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EPA to investigate state’s approval of North Brooklyn gas pipeline

October 25, 2021 Brooklyn Eagle Staff
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In the latest development in the saga of National Grid’s North Brooklyn Pipeline, which has been protested by neighborhood residents, environmentalists and some public officials for at least three years, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency plans to investigate the state Department of Environmental Conservations’ actions in approving the pipeline, according to a letter released Monday.

The EPA’s action follows a federal civil rights complaint filed in August by Brownsville Green Justice, the Ocean Hill-Brownsville Coalition of Young Professionals, Mi Casa Resiste, and the Indigenous Kinship Collective alleging the pipeline discriminated against communities of color.

The pipeline, formally known as the Metropolitan Natural Gas Reliability Project, would run through East Williamsburg, Bushwick, Bed-Stuy and nearby areas. Phases 1 through 4 are already completed. Opponents say the pipeline could be unsafe; would carry fracked gas; and would pose a health risk to those neighborhoods it runs through. The Greenpoint portion of the project has been halted after a lawsuit.

Brownsville community members rallied last year against the construction of the North Brooklyn Pipeline. Photo: YFW Productions

The complaint filed in August alleges DEC was aware of National Grid’s violations during the construction of the pipeline, including failing to notify community members of the project and bypassing critical safety and health regulations. Despite these issues, the complaint said, DEC failed to conduct the appropriate environmental reviews and allowed the project to proceed.

In August, the state Public Service Commission slashed a pipeline-related rate hike that National Grid planned to charge customers, but this didn’t satisfy the opponents, who include Mayor Bill de Blasio, Borough President Eric Adams, Brooklyn Community Board 1, and U.S. Sen. Chuck Schumer. 

In the EPA’s letter, the federal regulatory agency said it would investigate why DEC failed to conduct an environmental review of the entire pipeline and only issued a “negative declaration” finding no adverse impact for a small subsection of the project. Furthermore, the EPA will examine whether DEC failed to properly engage and consult impacted communities in the review process. 

The EPA also said that it would refer investigation of National Grid and the Department of Public Service, which are also named in the complaint, for consideration to the U.S. Departments of Justice, Transportation and Energy. 

Work is seen taking place on the North Brooklyn Pipeline, shortly before the COVID-19 pandemic stalled construction. Photo: Erik McGregor

The community groups who filed the federal complaint are represented by the Civil Rights and Disability Justice Clinic at New York Law School Legal Services, Inc., and the National Center for Law and Economic Justice. 

“We commend the EPA’s decision to investigate the Department of Environmental Conservation’s ruling to permit National Grid to expand their harmful fracked gas infrastructure in vulnerable communities, including Brownsville. This was done without the community’s knowledge and ignored the environmental consequences, health risks, and economic harms this posed for people to live in their communities,” said Brownsville Green Justice.

“DEC’s illegal segmentation and failure to review the environmental harms of the Pipeline and LNG facility together is in stark contrast to state law and the position it has taken in white communities, where it has required that an environmental review of pipelines and the gas and power plants they connect to as one project before they can go forward,” said Anjana Malhotra, senior attorney at the National Center for Law and Economic Justice. 

While statements in support of the pipeline are few online, Karen Young, media representative for National Grid, told Bklyner earlier this year in an email, “The project is important to natural gas customers in the local community who depend on gas service to heat their homes and run their businesses. The gas main design, engineering controls and safety features we have in place meet or exceed NYC construction standards.” She also said that the project doesn’t bring new gas into Brooklyn, but rather, makes sure that the system would run more safely and efficiently.

The August filing was submitted to the Environmental Protection Agency, the Department of Justice, Department of Transportation and Department of Energy alleging violations under Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, which bars entities that receive federal funding from engaging in racial discrimination. 

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