Coalition challenges Albany’s pipe ban, lauds NESE

Gas men: Kyle Strober (at the podium), executive director of the Association for a Better Long Island, and other regional power players make a strong case Wednesday for the Northeast Supply Enhancement Project.
By GREGORY ZELLER //

Citing a “looming threat” to the Long Island economy – including potential delays for the vaunted Nassau Hub, Ronkonkoma Hub and Belmont Park reconstruction projects – regional power players are demanding action from the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation.

An impressive coalition – representing the Association for a Better Long Island, the Long Island Builders Institute, the New York State Laborers’ Union and SEIU 1199 (United Healthcare Workers East), among others – gathered Wednesday at the Massapequa Center for Rehabilitation and Nursing to urge the DEC to approve a water permit needed to advance the Northeast Supply Enhancement Project.

Proposed by the Texas-based Transcontinental Gas Pipe Line Co., the NESE involves a 26-inch-diameter pipeline that would carry natural gas from Pennsylvania, through New Jersey, underwater through Raritan Bay and Lower New York Bay and into the Atlantic Ocean, to a distribution station located about three miles off the Rockaway Peninsula.

Ultimately, the NESE Project would provide “400,000 dekatherms per day of incremental capacity” (translation: lots of power) to National Grid customers across Long Island, according to the DEC, including those in Brooklyn and Queens.

The project requires about 23.5 miles of underwater pipeline, including 17.4 miles of pipe laid in New York waters – hence the need for the state water permit.

Denying that permit “needlessly” jeopardizes the Long Island economy, according to the coalition, which referenced some 200 commercial and residential projects threatened by insufficient power supplies – including many that have already been denied permits by National Grid, which says it can’t properly service the projects without additional natural-gas sources.

Noting the “same obstacles to business growth [are] being repeated across Long Island,” ABLI Executive Director Kyle Strober implored the DEC to step up and give the regional utility the tools it needs to address the Island’s growing energy demands.

Andrew Cuomo: Pipe plan clogging progress?

“The constraint on Long Island’s natural gas supply is already causing pain to hundreds of Long Island businesses and is threatening future economic development on such strategic projects as the redevelopment of Belmont, the Ronkonkoma Hub and the Nassau Hub at Mitchell Field,” Strober said. “This project has the means to significantly strengthen Long Island’s workforce, allowing far more efficient and available natural gas to assist in building and enhancing future developments.”

The location of Wednesday’s press event was no coincidence. Citing an “inability to confirm capacity,” according to the ABLI, National Grid recently denied the Massapequa Center for Rehabilitation and Nursing’s request to install a new commercial kitchen and new energy-efficient boilers – “a tough pill to swallow,” according to MCRN Administrator Richard Sherman.

“We are simply trying to provide our residents the services they deserve, like a home-cooked meal, as well as potentially hire 20 additional employees,” Sherman said Wednesday.

Coalition members bandied about several impressive numbers, including new capacity to convert some 8,000 Long Island customers from oil burners to cleaner, more efficient natural-gas systems.

That could reduce energy costs by as much as two-thirds for thousands of residential and commercial customers, notes the ABLI, which framed the NESE as a vital cog in both Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s ambitious energy strategy and some $300 billion in regional economic-development plans.

The Long Island Builders Institute strongly supports the construction of the new pipeline, according to LIBI Chief Executive Mitchell Pally, who said multiple affordable-housing opportunities across the region are at stake.

“Thousands of affordable and market-rate housing units, which will become the home of many of our residents, are in jeopardy of not being built at this time,” Pally noted.

The ABLI projects that NESE design and construction will generate roughly $327 million in additional economic activity, including the direct and indirect creation of more than 3,100 jobs during the construction period and an estimated $234 million in related labor income – all of which sounds pretty good to the NYS Laborers’ Organizing Fund, according to Director of Policy and Public Affairs Vincent Albanese.

Matthew Aracich: Transition solution?

Ironically, it’s the Cuomo administration’s ban an new pipeline projects – in favor of a laser-focus on renewable-energy efforts, including solar and wind initiatives – that’s threatening progress that actually works toward the governor’s own carbon-reduction goals, a point Albanese hammered home Wednesday.

“The economic consequences of not moving forward with NESE put in jeopardy $300 billion of regional development,” Albanese said. “Our members work when projects get built, and a natural-gas moratorium could halt, delay or stop many of those projects.

“Our members cannot afford to sit home when a solution to the gas moratorium is right in front of us.”

Albanese wasn’t the only coalition member to question Cuomo’s strategy. Matthew Aracich, president of the Building & Construction Trades Council of Nassau & Suffolk Counties, said “with confidence” that the pipeline moratorium “will cripple the economy and impact tens of thousands of workers and families.”

“The Building Trades Council has been supportive of the governor’s bold initiatives on renewable energy,” Aracich said. “However, at the same time, we must continue to educate all parties so they recognize it will take time to develop a substantial renewable-energy grid to the point where we can actually replace fossil fuels.

“In order to transition to a stable, greener economy, we strongly insist that the governor continues to invest in this project so Long Island, as well as the region, is not cut off from receiving the critical energy natural gas supplies,” Aracich added. “And we can avoid the severe economic consequences of a moratorium.”