Spectra Pipeline Lawsuit Advances: United for Action, W. Village Residents, and Allies File Notice of Appeal

West Village residents, United for Action, Village Independent Democrats, Sane Energy Project, New York City Friends of Clearwater, NYH2O, and Food and Water Watch have filed a Notice of Appeal in their challenge under New York State law to the Spectra Pipeline.  See the press statement, below, for details.

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March 10, 2013
For Immediate Release

West Village Residents and Organizations Advance Legal Opposition to High Pressure Gas Pipeline

Contact Owen Crowley (347) 559-6936

On March 6, 2013, New York City, seven West Village residents, together with community and environmental advocacy organizations, filed Notice of Appeal in a lawsuit against the introduction of a new, 30-inch high-pressure gas pipeline into their densely populated neighborhood.  This pipeline is part of a major gas infrastructure expansion by Spectra Energy that has also met with stiff opposition across the Hudson River in Jersey City, NJ. Within Manhattan, Con Ed plans to extend the gas main this spring up 10th Avenue from Gansevoort Street to West 16th Street.

The petitioners first raised their legal challenge in September 2012 against Spectra Energy Corporation, Algonquin Gas Transmission LLC, Texas Eastern Transmission LP, and Hudson River Park Trust.  Their petition asserts that Hudson River Park Trust (HRPT) violated New York State Environmental Law, the Hudson River Park Act, and the Public Trust Doctrine by allowing the Spectra pipeline to traverse the Hudson River Park at Gansevoort Peninsula, an act contrary to HRPT’s State mandated charter as well as in breach of New York State environmental laws. In their defense, respondents HRPT et al maintain that the Federal Natural Gas Act overrides State law.

The lawsuit clearly alarmed the Bloomberg administration. Deputy Mayor Cas Holloway filed an affidavit in support of the Spectra project, and Consolidated Edison intervened on the side of the respondents.

Mayor Bloomberg’s companion, Diana Taylor chairs the HRPT’s Board of Directors and presided over the decision to grant the easement that allows the Spectra pipeline to cross the Hudson River Park.

“This is an attempt by dominant fossil fuel interests, aided by allies in the Bloomberg administration, to force upon New Yorkers a dangerous pipeline and create a market for fracked Marcellus gas from Pennsylvania and, they hope, New York State,” says Owen Crowley, a director of United for Action, one of the petitioners. “By asserting, incorrectly, that State law has no effect in the face of the Natural Gas Act, they are trying to establish a regime in which there is absolutely no consideration of risks to the health, safety and property of City residents.”

Opponents to the pipeline cite immediate risks of explosion, as well as the probability that carcinogenic radon gas will travel with any natural gas extracted from highly radioactive Marcellus shale. Concerns about safety have been heightened recently by revelations that the Chinese military has hacked into systems that control and monitor the United States pipeline infrastructure [see “Chinese Army Unit Is Seen as Tied to Hacking Against U.S.”, New York Times, February 18, 2013].

The petitioners who brought the action against HRPT et al include area residents Ynestra King, Nathaniel Johnson, Anne Heaney, Joan Beard, John Mimikos, Sherry Lane, and Buck Moorhead. They are joined in their opposition by Village Independent Democrats, Sane Energy Project, New York City Friends of Clearwater, United for Action, NYH2O LLC, and Food and Water Watch.

There has been lively opposition to this pipeline project since Spectra’s plans came into public view in January, 2011. Approximately 500 residents and community organizations intervened in opposition to the pipeline proposal before the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) approved it in early this year.  Over 5,000 commented against the environmental impact of the pipeline.

The pipeline’s construction has been the focus of several public demonstrations, which resulted in nine arrests.  It has also been the topic of well attended public hearings in which residents challenged the justification for the Spectra pipeline as well as its safety.

On October 20, 2011, under public pressure, FERC held a hearing at a West Village school auditorium that filled the seats and prompted over two hours of public comments in opposition by residents and some City government representatives.

On December 5, 2012, under terms of an interim settlement among HRPT et al and petitioners, Con Ed and Spectra Energy presented their project at Community Board 2 in the West Village. The Con Ed and Spectra Energy representatives were subject to withering challenges by residents as well as member of Community Board 2.

Nevertheless, the trial judge on February 1, 2013 entered an order dismissing the petition against HRPT et al.  The decision found narrowly that federal law preempted the HRPT from conducting an environmental review under New York State Law, and did not address the petitioners’ other claims.

The petitioners, in their Notice of Appeal, seeks reversal of the trial court decision, in that the National Gas Act explicitly reserves to states powers over intrastate gas delivery and distribution.

Residents, block association leaders, and Community Board 4 (CB4) in Chelsea will closely watch the appeal. Con Ed has recently begun digging test pits for a 1500-foot extension of the Spectra pipeline into the southern tip of the CB4 district. At a community meeting on February 14, citizens grilled representatives from Con Ed and Spectra about the pressure and safety of the proposed pipeline, which has not undergone any environmental review. At a follow-up session of the full board meeting on March 6 chaired by Corey Johnson, contender for Christine Quinn’s City Council seat, CB4 approved a letter to Con Ed complaining of the “shortsightedness of decision makers,” and calling for “regular testing and public disclosure of that testing for numerous contaminants in natural gas with particular focus on the existence of radon.”

Clare Donohue of Sane Energy Project said, “Aside from any legal basis, this suit highlights the common sense idea that it is insane for Con Ed to build a massive, high-pressure gas line for 5 city blocks, next to a museum filled with irreplaceable art, a newly reclaimed and beloved park, the High Line, Chelsea Market, and dozens of hotels, galleries, offices, restaurants and residences, with no environmental review, no community input, no oversight. It surprised me that the judge dismissed our case, because she appeared to understand this concept when she asked the Con Ed lawyer, just as any normal person would, ‘Do you mean to tell me that you can put a 30 inch gas pipeline, basically anywhere you want, with nothing more than a street-opening permit from the DOT?’”

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