spectra

The New York Times Awakens to the Infrastructure Movement

NYT 3-20-16
In the five years we've been fighting pipelines, a question frequently asked by newcomers who've just learned about the infrastructure invasion is an outraged, "Why isn't the New York Times covering this?!" A good percentage of the population revers this paper as the arbiter of important issues, and reaching that audience is considered a kind of golden ring. It can be argued that the early anti-fracking movement got a huge boost from the groundbreaking series Ian Urbina wrote for the Times. Now, at long last, because of the work you all have been doing, The Gray Lady has caught on in a big way to the scope and power of the anti-infrastructure movement. We celebrate this important milestone.
First the Times published this post, detailing how the AIM pipeline increases concerns about Indian Point, complete with Governor Cuomo's announcement of an independent safety investigation, and his call for FERC to halt construction on the project. Then, on March 19th, this story portrayed the united movement that infrastructure battles around the country have become, observing, "Bound together through social media, networks of far-flung activists are opposing virtually all new oil, gas and coal infrastructure projects." 
Reporter John Schwartz catalogued infrastructure fights in Portland, Seneca Lake, and at FERC offices, quoting one advocate who said, “When we pick up the ball and run with it here in North Carolina, we’re well aware of what’s going on in Massachusetts, New York and Rhode Island,” adding, “The fight we’re doing here, it bears on what happens elsewhere—we’re all in this together."

The reporter also noted the connection the movement has made to climate change, and the push for green energy. Our own Patrick Robbins, whose press release about AIM piqued interest in the bigger picture, was also quoted: “It’s not a bridge to renewable energy—it’s a competitor."

Bill McKibben, whose recent arrest with We Are Seneca Lake advocates was highlighted in the story, called the blockade “a good scene,” noting that it was hardly an isolated action: “There’s 15 places like this around the world today,” McKibben said. “There will be 15 more tomorrow, and the day after that.”

ResistAIM campaign covered by Grist

Ben Adler has posted an article in Grist detailing the rise of blockades against Spectra's AIM pipeline in the Northeast. Despite Spectra's spokesperson's rote statements about "clean, reliable, domestic natural gas," Adler notes that "new pipelines are actually less safe than older ones. Pipelines built in the 2010s have been failing at about three times the rate of those built from the 1950s to the 2000s." Sane Energy Co-Director, Kim Fraczek, who was arrested as one of the Montrose 9, says, “New York state has outlawed fracking because of health and safety issues; we need to consider that the infrastructure is just as damaging to our health and safety as much as the drilling is.” WSN rev

Fall 2015 Reportback

Things are always jumping at Sane Energy Project, but this past Fall season has been particularly active, with the successful campaign against Port Ambrose in full gear, the Resist AIM campaign taking off, plus so many events, rallies and forums! Here are some highlights:

We Won Port Ambrose!

We celebrated the Port Ambrose veto with all the allies who helped defeat the proposed Liquefied Natural Gas project. It was a sweet win after an intense two-year battle that included getting the NY City Council to pass a resolution against it, innumerable hearings, community meetings, rallies, press conferences, email and postcard campaigns– plus lots of work behind the scenes to win over electeds throughout Long Island and the rest of the state. This concerted, coalition effort was rewarded when Governor Cuomo vetoed the Port on November 12th, and then in December, the Long Beach City Council presented advocates with a proclamation on behalf of the local community. Such wins are so rare and treasured that Naomi Klein invited Co-Director Patrick Robbins to write an article about the experience on her blog, 

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The campaign leading up to the defeat ran hot and heavy from Labor Day on, rallying massive turnouts–from hearings on Long Island to street performances in front of a Broadway show where Governor Cuomo held a fundraiser.

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Once the veto window opened, we started a "countdown clock" outside the Governor's office, But because of the efforts of so many, the Governor only took 4 days to come to a decision to veto it.

 Resist AIM Launched

Sane Energy Project has supported the efforts of local organizers to lead a campaign of Creative Peaceful Resistance (CPR) against the construction of the Algonquin Incremental Market (AIM) pipeline, since its approval by FERC over the objections of the  public, and the start of tree cutting. These efforts have involved hosting frontline residents at forums throughout Westchester and NYC; promoting their pledge to resist, facilitating art builds, media outreach, and organizing support teams for blockades. Co-Director, Kim Fraczek, was arrested with local advocates at the first blockade on November 9th. Because of Sane's alliances, there were even corresponding blockades using inflatables on the same day in Westchester and at the Paris COP 21 talks!

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We REVed it Up!

The statewide REV (Reforming the Energy Vision) has been a big focus for us this Fall: "Make REV R.E.A.L (Renewable, Equitable, Accountable and Local)" started with a banner for a joint Sierra Club/Sane rally, then became the clarion call for the Energy Democracy Alliance, of which Sane is a member (logo, below, courtesy of Sane's artistic powerhouse, Kim Fraczek). There was a packed house at the REV hearing at NYU on October 27th, calling on the Public Service Commission to stop supporting fracked gas and coal infrastructure and replace these polluters with offshore wind and solar.

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And there were so many other events!

We led off our new bi-weekly Sane Energy volunteer meetings with trainings for the Port Ambrose and REV hearings; we supported the Blued Trees art project; we presented the YOU ARE HERE map at Seneca Lake, we screened THIS CHANGES EVERYTHING and connected the global climate crisis to local fights with environmental justice speakers; and our Climate Rider, Lorna rode nearly 400 miles to stop climate change, and we threw her a big fun party!
(There was so much more that we can't fit in here, and that's why we encourage you to keep up with us daily on Facebook, where all the late-breaking news and events across the state are posted!) We so look forward to doing more great advocacy with you in 2016! If you would like to support the work we do, please click here!

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Blockadia Gets Real

The AIM pipeline sparks multi-state resistance.

When you think about the kind of person who would blockade a backhoe with their body, Nancy Vann might not be whom you’d picture. Mild-mannered to the point of needing frequent reminders to speak up, her fine-boned body is surgically pieced back together after a long-ago car accident that left her walking with a cane and merits a handicap-parking permit. The former financial services lawyer is a homeowner in the Reynolds Hills community near Peekskill, New York.

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This bucolic bungalow colony had been a peaceful place until the recent arrival of tree cutting equipment, brought in by Spectra Energy to clear a route for their Algonquin Incremental Market (AIM) pipeline. The pipeline path comes within fifteen feet of one of the Reynold Hills cabins and borders several of the backyards there.

Residents here have larger concerns than their own backyards: Nancy and other advocates are deeply concerned about the wider impact of the pipeline, which would cross two fault lines, the Hudson River, and on the west and east sides of the river, rail lines that carry, respectively, “bomb” oil trains and propane trains.

Compressor and pigging stations that are part of the project would spew emissions over a wide swath of residences, schools and playgrounds. The pipeline would run through New York, Connecticut, and Rhode Island to a Massachusetts hub that would connect shale gas supplies from Pennsylvania to an export facility in Nova Scotia.
The biggest worry, however, is that the high-pressure, forty-two-inch-diameter pipe would pass within one hundred and five feet of critical equipment that is part of the Indian Point nuclear facility. An accident there would devastate a wide area, including New York City.
The tree cutting taking place now at Reynolds Hill is in preparation for pipeline construction. Westchester County Executive Rob Astorino, who ran a pro-fracking campaign against Governor Andrew Cuomo in 2014, has allowed Spectra eleven months to cut trees on county parkland. Had Astorino opted to give the company twelve months, it would have triggered a legislative vote.

Reynolds Hill Resistance

Just after dawn, on Thursday, Nov. 19th, Nancy saw a tree cutting crane making its way towards her house. Realizing there was no one she could call in time to stop it, she walked outside and placed herself in the path of the cutter, under one of the larger trees. She was later joined by her local city councilwoman, and several other advocates.

According to recommendations printed on the tree cutting crane, a distance of 300 feet should be maintained between the machine and people. Nancy remained on her own property, and therefore could not be arrested, but her proximity led to a work stoppage for the day.
On Friday, the crews returned, this time with chainsaws. Eight advocates who’d signed a pledge of resistance joined the protest, including Jess Rechtshaffer, who climbed one of the trees. For unknown reasons, on this day, the tree cutting crane did not maintain a 300-foot distance to the demonstrators.
A worker operating a chain saw began cutting trees within five feet of protesters. An arborist friend, someone who is familiar with how to take down a tree, urged them away, saying it was too dangerous to remain so close. Police at the scene did not interfere with the tree cutters and moved demonstrators back to a safe distance. Recounting the incident, Nancy said, “People got killed in the Civil Rights movement; you don’t stop because you could get hurt.”
A photographer documenting the scene was struck by branches, captured on video by NBC News 4. The protest was also filmed by CBS News and Westchester's News 12, and ongoing coverage has been provided by Patch.com.
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Resist AIM

After two-years attempting to engage FERC (the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission), as well as town, county, state and federal officials, residents in Peekskill and other Westchester communities who feel that Creative Peaceful Resistance (CPR) is now their only remaining option, recently formed Resist AIM.
Resist AIM organized last week's early-morning blockade of a ware yard in Montrose, from which Spectra workers launch their daily tree-cutting activities. Nine were arrested, and all pleaded “not guilty” at their arraignment this past Friday. Like the fishermen who blockaded a New England coal ship in 2013, the advocates feel they are acting out of necessity; on the principle that their actions prevent a greater harm to the larger society. December 11th is the next court date for the Montrose 9, as they are now called, and a $10,000 legal fee must be raised (contributions may be made at the SenRG website––notate donations as “Fight AIM.”)
Like the We Are Seneca Lake (WASL) blockades, Resist AIM expects to run an extended campaign against the pipeline. The WASL model of themed blockades (mothers and grandmothers one day, faith leaders another) has been picked up by many allied groups fighting infrastructure.

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Opposition is fierce throughout New England

The Westchester groups are only the latest to join a resistance that has already been active along the route of the AIM pipeline. To date, there have been sixty-seven arrests in the regional fight against Spectra. Groups such as SWRL (Stop the West Roxbury Lateral) in Massachusetts, CVC (Capitalism Vs. The Climate) in Connecticut; BASE (Burrillville Against Spectra Expansion) and FANG (Fighting Against Natural Gas) in Rhode Island, have dogged Spectra for more than a year. CVC member Bernardo McLaughlin locked down to Spectra equipment at the Chaplin, CT compressor station on November 16th, delaying construction for three hours. And as of November 14th, Spectra has halted construction on the Roxbury Lateral until at least next spring, moving SWRL members to call for its members to support other Spectra fighters.
Like the Westchester groups, FANG started out leading letter writing campaigns and visiting elected officials, before launching a direct action campaign. FANG Member, Sherrie Andre, was arrested last May for a tree sit to block expansion of the Burrillville compressor station. A large-scale mobilization is planned in Rhode Island for December 4th and 5th.
Mutual support among pipeline fighters is spreading along the eastern seaboard: FANG Northeast is networked not only with Westchester groups and the Northeast Pipeline Alliance, but with groups in Maryland, Pennsylvania and Tennessee. BXE (Beyond Extreme Energy), the DC-based group that most recently organized a hunger strike in front of FERC offices, is supporting the AIM resistance and other front-line community efforts. And mainstream organizations such as New England chapters of the Sierra Club and 350 are joining the battle against pipelines as well.

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The Empire Strikes Back

But homeowners and advocates aren’t the only ones turning up the heat: Dirty energy companies––finding themselves blocked at multiple points along a given project––have taken to claiming restitution, such as the $30,000 fine imposed on three FANG members after a lock down halted work crews for three hours this past September. (FANG’s legal fund can be found at their website.)
Pipeline builders often make "donations" to local police, fire and civic organizations, by way of engendering support for their projects. Rumor has it that Spectra has been making payments to the local Peekskill police force. Westchester and Peekskill police have been stationed at both ends of the Spectra construction area at Reynolds Hills since tree clearing began, with nighttime search lights so bright it is difficult for drivers to see the road. Last weekend, one officer appeared on private property, apparently "checking on" a community meeting. Senior Peekskill police at the scene promised that there would be no further incidents of that type. While it is proper that officers enforce laws that protect property, the question is whether the presence of a high-spending corporation affects the protection of free speech and assembly by law-abiding citizens.

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Whether such harassment tactics are abandoned could depend on how the public responds. Recent media coverage has brought plentiful negative publicity to Spectra for pursuing actions against ordinary citizens defending their homes. The builders’ tactic of eminent domain is highly unpopular, especially among conservatives.

Adding to Spectra's woes is the recent study released last week by Massachusetts Attorney General Maura Healy, which found there is no need for additional gas pipelines, and that less expensive, less carbon-intensive options–especially efficiency measures–would be more effective in ensuring energy reliability. The study contradicts builders’ claims that the pipe would bring cheap energy to New England and lays bare their ambitions to use the line to reach export terminals further north.

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Where are we now?

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This is a turning point. As awareness builds, and having been burned by a gamed system run by industry-friendly agencies such as FERC, citizens are losing patience working within regulatory boundaries. Like Nancy Vann, people who never considered it before feel compelled to offer a direct response.

Earlier human rights struggles moved society from a place where oppressive behaviors and policies were accepted and commonplace, to being looked upon as barbaric. Women, minorities and LGTB community members were once legally and socially ostracized as lesser human beings, a concept that civilized society now rejects. How then can it be acceptable to treat those who live near where energy is extracted, stored, or transported as collateral damage in the service of perpetuating the use of climate-destroying fossils fuels?

In the context of a world that has already warmed one degree, allowing the continued harms to human health, the taking of private property, and the harassment of resisters is not only barbaric, but insanely self-destructive. People like Nancy Vann and other advocates who engage in peaceful resistance against dirty energy are–like the suffragettes, civil rights marchers, and Act Up leaders–a vanguard of ordinary people caught in an historical moment not of their own making, who nonetheless stand up for their inherent rights, and push to change the whole of society for the better.

 

Reynolds Hills photos courtesy of Erik McGregor

"Blued Trees." Art to Stop a Pipeline?

BT Ohayo 2Many are familiar with the Canadian artist who stopped an oil pipeline from crossing his property by copyrighting the top 6" of his soil. Now, an American artist has been tapped by a team of advocates hoping to do the same with the Spectra AIM (Algonquin Incremental Market) pipeline. The high-pressure AIM pipeline would transit within one hundred and five feet of the Indian Point nuclear facility. In February 2015, a group of New York State residents, responding to the abuse of eminent domain that has already been demonstrated by pipeline companies (such as Williams, the builder of the Constitution pipeline), and is threatened by Spectra in the multiple states that AIM would cross, decided to take action. They enlisted eco-artist Aviva Rahmani, who created the Blued Trees Symphony–an installation on private land, along the path of the proposed right-of-way, in Peekskill.

These trees, which were slated to be chopped down, are marked with a sine wave, a musical note, in non-toxic buttermilk paint that is semi-permanent. Together, the "notes" form a symphony, which is copyrighted.

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“We need nature - now nature needs us.” – Nancy Vann, property owner

Blued Trees asserts the language of the Visual Artists Rights Act (VARA), for the moral rights of the art over condemnation of private land. In Peekskill, pipeline construction would threaten the rights of Blued Trees. The art cannot be destroyed by moving, or otherwise destroying the trees with which it was created, without infringing on VARA. Protecting Blued Trees as a work of art will test corporate eminent domain takings in the name of “public good” in the judicial system. If that copyright suit is successful, it could impede the proposed AIM expansion.

The Summer Solstice Blued Trees launched June 21, 2015 as an overture to a public symphonic opera and a site-specific installation. (The full symphony will be performed on September 23, 2015.) Approximately twenty trees were painted along the AIM corridor over the course of two days for the launch. More than two dozen participants included local children and elderly residents, and others who joined from as far away as Switzerland, as well as members of the Earth Guardians. After the painting, participants performed a chorale as they passed through the woodland. When the human performers left, the installation remained with the trees as a permanent work of art. A Greek Chorus – launched in simultaneous international locations, including Lisbon, Portugal and Seattle, Washington – included works by composer Maile Colbert, Deanna Pindell and Jesse Etelson.

Would you like to participate in Blued Trees?

trees aidenHELP MAKE WAVES: The more trees that get painted, the more visible and powerful this artwork will be. Already, others have started painting trees on their property. Any willing landowner may join the “Greek Chorus,” as part of the Blued Trees Symphony, by painting a wave “note” on one tree or more, preferably roadside for visibility. You may be along the route of the AIM pipeline, or another pipeline. How beautiful will it be to see these trees popping up all over the Northeast, and how will the public respond when they learn what these mysterious painted trees symbolize?

Instructions for mixing the buttermilk slurry and painting your own Blued Trees can be found here.

Send a photo of your “blued” tree with GPS coordinates to Rahmani, who will continue -- throughout 2015 -- to gather and map all the Blued Trees. Contact: Aviva Rahmani 207 863 0925  or ghostnets@ghostnets.com or aar.artist@gmail.com
Photos by Linda Leeds, Erik McGregor and Susan Rutman
 

Mid-Year Reportback

It's been a productive first half of the year: We're excited about the success of City Council resolution #549 and the growing groundswell of opposition to Port Ambrose, as well as opportunities coming up with offshore wind, the REV process and the state energy plan. Here's a brief roundup of what we've been up to lately at Sane Energy Project: JUNE

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Sane Energy Co-Director Kim Fraczek was honored as a Climate Hero by the Human Impacts Institute, along with many of our heroes, such as Wendy Brawer of Greenmaps, at a gala at the French Consulate. Kim also recorded a session with Green Gotham that will air later this summer.
long beach PR JR SIgang clearwaterOutreach this month moved outdoors and out of the city: We hosted a Port Ambrose orientation at Patagonia, then hit the beaches to leaflet along the south shore of Long Island. We spread the word about infrastructure at Clearwater weekend with our friends fighting the Constitution and AIM pipelines. YOU ARE HERE presentations in Staten Island and Orange County covered a wide range of upstate issues as well as Port Ambrose.
EnergyPlan-Report-Card-bannerA group of allies presented NYSERDA with a report card even when they cancelled their public meeting on the state energy plan last minute. We returned a second time for the rescheduled hearing and are evaluating the now-released plan. Final report card forthcoming. We ended the month by co-hosting a roundtable on offshore wind with our friends from Citizen Action, bringing together more than three dozen folks from around the state to talk about how to support the development of a renewable energy industry that could benefit the entire state.

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MAY

Jane's Walk, an annual event by the Municipal Arts Society, kicked off the month. This year's walking tour was hosted by a variety of art and artists from the new Whitney museum, and ended at the back door of the museum, on top of the pipeline vault, in a tug of war between Spectra execs and Jane Jacobs herself.

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May 14th saw the passage of the NY City Council resolution against Port Ambrose that we all worked so hard for, as well as the introduction of the Indian Point resolution. Complete story here.

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 May also saw work begin on America's first offshore wind farm, the so-called "Rhode Island Project" (which will eventually supply wind power to both Long Island and New England). This pilot project is crucial to the development of wind power on the east coast.
map imageJosh Fox and Lee Ziesche's travelogue highlights a different map each week. The YOU ARE HERE map was featured as the Map of the Week in May. The map has 137 "dots;" with each dot opening a pop-up box that explains the infrastructure project at that site, and links to the local group fighting it. As Josh and Lee note, "We’ve toured to many of those dots and have seen the strength of the communities there." Stops along the tour that are points on the map: Seneca Lake, where Josh was recently arrested; Wawayanda, near Middletown, where they attended a rally against the CPV power plant; and in Schoharie County when the Solutions Tour highlighted the Constitution pipeline fight. As Lee says, "If these projects are allowed to continue, it’s game over for our planet–meaning whether there is an infrastructure dot over your house or not, we are all here."
lineWe made presentations about shale gas infrastructure to the Village Independent Democrats, the Hudson Guild, Rockaway Wildfire, and Sustainable Warwick. Our travels took us to Long Beach, Rockaway, and City Hall fighting Port Ambrose; to Tarrytown for the NRC Indian Point hearing, to Rosendale to work on the Pilgrim Pipeline; and to Syracuse to teach artivism. We took part in Surfriders' Hands Across the Sands event, which was focused on stopping Port Ambrose and offshore drilling.
Finally, over the Memorial Day weekend, to prep for the FERCUS rally, Kim led a team to paint a 50-foot banner  that was used to blockade FERC and is now touring the region with various activist actions. Click here to see the complete photo set of the FERCUS art build.

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APRIL

The month started with the City Council hearing on Port Ambrose where Sane Energy Project presented a 4-part power point. The Port Ambrose campaign continued with lots of postcard writing events, rallies, and a town hall presentation in Oceanside where a banner painted by local teens had its debut.

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We had a bird dog rally at Governor Cuomo's Harvard Club fundraiser on April 13th, demanding he veto Port Ambrose. The April 21st rally at his Manhattan office, part of the three-day Rising Tide action, was a huge success, with a Port Ambrose tanker squaring off against wind turbines. Co-Director Patrick Robbins was interviewed at the rally for Democracy Now.
wind 1boat4-13 sign4-13 crowd4-13 nypirg11066779_10100468952537162_6324048128389725377_n A lot of action was generated around the Spectra site in the West Village, where the opening of the new Whitney Museum was another chance to bring attention to the infrastructure build out in NYC and to what's at the other end of the pipe. Meanwhile, Clare Donohue demonstrated the YOU ARE HERE map in a webinar on fracktivist tools hosted by the Halt the Harm network.
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Kim helped Riverside Church prepare artwork for an Earth Day mass, and we took part in the Earth Day Fest at Union Square and at a City College improv performance.

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The month ended with the NECOS conference, bringing together climate and pipeline fighters to Massachusetts from all over the Northeast.

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MARCH

The tragic gas explosion in the East Village was a reminder how devastating any gas accident can be and why we should be rapidly replacing our city's aging infrastructure with renewable energy. Our statement on the explosion here.
Kim presented at both the Shale Justice Convergence and Shale Justice Spring Break in Pennsylvania, and was invited to lead an activist art forum at Pratt Institute. Patrick presented about Port Ambrose at the Island Park and Baldwin Civic Associations as well as the Long Beach Chamber of Commerce, and the Manhattan Young Democrats. And another YOU ARE HERE presentation went off in Spencer, NY. The press conference announcing the Port Ambrose resolution was covered by Newsday, the Long Island Herald, and NY1.
See the Reportback for January and February here, and the media round up for April through June here.

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Most photos by Erik McGregor

NY City Council Acts on Two Resolutions: Port Ambrose and Indian Point

reso passingCONGRATULATIONS! On Thursday, May 14, 2015, after months of grassroots campaigning, calling and nudging by advocates, the NY City Council unanimously passed Resolution 549, sponsored by Chair of the Committee on Environmental Protection, Donovan Richards, calling on Governor Cuomo to veto Port Ambrose. At the time of the oral vote, which had no dissenting or abstaining votes, there were 32 co-signers, who are listed here.

 

Thank you to everyone who has tirelessly engaged on this campaign, we are making real progress! And there's good news on many legislative fronts:

At the same Council meeting, a resolution demanding the closure of Indian Point, also sponsored by Chair Richards, was introduced.

These resolutions, while legally non-binding, should have a strong influence on both Governor Cuomo and Mayor DeBlasio in deciding policy, especially when taken together. The City Council and the Mayor already agree on a plan to reduce the city's greenhouse gases 80% by 2050. These two resolutions, along with recent legislation being considered and passed, such as the new air quality regulations and the "Lights Out" bill, as well as solar rooftop initiatives, signal a real commitment to seeing that goal achieved. This is the kind of progressive action we need if we are to impact climate change at all, and it's a marked difference from the prior administration.

What happens next? With Port Ambrose, we are using the current "clock stopped" moment to continue organizing and widening the circle of awareness. The 45-day window when the adjacent governors have the opportunity to veto Port Ambrose won't open until the final Environmental Impact Statement is released and the final public hearing happens. That could occur any moment now but it may be weeks away (the last time the "clock" was stopped several months went by). The governor needs to see a big engagement from his NYC and Long Island base, so we'll want to follow up this resolution with events that make visible the opposition to Port Ambrose, such as the Hands Across the Sand action in Long Beach on Saturday. Please join us and stay engaged by connecting with us on Facebook and via our newsletter. (Subscribe to the newsletter by clicking the link in the right-hand column to "follow" this blog.)

We'll support our friends and advocates on the Indian Point resolution as they now campaign for co-signers on that initiative. Despite the recent fire, and the approval of the AIM pipeline in close proximity to the nuclear plant, both of which served as a reminder to how vulnerable NYC is to accidents at this aged and partially unlicensed facility, this reso faces a tougher battle for passage. Stay tuned for updates.

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What Does an Art Museum Have to Do with the Spectra Pipeline?

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ribbon erikLate Tuesday night, a surprise art action took place at the site of the soon-to-open Whitney museum, bringing attention to the Spectra pipeline, the vault of which sits below the building's cantilevered design. The action was organized by a collaborative of international art and environmental groups, who have sent an open letter to the Whitney, asking six questions. During the action, The Illuminator projected a film onto the building's blank walls, pointing to the pipeline and showing scenes of earlier protests when the pipeline had been under construction, plus storm scenes from Hurricane Sandy (video above). The screening was followed by a symbolic ribbon cutting with special guest, Frida Kahlo of the famed Guerrilla Girls.

Sane Energy Project was founded because of the Spectra pipeline. Together with Occupy the Pipeline and multiple other community and anti-fracking groups, we fought the project for two years, in the courts and on the streets. On the day the pipeline went into service, in 2013, fourteen of us, including the local Councilman, were arrested for blocking traffic on the West Side Highway.
For us, it is important to remind the public, who may wish to visit the museum, of what sits beneath it, and why this pipeline, and the decision by the Whitney to site its new home there, are such a bad idea. Therefore, we were proud to be a part of this action. Here's a full recap:

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A new website, created for the action, contains a crash course video of the issues and a copy of the open letter to the Whitney. The letter asks six questions of the Whitney and invites them to a public assembly, hoping that representatives of the museum will take part in a  dialogue on art and fossil fuels.

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The ephemeral nature of the action continued with a "light graffiti" performance, by artist Vickie DaSilva, on the steps of the museum, captured by time-lapse photography (below):

vickie  DaSilva art

Artists also contributed to an "opening exhibit" for this particular inauguration, using the Whitney's collection for inspiration and tying the issue of fracking to the pipeline (see sample images, below). As Sane Energy Project Coordinator, Kim Fraczek, reminded the assembled crowd, we must be aware of what's happening "at the other end of this pipeline." Kim spoke of families who must hold bake sales in order to buy water to replace their poisoned wells.

Linda AndersonJohn Atherton

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Response to the action was widespread and controversial, including coverage by The New York Times, ArtForum, and multiple art, enviro, and architectural media (see sampling of links below)

The New York Times: The Whitney "has yet to open its doors in a new location in the meatpacking district, but on Tuesday night it unwittingly played host to its first radical art exhibition."
 Gothamist: "Renzo Piano’s power-plant-like design for the new museum building makes for a perfect movie screen, allowing the mobile-projection team behind The Illuminator to project slogans and images of catastrophic storms onto the façade."
Popular Resistance: "Artist-activist Kim Fraczek reports that the goal of the artful protest was to 'engage the public to ask questions about fossil fuels, our future and what roles our institutions should play in leading us to a renewable future rather than succumbing to more fracked gas.' ”
Hyperallergic: "Frida Kahlo, a founding member of the renowned feminist art group the Guerrilla Girls, took part in the renegade ceremony." She said, "Museums have always overlooked big political issues, because their money comes from those powers that create those problems, and that’s why we really need to be the eternal thorn.”

Some media commenters were confused by the action, noting that the Whitney is not the operator of the pipeline. That's true, the museum did not build the pipeline, however, they did agree to house irreplaceable art (that will draw millions of visitors) on top of it. The organizers of the action hoped to draw the Whitney into a dialog about those decisions and their consequences, but so far, the trustees have remained mum.

The museum has now taken a page from Spectra's own playbook, issuing the same dogged reply to any media inquiries as to whether they are concerned about the safety of the pipeline, saying:
"Although the Spectra pipeline does not cross directly onto the Museum’s property, we followed the progress of the work because of its proximity to the site. Governmental regulators, who oversaw and monitored the pipeline’s construction, are responsible for ensuring that the pipeline’s ongoing operation meets all applicable standards and requirements."
A museum spokesperson has also stated that the art will be housed on the fifth floor of the museum, apparently concluding it will be safe there. The Whitney's statements, their understanding of blast radiuses, as well as their faith in regulatory agencies, have been refuted by Sane Energy Project (here and here are two responses). Just to emphasize how reckless those regulatory agencies are, note that they approved a second Spectra pipeline to be built adjacent to the Indian Point power plant.

Although we'd like to be celebrating the addition of any new art space to our city, it's hard for us to stomach the extravagant galas and red carpet events the opening of this museum is certain to bring, when we think about friends in upstate New York who live near one of the new compressor stations such pipelines have spawned, or families in Pennsylvania now raising money for a lawsuit against drillers.

These friends are now ill from exposure to emissions, and trapped in homes whose property values have plummeted, without relief from any government agency. This scenario has been repeated anywhere fracking has happened; the lives of ordinary people destabilized, their health at risk, their financial future uncertain.
This is why we felt we needed to bring attention, once again, to the Spectra pipeline. We could not be silent as the Whitney opens on top of it.

 [youtube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7jxh6lQAgBs&w=560&h=315]

Sane Refutes Whitney Assertion Their Art is Safe.

 

YAH whitneyOn March 12, The Villager published an account that detailed some of the concerns raised about the imminent opening of the new Whitney Museum, which sits directly above the Spectra pipeline. Sane Energy's response to the article refutes Spectra spokesperson Marylee Hanley's by-now-tired line about Spectra being built to "meet or exceed federal regulations," explaining exactly how lax those regulations are. Our letter to the editor was published one week before the East Village gas explosion, an accident whose scale would be much greater if it happened with a pipeline the size and pressure of Spectra's.

Above, the Sane Energy team at the site of the Spectra pipeline, with the new Whitney museum in the background, just across the West Side Highway in Manhattan.

Sorry, still in blast zone

To The Editor: Re “Gas pipeline protests no longer burn, but could problems flare in future?

Thank you, Ms. Stukane and The Villager for steadfastly following the story of the Spectra pipeline from the early moments of the review process through now, when the Whitney Museum is about to open on top of it.

We are eager when any new showcase for art opens, and support the cultural and economic boost the Whitney will bring to the West Village; and we are cognizant of the lack of real estate to build museums in Manhattan.

However, the choice to site anything so close to the Spectra pipeline is a choice we find utterly lacking in judgment. We wonder how this decision came to be.

Building the Whitney on top of the pipeline puts visitors, workers and irreplaceable art, not to mention a Renzo Piano creation, at risk. The museum’s spokesperson appears to express no worry, saying that the art will be stored five stories above the pipeline and that they are “trusting that the appropriate government agencies will stay on top of it.” Such trust is misplaced.

In the event of an explosion at the site of the vault, a crater at least the size of the museum itself is likely, and would affect an area about a block and a half in radius; with smoke, broken glass, closed streets and secondary fires affecting a much larger radius.

When a pipeline of similar size and pressure exploded in San Bruno, California, in 2010, it blew a crater four stories deep, and destroyed 38 suburban houses. Being five stories higher will do little to save the art or anyone viewing it. One wonders if the museum is adequately insured.

As for protection from the agencies charged with oversight, the federal regulations that Spectra’s spokesperson, Ms. Hanley, is so fond of referring to require internal inspection for corrosion only once every seven years. The 24-hour monitoring she refers to is done by remote computers in Texas. Such remote monitoring has been shown to fail on many occasions.

Secondary monitoring may be done by someone walking the route of the pipeline looking for dead grass or plants. (Gas leaks kill the roots of plants.) One may notice that most of the area stretching from Gansevoort Peninsula to the Whitney consists of the West Side Highway and sidewalks. In other words, it’s paved.

The Whitney is hardly the only institution that looked at the risks of the pipeline and shrugged. There are many businesses in close proximity to the route of the pipeline, including the Standard Hotel. The Friends of the High Line declined to take a stance against it when the pipeline was under review. One wonders what motivated them to put their own interests at risk the way they did.

In fairness, shouldn’t businesses and institutions be able to trust when regulatory agencies declare a project safe? The reality is they can’t, and they shouldn’t. The reality is that such agencies review projects with the interests of corporations in mind, not the interests of the public.

The Hudson River Park Trust, under the leadership of then-Mayor Bloomberg’s companion, Diana Taylor, saw to it that the easement for the pipeline was approved in a disgraceful display of influence over intelligence and for a pittance.

Bloomberg, with close ties to fracking founder George Mitchell, wanted the city to convert to shale gas and made sure this pipeline was built, over the objections of thousands of New Yorkers.

The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, the agency that approves (and they always approve) pipeline projects, reviewed an environmental impact statement that was paid for by Spectra Energy. FERC declared, in the final environmental impact statement that not to approve the pipeline was impossible because to do so “would not meet the needs of the Applicant” (Spectra).

I am quoted as saying, “At this point, there isn’t anything more we [Sane Energy Project] can do,” as far as legal action to stop Spectra from operating this particular pipeline. However, there is plenty we can do — and continue to do — to educate the public and elected officials about the dangers and climate impact of pipelines and the use of shale (“natural”) gas, which contributes to climate change and sea level rise with an effect that is 86 times worse than carbon dioxide.

Sane Energy Project and our many allies continue to advocate for the city to halt the building of any additional fossil fuel infrastructure, and advocate for this city to build only renewable-energy infrastructure. We continue to advocate for an energy system that is democratically decided and takes the public’s input seriously. We remain hopeful that Mayor De Blasio is truly committed to his “80 by 50 plan” — to reduce emissions by 80 percent by 2050 — and that he will discontinue the shale gas build-out that his Republican predecessor began.

– Clare Donohue Program Director, Sane Energy Project

Biodiesel: The Best Option Available

Related article here. jar bioDSane Energy Project has been a fan of biodiesel since the NYC local law that required buildings to stop burning heavy heating oils went into effect in 2011. That law, enacted by the Bloomberg administration, was the excuse to build out more natural gas infrastructure, including the Spectra pipeline and the Rockaway pipeline, and for Bloomberg to justify his support for fracking in upstate New York.

While we encourage buildings to convert their boilers to cleaner fuels, we'd prefer building owners and superintendents to make decisions with a greater awareness of the options. That is only now starting to happen.

The Lie of "Cleaner Burning."

Many building owners and government officials bought into the propaganda that shale gas is "cleaner" and would stave off asthma cases in New York City. However, if cleaner air is really the goal, the law would be changed to encourage the use of biodiesel, the cleanest heating fuel, and combined with better incentives for the use of renewables and efficiency retrofits, with programs such as on-bill financing.

Unfortunately for those who thought they were doing a good thing, it turns out that burning shale gas has a worse effect on air quality in both the local and larger sense. Of course burning shale gas means more fracking, and since air impacts can affect a radius of 200 miles, New York is well within the zone for drilling that's being done in Pennsylvania. Not only that, shale gas produces MORE particulate matter (a leading cause of asthma) than number 2 oil, and far more particulate matter than biodiesel.

BioD emissions reductions

black smoke When a burner using heavy oil malfunctions, thick black smoke is released from the chimney. The oily soot has been a plague for years and it's good to see the skies looking cleaner. But is it actually cleaner? According to boiler expert Henry Gifford, when a burner using gas malfunctions, it releases carbon monoxide, which is invisible. How will we know when that happens?

A History Lesson.

For the first several years that the law was in effect, decision makers were essentially shown only a portion of the menu, with heavy emphasis on gas conversions and incentives to sweeten the deal. The City's own "Clean Heat" program, a partnership between Con Ed and EDF (labeled by some anti-frackers as the "Environmental Destruction Fund" for their alleged green-washing programs), fed into a panicked rush by building managers to comply with deadlines. When Con Ed couldn't build gas mains fast enough to meet demand there was near-hysteria in parts of the Upper East Side. Public forums turned into shouting matches between co-op board presidents and fractivists.

As was to be expected, many more buildings converted than were required to; only 1% of the building stock ever needed to convert. The investment required for two new transmission pipelines would not have made economic sense simply to service a mere 10,000 buildings. Projections repeatedly targeted 50% of buildings to convert. (You can use this map to see how many buildings have already converted to gas.)

gas conversion

 

With the expense of constructing new pipelines and mains to consider, Con Ed made building owners "an offer they couldn't refuse:" A system known as "clustering," encouraged neighboring buildings to convert whether they needed to or not. Say the building next to you needed to convert. Well, Con Ed wouldn't run a gas main down the block for just one building. So they offered buildings in a particular area free connections if they committed to gas–noting that, should they decide to convert later on, the connection (possibly a $100,000 cost), would no longer be free. With gas prices as low as they have been, many building owners went for it, even with conversion costs running into the hundreds of thousands or millions of dollars. Even with those kinds of large capitol costs, the only testimonials on the Clean Heat website today are from owners who have converted to gas.

Will Gas Prices Spike?

All indications point to future price volatility with gas. The majority of shale fields have already peaked, and even the motherlode that is the Marcellus is expected to peak starting in 2016, just one year from now. Combining future production drop-offs with the current push for export, higher global prices are likely to raise domestic gas prices.

2016 peak PCI copy

 

Another unexpected shift has been the overproduction in the Bakken oil fields combined with OPEC's move to flood the market, lowering heating oil costs.

At the same time, the biodiesel industry is developing. Algae is expected to be the energy crop of the future, with very high yields anticipated. Even locally, companies such as Tri-State Biodiesel are expanding production, anticipating enough clean fuel to heat at least 10,000 buildings.

Where Are We Now?

Things have calmed down since the initial frenzy after the law was passed. Even the Clean Heat program now includes BioD in it's menu of options. Con Ed also relaxed the rules for buildings, no longer insisting that they disable their storage tanks if they choose to convert to "firm gas" (all gas) in order to take advantage of all the incentives offered.

At this point, of the approximately 10,000 buildings that were required to convert, less than 1,000 buildings remain undecided in their fuel choices. We'd love to see those buildings choose the sustainable conversion we and others envision: a program that combines efficiency measures with biodiesel and solar thermal for hot water.

2 oil conversions

 

And beyond the remaining #6 burners, there is hope for expanding the use of bioD in the future: For one thing, more buildings converted to Number 2 oil than converted to firm gas. Those buildings can still convert to BioD any time they would like, with very low or no additional cost. And, many of the buildings that wanted to take advantage of "cheap" gas prices converted to "dual fuel" boiler systems. Dual systems allow for the burning of gas OR liquid fuels, which means they can also choose to burn biodiesel any time the pricing works in their favor.

For us, a recent article in the Indypendent (in which we were also quoted) offered us hope that biodiesel will catch on as more superintendents become familiar with it. Here's what one building manager, who's quoted in the article, says about his real life experience with biodiesel:

Mitch Lappin, who runs a 12-story, 120,000-square-foot office building on West 20th Street, said that he was initially skeptical of biodiesel. But after cleaning out the fuel tank and making a few adjustments to the air and fuel intake, the biodiesel performed better than he expected. “According to one of my combustion guys who tested the boiler’s efficiency, he said: What you’re pushing now as far as efficiency of that boiler, which was, so to speak, born in 1979, it’s fantastic. I don’t see those numbers anywhere.”

 For more information about boiler conversions, click here.

TSB truck

The Infrastructure Report: NED Pipeline

One of the largest and most outrageously unnecessary projects yet proposed is the Kinder Morgan "NED" (Northeast Energy Direct) pipeline, which would span from Pennsylvania through New York (along an almost identical route as the Constitution) then cross over into Massachusetts and New Hamphire. The stated purpose of the line is to bring gas to New England, but MA residents have already shown there is no true demand for this gas, exposing the real reason the builders want it: to connect to a proposed export terminal in Nova Scotia.

NED Map Lg

Background: Kinder Morgan (KM) / Tennessee Gas Pipeline (TGP) pre-filed this project on Sept. 15, 2014 (Docket #PF14-22). The project includes new pipeline segments, laterals, loops, metering and compressor stations. To view an interactive online map, click here (the route is approximate). This pipeline crosses areas that have never had pipelines before and would never have experienced drilling.

On Dec. 8, 2014, following heavy local organizing by opponents, a new “preferred route” was filed, which moved some portions out of Columbia County, NY and into Rensselaer County, NY, as well as further north into Berkshire County, MA and into southern New Hampshire, before re-entering Massachusetts at the terminal hub in Dracut. The new route contains an extra compressor station as well.

Because of all the resistance pipelines have been generating, activists were way out in front on this project well before it was officially activated in the FERC system. Although it is only 4 months since the pre-filing, already all 400 landowners between Wright, NY and the MA border (including the alternative route in Rensselaer County) have been contacted by local activists. So far, 44 town resolutions have been passed in Massachusetts (none yet in NY but stay tuned).

More info for NY residents here. More info for MA residents here.

maritimes-northeast-pipeline
The NED line would connect in Dracut, MA with the existing Maritimes & Northeast line, owned by Spectra/Algonquin. That line is also proposed for enlargement and will connect to a newly approved LNG export terminal in Nova Scotia.

The project is still early in its process. At this point, Kinder Morgan is conducting a series of “open houses,” informal “trade show” meetings where KM reps have displays and mingle with townspeople to answer questions and make their sales pitch. There is no comment period open yet.

New York Area Open Houses: • MONDAY, FEBRUARY 9, New Lebanon, NY, 6–8PM, New Lebanon Junior-Senior HS, 14665 NY Route 22, New Lebanon, NY 12125, Map • TUESDAY, FEBRUARY 10, Pittsfield, MA, 6–8PM, Berkshire Community College Cafeteria, 1350 West St., Pittsfield, MA, Map

• THURSDAY, FEBRUARY 12, New Scotland, NY, 6–8PM, Colonie Country Club, 141 Maple Rd., Voorheesville, NY 12186, Map

The full list of open houses can be found here. Stakeholders may participate in Open Houses however they are comfortable; there may be rallies outside, or spreading information inside. Participants are asked to please keep it friendly, professional, non-confrontational.

The Infrastructure Report, January 20, 2015

FERC is not the only agency involved in infrastructure projects. Right now it's all about the NYS DEC (Department of Environmental Conservation), which may play a crucial role in whether several projects ever get the necessary permits needed to begin construction:

 

ALGONQUIN INCREMENTAL MARKET (AIM) PIPELINE EXTENSION Because this pipeline expansion requires new and enlarged compressor stations, the DEC must first issue air permits. The compressors would be located in Southeast, near the NY/CT border, and in Stony Point, in Rockland County.

Submit written comments to: Michael T. Higgins, Project Manager, New York State Department of Environmental Conservation, Division of Environmental Permits, 625 Broadway, 4th Floor, Albany, NY 12233-1750, Phone: (518) 402-9179, E-mail: AIMProject@dec.ny.gov

Sample comments here. Deadline: February 27th, 2015. The pipeline is also opposed in Connecticut. Sign the petition against the CT portion here. 

 

CONSTITUTION PIPELINE Two pieces of good news: 1) The DEC has extended public comment period until Feb. 27th.  This could make it difficult for builders to get construction fully under way before the seasonal prohibition on cutting down trees begins. That could greatly delay landscape damage from the project and hopefully the project will be forestalled before the season opens again next Fall. 2) The Army Corps of Engineers, another agency charged with reviewing the pipeline, is concerned enough about wetland impacts to request additional data from the applicant. The Daily Star reports: "Data being sought by the Army Corps includes updated estimates of impacts to wetlands and a final feasibility analysis of site-specific plans for trenchless crossing operations that could impact wetlands. It also specifically asked for plans that would 'avoid and minimize impact' to 'unique and difficult to replace wetlands.' ”

Sample comments hereDeadline: February 27th, 2015. These sample letters can be used as a basis to write personalized comments to the DEC. Comments can be input directly on the STP website.

 

SENECA LAKE STORAGE CAVERNS There are two types of gas storage proposed at Seneca lake: the methane portion is overseen by FERC; the LPG (Liquid Petroleum Gas or propane) portion is overseen by the DEC. That part of the project is currently on hold as the DEC studies the plan. A conference is scheduled in February to allow experts on both sides to make their case.

A local judge has already decreed that protestors will no longer have the option of choosing jail time (which was costing the county money) and now requires a stiff fine from all arrested at the blockade. Town officials are going to absurd lengths to prevent a normal democratic process, including locking the public out of judicial proceedings on a sub-zero night, with the excuse of preventing shrubs from becoming trampled.

What you can do to help: Sign the petitions and support the jail fund for the Seneca Lake Defenders.

 

ALBANY "BOMB" TRAINS Although there are no upcoming deadlines, the crude oil trains are another issue awaiting a DEC decisions at the moment. More info here.

Reportback from AIM Hearing

This is a guest post from our friend Paul Stark, who attended the recent hearing on the Algonquin Incremental Market (AIM) project. Paul is a member of the NYC Grassroots Alliance. Thanks Paul! SPECTRE_Logo littleI went to Buchanan’s Village Board meeting last night. Spectra Energy (Not to be confused with James Bond’s Spectre ) (thanks Becket Feierbach) gave a presentation and took questions. For those who don’t know, Spectra is planning to build a gigantic 42” pipeline UNDER the Hudson River, THROUGH two earthquake fault zones PAST an aging unlicensed leaking nuclear power plant and right NEXT TO the Buchanan-Verplanck elementary school. What could possibly go wrong?

The 300 children and adults at the elementary school will be within the “high consequence area” of the pipeline, meaning that in the event of an explosion, 100% of the humans will be incinerated within 90 seconds.

 

For a primer on the dangers of natural gas and up-to-the-minute news on the latest explosions, check out the labor of love that is NaturalGasWatch.org.

 

My friend Kevin O’Neill, intelligently objecting to the use of First Peoples’ tribal names for natural gas infrastructure, won’t call it by it’s official name, the Algonquin Pipeline, but calls it instead the “High Pressure Fracking Gas Monstrosity Pipeline” and points out that Westchester is slated to become a sacrifice zone.

It was one of those meetings where the people in charge of the project wear suits and impassively explain how they know what they’re doing and there’s really no rational cause for concern and “answer” questions by providing as little information as possible and making vague promises to get back with better answers at some later point in time.

It reminded me a lot of the recent Nuclear Regulatory Commission public meeting I went to (where I first met Peter Gross, the new leader of Clearwater.org. And Dr Susan Rubin showed The Plan(?), her movie about evacuating away from the aging unlicensed leaking nuclear reactor and passed out delicious popcorn.)

There was considerable and amazingly well-informed opposition, much of it from the remarkable people at WPP/Spectra Task Force in Cortlandt and Stop the Algonquin Pipeline Expansion, including Bernie Vaughey, chairman of the Task Force and two of the founding members of SAPE Paula Clair and Susan Van Dolsen (Westchester for Change). We were hoping for a sighting of Ellen Weininger (Grassroots Environmental Education) but she couldn’t make it.

The Mayor, Theresa Knickerbocker, and most (all?) of the elected officials and all the citizens who spoke at the meeting fell somewhere between serious concerns and unalterable opposition. Like nearly all such energy infrastructure projects, the permission of the local population and their government is not required. The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission grants permission to energy companies. FERC tends to authorize pretty much all the projects industry suggests. Though not until after a public comment period. By its own description, “FERC is self-funding, in that it pays for its own operations by imposing annual charges and fees on the industries it regulates.” Should any party have the wherewithal, resources and stamina, FERC decisions can be reviewed by federal courts. The opponents of the Minisink compressor station eventually managed to have their day in federal court. They lost.

One of the citizens who spoke was Jenn Duffy Lauth who characterized her community as including, as does Miniskink, a number of first responders, including 9/11 first responders. And that such people don’t easily give up. As she put it, “I don’t want you to come here because it doesn’t make any sense. You're going to have a fight on your hands. We’re fighters. We’re the one who go into burning buildings when they fall down. We’re the ones that go in after those kids even if we’ve only got 90 seconds.”

There’s passion and true grit in this crowd of citizens. Their objections run from the noise to the venting of radioactive substances “to atmosphere” all the way through to climate change and any percentage of humans possibly being incinerated. These people are defending their home place. And it is good and right for them to do so.

Looking at the tentacles of this proposed pipeline, running from Pennsylvania to Cape Cod, and having some recognition of the sunk costs and the enormous potential profits involved, and that it has to be continuous in order for the money to flow, it would seem that any community, no matter the passion and grit, has a low chance of success in stopping it. The game is rigged, and whoever has the gold makes the rules.

People working on a scale larger than a single community, like the good people at Sane Energy Project bring up broader questions. How is it defensible to disrupt and endanger the lives of people for private profit, especially when they receive no benefit? Can we revoke the status given to energy infrastructure interests, comparable to that of national-security-scale juggernauts, that grants them permission to do whatever they think best? If climate change is already underway and natural gas is many times more potent at creating it than coal or gasoline, how can we possibly consider continuing to use it, let alone expanding (enormously) our capacity?

What a small but growing number of people are coming to realize is that the passion and grit evoked by threats to Buchanan’s or Minisink’s home place are appropriate to all of us, because all our home places are being transformed into ever higher consequence areas.

Paul Stark has been writing and creating performance texts about climate change, fracking and democracy since 2010. Before that he was a database programmer, and before that he wrote some books and studied to be a playwright. He's organizing and promoting activism in Westchester county through Northern Westchester for a Better Tomorrow, blogging and managing projects at PaulStark.name and producing Little House on the Planet, an ongoing radio drama about a wide range of politically engaged characters.

Know Your Adversary

How tax subsidies fuel Spectra Energy's dark energy future

By Owen Crowley

Market Realist recently ran an excellent, must-read investor’s guide to Spectra Energy. This report describes Spectra’s corporate structure and details Spectra Energy (SE) and affiliates’ plans to build out gathering, storage and transmission infrastructure across the USA and Canada. It provides a fact base for understanding the frothy exuberance about Spectra & friends among energy investment boosters.
To fully appreciate Market Realist’s report, however, you need to understand how Spectra Energy Corp attracts capital investment. The two main dimensions are Spectra’s revenue model, and a tax loophole, described below.

spectra map

A sweet deal for fossil fuel transporters

Spectra’s revenue derives from transmission fees rather than commodity pricing. This means Spectra’s distribution affiliates make money as long as gas, natural gas liquids (NGLs) or oil go from anywhere to anywhere. Commodity price volatility—risky to commodity investors—presents an opportunity for Spectra’s distribution arm to make more money as gas, NGLs and oil move due to price arbitrage.
But the real kicker is that Spectra’s distribution arm in the USA is a “master limited partnership” or MLP. After Spectra builds a pipeline, it immediately “drops down” the pipeline asset into an MLP it controls, Spectra Energy Partners (SEP). MLPs have a very special status under US tax law. They are fictitious “partnerships,” which means they avoid income tax on earnings as long as they distribute their earnings every year.

The Economist article, “Rise of the distorporation”

This tax dodge is available to fossil fuel transporters but not sustainable energy transporters, and is in effect a subsidy for fossil fuel distribution. The result is a roughly 30% boost in investment returns, compared to the same activities, were they conducted by a non-MLP. Distributions on established MLPs range from 2 to 4 times market averages, and can be even greater for exploration companies. Distributions such as this are taxable income for investors.

But wait, there’s more—for Spectra Energy

There a is privileged class among MLP stakeholders—the general partner. The general partner actually manages the MLP, and holds “incentive distribution rights,” entitling the general partner to receive a higher percentage of the distributions. Spectra Energy Corp is the general partner of Spectra Energy Partners.
The general partner can skim as much as 50% off the top as distributions increase, with the result that all other investors get less. In addition, the general partner, unlike other investors, can treat these distribution as capital appreciation.
This means that in addition to avoiding corporate tax, the general partner pays much lower capital gains tax, and then only at some future date. When estate law is factored in—for example, inheritance tax loopholes—a general partner may avoid tax altogether. Tax subsidies such as the ones that selectively benefit MLPs cost society dearly, not only by incentivizing destructive energy, but also by making everyone else pay more tax. (This is why tax loopholes are also known as “tax expenditures.”)

When the scheme collapses

Of course, all “good” things must come to an end. The big risk around MLPs—one that funds managers desperate to project growth may choose to overlook—is that the moment an MLP's revenue falters, the value of investors’ stakes in the MLP falls off a cliff. This stems from the fact that there is no capital appreciation on MLP stakes.
To avoid tax, MLPs distribute all their earnings every year (or more commonly, every quarter). Industry insiders—including general partners like Spectra Energy Corp—will see this coming and will be the first to avoid losses by heading for the exit. But municipal and pension funds that invest in these MLPs will not be able to move as quickly.
All the more reason for such funds to divest from such assets and all fossil fuels.

spectra 2

The Radon Hearing Scared the Pants Off Us.

We've been following the radon story for close to three years, and we still learned things at the May 9th Assembly hearing that blew us away. Video of the hearing should be required viewing for any legislator who hesitates to sign onto the bill. It's impossible to summarize the 4-hour hearing in just one paragraph, but take just this small sampling:

Dr. Sheila Bushkin, labeling lung cancer as the deadliest cancer, and  graphically describing the inherent "oxygen starvation;" Barbara Warren, RN, of Citizens Environmental Coalition, noting that additional health effects are generally considered "ten times the carcinogenicity of a substance" (since radon is the leading cause of lung cancer in non-smokers, that's not good news). Other highlights include former DEP commissioner, Al Appleton, and public health expert, Dr. Elizabeth Geltman, describing the utter inadequacy of agency response to radon thus far. Mr. Appleton explained that even the industry's own reports show that residents "will get 10-15 times the current radon exposure they're getting now." Dr. Kathleen Nolan, Research Director for Catskill Mountainkeeper, skewered the "experts" hired by Spectra Energy for their reports denying a risk from radon, noting that they relied on samples provided by industry. Perhaps the most moving testimony came from David Brown, of the Southwest Pennsylvania Environmental Health Project, who became emotional as he described residents near drill sites who had "lost hope" due to lack of governmental health protections.

Chelsea Now reported on the hearing, noting, "It’s been nearly seven months since the Spectra pipeline came online, pumping millions of cubic liters of natural gas to serve homes throughout New York City."

Assembly Members (r-to-l) Health Committee Chair Dick Gottfried; bill Sponsor, Linda Rosenthal; James Brenenan and Nily Rozik. Photo by Chelsea Now. 

May21CN_Spectra_Hearing

Rosenthal Launches Radon Bill

rosenthal duffernetterUPDATE: The radon bill is live this session, with 21 cosponsors and counting! Has YOUR state rep signed on yet? IF NOT, CALL THEM!

Find your Assembly rep here, and your State Senator here.

When Sane Energy Project visited the offices of Assembly Member, Linda Rosenthal, and explained the problems with radon that might be coming through new pipelines into city kitchens, even we didn't expect the response we got: Let's write a law about it. You mean, be proactive? Who knew!

At a point when donations from gas and oil interests are rampant, when scandals in Albany dominate news cycles, when the governor stalls on doing the right thing and banning fracking, the Assembly member has done something extraordinary: drafted a bill that would protect New Yorkers from a potential threat that no government agency had previously taken steps to prevent.

We don't want ANY fracked gas being used, but if we can't stop every pipeline they're planning to build, the government ought to at least prevent a public health crisis created by a changing gas supply.

Rosenthal's radon bill, A6863 requires utilities statewide to monitor and mitigate radon before it is delivered to consumers. (The Senate same-as, S4921, is sponsored by Staten Island rep, Diane Savino.) In video from the recent Cooper Union forum, Lung Cancer & New York City Kitchens, Rosenthal explains the provisions of the bill, and urges citizens to support it. To show there is widespread support for the measure, she says we need to "inundate" electeds with calls to action.

Reporter Eilen Stukane details the background and merits of the bill in her recent article from The Villager. Stukane reiterates Rosenthal's suggestion that, "If the bill is to be signed into law, New Yorkers who support it, must e-mail, snail mail, text or call their representatives, in both the Assembly and state Senate and cite support of the bill numbers."

So have at it! Find your Assembly rep here, and your State Senator here. Calls are preferred but we can also submit a petition signature for you. SIGN HERE!

New Post Neatly Summarizes All NYC Gas Projects

The Indypendent, the print project of the New York City Independent Media Center, has published an article that handily summarizes all the terrifying infrastructure projects currently proposed for New York City, including the Spectra and Rockaway pipelines, the Liberty LNG port, as well as boiler conversions, and New York's renewable potential.  Read the full story here. 

WPIX Newscast Highlights Spectra's Dangers

tv stillsChannel 11 WPIX NY reporter Joe Mauceri reported from the construction site of the Spectra pipeline Wednesday, interviewing advocates from Sane Energy Project and the creators of Occupy the Pipeline's gone-viral video (more than half a million hits and counting).  Owen Crowley said the money would be better spent on renewable energy sources, calling the pipeline, “19th century energy. Here is the 21st century, we have other options, we should be going for those options.” OTP activist, Michele Fox noted Spectra's terrible safety record, and the radon issue, saying, "this is an issue for all of New York City because we’re all using our gas stoves in apartments that aren’t very well ventilated.” This report and other recent media coverage of Spectra (WNBC and even Fox News) also appear not to be buying Spectra's tired line about this pipeline "meeting or exceeding" federal standards, noting the pipe will only be required to be inspected once every seven years.

Highlights from the Cooper Mayoral Candidate Forum

Although the official video from the gas-friendly greenwashers at NYLCV edits out the banner drop and chant when OTP took over the end of their April 22nd Mayoral forum, activists heavily influenced the night, leafletting and raising the issue of pipelines loud and clear. Although Lehrer also tried to edit the issue out of the next day's radio broadcast, in the final minute of the show, a caller brought it up again. Lehrer observed that pipelines will be "an issue the next mayor is going to have to confront." Amen to that. At the forum, Lehrer, who has interviewed Mark Jacobson, brought up his study that outlines how NYS could go 100% renewable by 2030, to blank stares from the candidates, who did however, seem comfortable with wind power across the board.

Although he warned he would not get deeply into fracking, Lehrer did attempt to get candidates to define a policy beyond the usual stance not to frack in the watershed (a question outlined on our flyer), but received only the usual platitudes in response.

Then Lehrer said "One way it IS a mayoral issue pertains to pipelines," and asked specifically about Spectra. Christine Quinn was first up at bat: considering that Quinn has repeatedly ignored citizen requests for anti-Spectra resolutions and radon hearings, her statement that "we can't rush into it . . . need to have monitoring in place, make sure that ALL of the concerns get aired out, get REAL community input into how it gets done, when it gets done . . . clear and transparent monitoring going forward," was disingenuous at best. Quinn concluded by saying she "would not take it off the table," (to sustained booing).

Comptroller, John Liu, who had earlier in the evening taken a stance wary of discontinuing nuclear energy, followed Quinn by urging investments in renewables "as opposed to figuring out how to pipe more gas into the city" and (mis)quoted the well-known Sane Energy talking point that there were "2 letters in favor," (actually, 22 were in favor) "and something like 5000 letters opposed," (to sustained cheering). He questioned the safety record of Spectra as a builder, again quoting talking points from SEP flyers, concluding by saying, "we need energy, but this particular deal seems a particularly bad deal for the people of NYC."

Even climate denier Catsimatidis added, "Gas tends to explode" and putting the pipe into a densely populated area "is not smart."

Our feeling: We didn't hear from many of the candidates on the topic, and would like to know where ALL of them stand. Our coverage of mayoral forums will continue.

The Spectra Pipeline

FERC Docket No. CP11-56-000Status: In Service

Radio: Overview of issues with Spectra, radon, boilers and fracking Video: Voice of America

Scroll to bottom for library of maps.

[youtube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7vMyvmX3uZA&w=560&h=315]

 

pipeline route

The "New Jersey-New York Expansion Project" is a high-pressure shale gas pipeline, varying in diameter from 42-30" and 350-1400 psi, known more commonly by the name of its builder's parent company, Spectra Energy. It travels up the NJ shoreline, through the edge of an environmental justice community in Staten Island, past multiple chemical and industrial plants, next to the NJ Turnpike, under Jersey City. It crosses the Hudson River near the Hoboken PATH station and enters Manhattan at the Gansevoort Peninsula in the West Village, just south of 14th Street.

Public outcry against the pipeline was intense and sustained. 500 residents filed to intervene against it. In October of 2011, Mark Ruffalo lead 300 Occupy Wall Street (OWS) marchers from Zucotti Park to the Manhattan FERC hearing. In response to the draft EIS (Environmental Impact Statement), nearly 5,000 public comments were filed against the Spectra pipeline, with only 22 in favor. Two lawsuits were filed: One against FERC, and one against the Hudson River Park Trust, where the girlfriend of then-mayor Michael Bloomberg oversaw approval of a park easement for the pipeline. FERC approved the pipeline, nonetheless, and construction began in 2012. Sane Energy Project was an intervener and plaintiff in a lawsuit against the project. Our reasons for opposing the project are detailed here and here.

[youtube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=r_Qz5GxmJ_o&w=560&h=315]

 

During construction of the pipeline, an offshoot of OWS formed a new group, Occupy the Pipeline (OTP), which organized a year-long series of rallies, marches, and actions. Protests began with concerts and performance art, but soon escalated. On separate occasions, ten arrests took place when protesters blocked backhoes and locked themselves to equipment. A video created by OTP garnered more than 750,000 views on YouTube, and news crews from WNBC, WPIX, NY1, Fox News, The Guardian and multiple local papers covered the issue. The day after the pipeline went into service (November 1, 2013), fourteen protestors, including NYC Councilman Corey Johnson, were arrested for blocking traffic on the West Side Highway.

[youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=e0sVyE6lS38&w=560&h=315]

 

Now that the pipeline is in service, Sane Energy Project and OTP continue to spread the word about its presence and the dangers it brings. The March, 2014 explosion in Harlem demonstrated the damage an 8" gas main can cause, leveling two buildings and killing 8 people. We hope this tragedy will direct the city towards dismantling outdated fossil fuel infrastructure and replacing it renewable sources of energy.

Related Maps: Some files are large, please allow extra download time.

Manhattan Route, Spectra plus Con Ed Extension Danger Zone Radius in West Village Aerial Photo of San Bruno Blast Radius, for Comparison Route of Marcellus shale gas to NYC market Connection to Con Ed lines Major Trunk Lines (All Suppliers) into NYC Entire Spectra Route (Linden, NJ to West Village, NY) Detail of Spectra Route (Aerial Photo, New Jersey into New York) Detail of Spectra entering Manhattan at the Gansevoort Peninsula