KNOCK US OVER WITH A FEATHER–TWO PIPELINES DOWN! Amazing news on Earth Day that the DEC denied the Water Quality Permit for the Constitution pipeline. Following close on the heels of Kinder-Morgan pulling the plug on their NED pipeline, it's clear that the power of public opinion, and the work of thousands of Northeast activists, is having direct impact on our energy future across the region. Catch all the details on both defeats HERE–rejoice, take a bow–and then let's redirect all that activism towards the projects that remain. (But seriously, what joyful change is being made!)
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.”
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.”
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.
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!
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.
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!
The holidays are considered a great time for slipping in major infrastructure projects (it's a tradition for FERC to drop 1000-page Environmental Impact Statements, or for projects to get signed off while they think no one is looking). But we're on our toes and we're keeping the pressure up on the DEC and Governor Cuomo to deny the 401 Water Quality Certificate that is the last piece of paper the builders of the Constitution Pipeline desire. If they don't get it soon the window will close on their opportunity to start clear-cutting forests (restrictions on the timing exist due to migratory bird laws).
What needs to happen?
Call, write and email the governor and the new DEC Commissioner RIGHT NOW! These next two days before New Years are crucial. Here's how to do that: CLICK HERE.
Why is this important?
Because lives and livelihoods hang in the balance. A large swatch of land and the communities in the path of this pipe will be subject to multiple harms: the pollution from compressor stations; the risks from mud slides and flooding after forests are clear cut; the destruction of clear, cold streams that are trout habitats and a foundation of the local economy, just to name a few. Perhaps the best illustrations of the issues are these personal stories, of families whose property has been taken by eminent domain for the private profit of this company.
Photos and text developed by Stop the Pipeline and People, Not Pipelines
The Hubert Family
This is Diana and Phil Hulbert and their granddaughters Rebecca, Michaela and Dakota by their home in East Meredith, New York. Diana and Phil have lived here in the northwest Catskills since 1972. This year, the Constitution Pipeline Company used eminent domain to obtain permanent easements across their property.
Here’s how Phil describes his family’s situation: “FERC (the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission) granted easements for construction of this pipeline across our property. If the pipeline is built, portions of wooded land next to our home will be clear-cut. Making matters worse, a second proposed pipeline would cross even closer to our house, taking more of our forestland. Our quality of life and that of many other New Yorkers will be forever altered during and after construction of this 124-mile-long pipeline. Where is the wisdom in turning pristine land and watersheds into permanent corridors for moving fracked gas—a nonrenewable resource—out of the country?”
This is Jeff Strassenburg and his golden retriever, Ixtapa (aka Pumpkin), in Sidney, NY. They're standing next to the solar panels that power their house and car. If built, the large-diameter "Constitution" and NED pipelines will run a few thousand feet from their home, transporting fracked gas under high pressure from Pennsylvania to Canada for export.
This is Bruce Baxter, one of many enterprising landowners along the route of the proposed “Constitution” pipeline. He has made a living growing Christmas trees on his property in Bainbridge, NY, for more than 30 years. He also has plans to raise trout year-round using a solar-heated aquaponics system—an endeavor that would create several permanent local jobs. The pipeline company claims it would bring seven jobs to central New York. In fact, it would take more jobs than it brings. Their pipeline would ruin Bruce’s tree-farm business and render his new trout business impossible.
“Constitution boasts that construction jobs will be created for a few short months when the pipeline is built,” says Bruce. “But no one should get a temporary job by stealing another American’s land and putting them out of business.”
The pipeline company has been granted the power of eminent domain to take Bruce's land for this fracked-gas export line.
Dan and LJ Brignoli
This is Dan and LJ Brignoli standing on the route of the proposed “Constitution” pipeline, next to their home in Davenport, New York. If built, the pipeline would clear-cut more than 700,000 trees, including hundreds just uphill from Dan and LJ’s house. Here in the flood-prone northern Catskills, the couple has seen their road destroyed three times by raging floodwaters in the past decade. Without tree roots to hold the soil in place, the next big flood would be catastrophic.
In exchange for situations such as the Brignolis’, you’d think New York might be getting a lot of cheap gas. However, the majority of the fracked gas in this 30-inch-diameter line would travel from Pennsylvania to Canada and beyond. Even more unbelievable: The pipeline company has been awarded the right of eminent domain to take the Dan and LJ’s land for this export project.
“Eminent domain is defined as the power of government to take private property for a bona fide public need,” says Dan. “In the case of the Constitution pipeline, eminent domain is being used for corporate GREED instead of public need.”
This is Alicia Pagano with her daughter, Janice, on their property in Sidney, NY. The 30-inch-diameter “Constitution” gas pipeline is slated to cross the creek behind them about a quarter mile downstream. Alicia was born and raised in these foothills of the western Catskills. In her 86 years, she has lived through several “100-year” floods, including three in the past decade alone.
"Water is a powerful thing," she says. "With every flood, Carrs Creek transforms from a quiet stream to a raging torrent. It pushes heavy rocks, huge trees and anything else in its way as it careens toward the Susquehanna River. It's even taken large swaths of our land. In a competition with the creeks up here, pipelines will always lose."
Chris and Tim Camann
This is Chris and Tim Camann with their dogs, Amelia (left) and Munchkin, at home in Sidney, New York. Nearly four years ago, the Constitution Pipeline Company informed the couple they would be installing a 2½-foot-diameter high-pressure pipeline next to their home and through their field and forestland. The company claimed it would bring cheap gas to New York and the northeast. In fact, this proposed pipeline is slated to take fracked gas from Pennsylvania through New York State to Canada for export, which will lead to higher prices here.
The company behind this scheme acquired the necessary portion of the Camanns’ land using eminent domain. Chris and Tim will still be required to pay taxes on land they can no longer use while the pipeline company profits from it for years to come.
Despite the unjust use of eminent domain and the danger of the massive pipeline, what devastates Chris and Tim most is how it will damage the woods and creek behind their home where they walk with their dogs every day. The couple has cared for their mature hillside forest for more than 25 years. Heavy machinery will clear-cut through these woods, leaving a treeless corridor at least 110-feet wide. Crews will bulldoze and excavate through the creek and its tributaries and blast through the rocky terrain of the Catskill foothills, forever degrading the forest-and-stream ecosystem.
This is it–Today begins the final phase of the review of Port Ambrose LNG. In case you missed any of the newsletters, facebook posts, or events building up to these hearings that have been happening over the last several months, below is a handy round up of the info you need to respond. We've also included a photo album of just a FRACTION of the effort that has gone into stopping this project over the past two years. Our heartfelt thanks and gratitude to all the thousands of volunteers who have taken part in the rallies, art builds, postcard campaigns, petition drives, beach leafletting, community meetings and more, and to the elected officials who have shown leadership on this issue. It ain't over yet, we have until December 21st to get a veto on this, so stay tuned for what comes next after the hearings!
The New York hearings are tonight and tomorrow night, Nov. 2nd and 3rd, in Long Beach, NY, from 6-10pm each night. Long Beach is easily accessible by public transport and there are buses leaving Manhattan later today as well.
Click here for a summary of all the transportation, talking point and other hearing details. Don't forget to pick up a handful of our new postcards to mail to Governor Cuomo, because his 45-day window to veto this project begins Friday, Nov. 6th, and we'll be keeping up the drumbeat after the hearings, including vigils in front of his NYC office. Please check in at our Facebook page for the late-breaking news and announcements, and for photos from the hearings. We'll see you there!
Many 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.
Would you like to participate in Blued Trees?
HELP 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 email@example.com or firstname.lastname@example.org
Photos by Linda Leeds, Erik McGregor and Susan Rutman
When we learned that our pal, Lorna Mason, was planning to do the nearly 400-mile cycle from Bar Harbor to Boston, we were mighty impressed. After all, that's like biking from Manhattan to Montauk – 4 times! When she then said she planned to do it to benefit Sane Energy Project, we were floored. It's a privilege to be honored by such an amazing and fierce climate warrior.
The Climate Ride is an annual event that brings attention to the warming of the planet, and the particular ride she will do, along the northeast coastline that is threatened by sea level rise, pipelines, LNG ports and tanks, and already suffering the effects of ocean acidification, has particular meaning for us, as one of the founders of the Northeast Pipelines Alliance.
We met Lorna at another group we helped found, the NYC Grassroots Alliance. As a member of the Zen Center of New York City and its Earth Initiative, Lorna invited Sane to come speak at Zen Center about Port Ambrose LNG, and soon their members were writing letters, sending postcards and attending hearings to try and stop the project. The latest iteration of this community partnership is Climate Ride Northeast.
Says Lorna, "I ride my bike a lot around NYC, and I long for the day when ALL car drivers respect riders and when the cars they drive don't emit any toxic exhaust. And really that day doesn't need to be far off. Clean energy solutions are already available, we just need to create the political will to get us there. That's why I am riding in the Northeast Climate Ride and raising money for Sane Energy Project. I've been aware of Sane for the last couple of years and have been amazed by their fearless and intelligent pursuit to end fracking and the infrastructure that supports it, as well as their grassroots organizing to bring us a 100% sustainable energy future."
Climate Ride Northeast begins on September 17th in iconic Bar Harbor, Maine, then heads south through Acadia National Park, and along Maine's rocky coast, dotted with quaint harbor towns, lighthouses, and wild blueberry patches. The next two days are spent pedaling along Maine's Mid-Coast region with a stop in Portland. The fourth day pedals from Kennebunk to New Hampshire's 18 miles of scenic shoreline before the final day: A beautiful ride into Boston, Massachusetts where riders will retrace, in reverse, Paul Revere's famous midnight ride of 1775. ("Climate change is coming!") Join us in Boston on September 21st to greet Lorna and all the Climate Riders as they arrive!
Please support Lorna and follow along as we post about her training from now until she leaves for Maine! This is a great cause; 100% tax deductible donations can be made here. About half the funds received will go to cover support for all the cyclists and the great work that Climate Ride does year-round; the rest will go to Sane Energy Project to support our climate work.
Scoping meetings for the 5-state NED (Northeast Energy Direct) pipeline by Kinder Morgan/TGP have been announced. These are the first of several more hearings that will take place over the course of the review. Click here for dates, locations and suggestions for filing comments at this stage of the review. To view an interactive map of this pipeline please click here. For more information about the project click here. For information about the track record of the builder and the reviewing agency, click here. For an overview of other proposed shale gas projects in New York State, click here.
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
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.
Outreach 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.
A 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.
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.
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.
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.
Josh 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."
We 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
The month ended with the NECOS conference, bringing together climate and pipeline fighters to Massachusetts from all over the Northeast.
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.
Most photos by Erik McGregor
CONGRATULATIONS! 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.
Late 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:
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.
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):
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.
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.
On 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.
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
Here at Sane Energy Project, we feel strongly that offshore wind is what New York ought to be building right now, not short-sighted and damaging fossil fuel infrastructure that will impede the development of renewable energy. Here is the powerpoint we presented at the City Council hearing on Resolution 549 on April 1st, 2015. It's a PDF so please be patient while the link loads.
Video of the Sane team presenting at the City Council hearing:
Our heartfelt sympathies go out to anyone who has been impacted or injured because of yesterday's explosion in the East Village. The accident was tragic, devastating–and entirely predictable. The unfortunate truth is that gas infrastructure is not safe. In 2014, there were at least eighteen separate accidents in the United States involving gas pipelines, including the explosion in East Harlem that killed eight people and injured dozens more.
For years, New York City has been intensifying its reliance on gas and encouraging the buildout of gas infrastructure. Because of this trend, we have repeatedly argued that another gas accident in New York City was only a matter of time. We are enormously saddened to see these predictions proven true.
"Natural" gas is often sold to the public as "clean," a "safe alternative" to coal or oil. But gas is a fossil fuel like any other. It leaks, it explodes, and it has a devastating impact on our climate. Methane, which is the chief component of "natural" gas, has 86 times the impact of carbon dioxide on our climate over a 20-year scale. In the short term, this gas puts us at risk for terrible tragedies such as the East Village explosion, while in the long term it sets us on a course for an unstable climate and planetary disaster.
We can't stand this any longer. We have to move to a socially just and fully renewable energy system. While our hearts are heavy, today has only strengthened our resolve:
- Replacing old gas infrastructure with new gas infrastructure is not the answer. The answer is replacing fossil fuels with renewable energy.
- At the local level, we must support ongoing attempts to move the city onto renewable energy while continuing to push for climate action plans that are ambitious, timely and contain specific steps to get to the 100% renewable future we want and need.
- At the State level, we must call for further funding for wind energy and a veto on projects like Port Ambrose that will lock us into further exploitation of shale gas.
- At the Federal level, we must disband the sham regulatory agency known as the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission and institute a system of oversight that is truly accountable to the people.
Again, we express our sadness for those affected by this accident and stand in solidarity with all communities that have been put in harm's way by the fossil fuel industry. It doesn't have to be this way. We pledge to continue to work with New York City to make sure tragedies like today become a thing of the past.
–Sane Energy Project
As Spring starts to peak around the corner, we continue the focus on infrastructure that we've been kicking out all winter. Lately it's been all about the You Are Here shale gas map (click here for upcoming demonstrations of the map), and getting the word out to oppose Port Ambrose LNG (click here for upcoming community events). See our full reportback here, or check out the media clips below. Feb. 14: DeSmog Blog "We have always been primarily focused on making people understand that infrastructure is part of fracking, that fracking is not just high-volume drilling, and that mission continues. Now we shift to making people understand that we aren't “safe” from fracking as long as all the related effects of fracking still exist."
Feb. 4: Capitol NY "Patrick Robbins, with the clean energy advocacy group Sane Energy, asked state officials to ensure that 'low-income, front-line communities,' such as those hit hardest by Hurricane Sandy, have a voice in the R.E.V. He and several others also asked the state to set specific goals in terms of renewable power generation and greenhouse gas reductions. 'We have not heard specific targets for renewable energy,' he said. 'The climate crisis demands nothing less than full renewable energy. We need you to put us on the right path.' "
Feb. 2: NY Daily News "Nervous residents at a Marble Hill apartment complex are signaling local officials to stop freight trains from idling on the Metro North tracks below. The activists have gotten even more worked up since the fall, when they spotted black cars carrying hazardous material called liquid petroleum gas on some of the trains."
Jan. 27: The Indypendent "When it comes to finding an alternative to heavy heating oils like No. 6 and No. 4, Donohue said that biodiesel was the best option, especially because researchers in the United States and Europe are developing ways to produce biofuel from plants like grass and algae, which do not need to be cultivated on land that’s suitable for growing food."
Jan. 16: Long Island Herald "Now, officials and a number of environmental groups, inlcuding Sane Energy, the Surfrider Foundation, All Our Energy and Clean Ocean Action, are calling on the U.S. Maritime Administration and U.S. Coast guard to deny Liberty's most recent application and urging Cuomo to veto it, saying that the terminal would hurt the environment, increase the region’s dependence on foreign fuel and create the potential for an offshore catastrophe or terrorist attacks."
Dec. 19: The Wave "Activist groups, New Yorkers Against Fracking and Sane Energy Project, have been making rounds to inform the coastal public—and everyone else for that matter—about the LNG and its potential dangers. Jessica Roff, of New Yorkers Against Fracking, and Patrick Robbins, of Sane Energy Project, hosted an informational meeting on the Port Ambrose project at the Macedonia Baptist Church in Arverne on Monday, Dec. 15. Robbins noted that the issue 'has particular resonance here when we think about who is impacted by global warming—I mean, that’s coastal communities.' ”
Dec. 31: DC Bureau "Other projects are apt to continue drawing intense local opposition. They include Crestwood Midstream’s planned liquid petroleum gas, or LPG, storage project near Watkins Glen and the proposed Port Ambrose export terminal for liquified natural gas in the ocean off New York City. Here is a map that locates and describes more than 20 New York energy infrastructure projects: http://www.youareherenymap.org."
Dec. 21: Huffington Post "The proceedings included a presentation by Clare Donohue, founding member of the Sane Energy Project. She spoke about energy issues throughout New York State, illustrated by a continually evolving map called You Are Here. The goal of the project is, 'To put a human face on the places at risk or already devastated by fracking infrastructure in New York.' "
Dec. 20: The Rockaway Times "A Rockaway community information meeting was held on the latest metamorphosis on The Port Ambrose project. This meeting about the latest proposed LNG project, just off our shores, was moderated by Jessica Roff of New Yorkers Against Fracking and Patrick Robbins of Sane Energy Project. Each spelled out the same concerns that we faced several years ago when our community and surrounding communities banned together to voice our opposition to the LNG Island off our shores."
Dec 17: Grist “ 'Cuomo pointed out himself the relentless public pressure,' said Patrick Robbins, a spokesperson for the Sane Energy Project, a New York-based organization that promotes shifting from fossil fuels to renewable sources of energy. 'I also think it’s important to note the role of organizing at the local level—the commissioner mentioned many times the impact that local bans would have on the profit margins of this industry.' ”
UPDATE: NY Daily News has reported that 52 state legislators signed onto the Rosenthal-Hoylman letter!
Great news! State Senator Brad Hoylman and Assembly Member Linda Rosenthal have written a letter to Governor Cuomo asking him to veto the project.
The letter covers all the bases: It makes the point that Port Ambrose is unnecessary, brings up the security and explosion risks of the project, connects the dots between LNG and climate change, AND makes the case that we should build offshore wind in that area instead.
It's been remarkable over the last few months to see politicians from all sides of the aisle standing up to Port Ambrose. This is an issue that brings together politicians who don't always agree on many things, and it speaks to the urgency and seriousness of the threat that Port Ambrose poses to our communities.
Here's how you can help: If your rep didn't sign on, get them to draft their own letter to Cuomo!
Related article here. Sane 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.
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.)
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.
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.
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.
Here at Sane Energy Project, we're all about envisioning a future of, um, well, sane energy. Shortly, there will be public hearings held statewide on REV (Reforming the Energy Vision), an initiative that will determine our future energy choices, and it is crucial that we (the public) be well informed in our comments.
REV is a regulatory reform initiative sponsored by the PSC (Public Service Commission), the state-level agency that oversees energy policy. REV will affect all energy users in NYS. Here's what the PSC says about REV: "The Commission is considering a new business model for energy service providers where distributed energy resources becomes a primary tool in the planning and operation of the electric system."
Sound good? YEAH! "Distributed Energy Resources? Gee, that sounds like rooftop solar, wind farms, and community-based decision-making! Or does it mean lots of new gas power plants all over the place?
Here's what PSC say are their six policy objectives: 1) To enhance customer knowledge and tools to enable customers to manage their energy bills and provide them more choice* in how they use energy; 2) To animate the market** and leverage ratepayer contributions; 3) To promote system-wide efficiency;*** 4) to increase fuel and resource diversity;**** 5) to enhance system reliability and resiliency;***** 6) to reduce carbon emissions.******
Still sound good? Ummm . . . Ok, here's what they say next:
"The REV regulatory proceeding involves two tracks. The first track, which has been the subject of two publicly held technical conferences and one publicly held symposium, and now the subject of the public statement hearings, explores the role of distribution utilities in enabling system-wide efficiencies and market-based deployment of DER (Distributed Energy Resources) and load management. The first track will also consider the role of the incumbent electric utilities and whether they should serve as the Distributed System Platform (DSP) provider, the entity that will manage and coordinate DER, as well as wholesale market issues and opportunities for customer engagement. The second track will address the regulatory changes and ratemaking issues that will be necessary to implement the REV vision."
Got that? Yeah, neither do we.
Seeking further enlightenment? Don't look here (The PSC's web page about REV). Hmmm. A public agency requesting public input about obscure regulations presented in an utterly opaque way--what does this remind us of??? (Hint: FERC?)
Happily, there are two opportunities to have this information translated into layperson's terms: A briefing call will take place on Wednesday, Jan. 28th at 8pm. Call: 302-202-1108, Conference Code: 999246. Additionally, an in-person briefing will take place as a prelude to the regular NYC Grassroots Alliance meeting on February 2nd (the night before the NYC hearing). Click here for details. Can't make it to either briefing? Check out this online resource from our friends at AGREE.
For details about the NYC hearing on February 3rd, please click here for the afternoon session and here for the evening session. We hope to see you there!