nuclear Plant, north of midtown approximately 36 miles, was just announced to the great relief of NYS environmental advocates rightly distraught over the prospect of a complete plant failure due either to excessive age; or more shocking, the siting of the AIM project- a fracked gas pipeline installed this past year a mere 105 feet from vital facilities. Just this past week, as part of the Governor’s state tour, plans were unveiled to support the Long Island Power Authority proposed 90-megawatt offshore wind project 30 miles southeast of Montauk. In the New York State Senate, a groundbreaking bill known as the NYS Climate and Community Protection Act was enacted with bipartisan support this past summer.

Lurking behind the appearance of progress towards a safe and renewable future, however, are fossil fuel interests whose sole purpose is to ensure the state remains fully reliant on non-renewable energy sources. In our region, this is indeed known as ‘fracking’ — gas extracted from the Marcellus Shale located in Pennsylvania, Ohio and West Virginia. This continued fossil-fuel reliance manifests itself in drilling operations that border the state; massive delivery pipelines that bisect and deaden high-value forests and sensitive wetland ecosystems; compressor and metering stations that sicken local communities and wildlife habitats; and finally terminate in gas-fired power plants that have become the de rigueur ‘alternative’ to coal-fired plants.

Pipeline Forest Cut | Millennium Pipeline — 244 miles across NYS Southern Tier | Photo Credit: Noah Kalina

Within several short years, New York State has undergone a massive increase in both the number and extent of fracked gas infrastructure projects that many opposition advocates as well as industry insiders deem clear evidence of ‘overbuild’. Insidiously, these projects often occur in predominantly rural, low-density areas of the state and thus remain largely out-of-sight, their impacts on local environments, local air and water quality, as well as increasing rates of greenhouse gas emissions (GHG) borne by the very ‘sacrifice zones’ that now ‘host’ their operations.

When the public finally gets wind of fracked gas infrastructure it usually occurs via an explosion, bungled permitting as was the case with the DAPL project at Standing Rock, or political corruption scandals. New Yorkers will get their share of the ‘Percoco Scandal’ starting March 1, 2017 involving the Competitive Power Ventures (CPV) valley energy center in Orange County, NY currently under construction (approx. 1-hour north of NYC). In this scandal, close aides to the Cuomo administration allegedly colluded with, and were bribed by, CPV officials seeking necessary permitting and preferential agreements.

CPV Power Plant in Early Phases of Construction- August 2016 | Drone Imagery

While the tenacious hold of Big Oil & Gas over public interests will only increase during the Trump administration, opposition strategies and tactics are beginning to emerge, take hold and become increasingly effective. Recently the Standing Rock protests against the Dakota Access Pipeline produced significant resistance that has had spillover effects for local pipeline battles, while raising national and global awareness regarding native lands and indigenous peoples; human rights for air and water quality; GHG emissions and property takings via eminent domain. Fossil fuel interests increasingly recognize public engagement as a significant threat that slows pipeline approval, and in some instances, stops projects outright.

New York State residents, communities and counties should be under no false illusions, however- the fight to protect local environments and maintain property rights in the face of powerful legal and financial capacity coupled with aggressive eminent domain tactics is extremely difficult. While the ‘first battle’ that resulted in the 2010 state frack drilling moratorium produced valuable opposition tactics and leaders that are being utilized by the current ‘second battle’ against a massive fracked gas infrastructure buildout, the sheer scale and speed of proposed projects is daunting. In this very moment, we either decisively oppose and fight each and every fracked gas infrastructure project in the state together, or we simply let Big Oil & Gas alone dictate disastrous terms for our future.