The New York State Department of Environmental Conservation has halted National Fuel's proposed Northern Access Pipeline Project by denying water quality permits necessary for the project's approval.
"After an in-depth review of the proposed Northern Access Pipeline project and following three public hearings and the consideration of over 5,700 comments, DEC has denied the permit due to the project's failure to avoid adverse impacts to wetlands, streams, and fish and other wildlife habitat," a DEC statement read. "We are confident that this decision supports our state's strict water quality standards that all New Yorkers depend on."
Denied were National Fuel's project applications for water quality certification, as well as for permits for stream and freshwater wetlands disturbance, "because it fails to demonstrate compliance with state water quality standards and other applicable state statutes and regulations," the DEC concluded in a letter to National Fuel.
The 97-mile pipeline would transport natural gas from Pennsylvania to New York, areas of the Northeast and Midwest U.S. and Canada.
In a press release sent on Monday, Ronald J. Tanski, president and CEO of National Fuel Gas Co., said, "While we are still analyzing the NYS DEC's rationale, the denial is purportedly based upon NYS DEC's determination that Supply and Empire's construction activities will impermissibly affect the quality of waters in the state, notwithstanding voluminous detailed studies prepared and submitted by the companies and our consultants that show any such effects are temporary and minor."
The project would cross 192 state-regulated streams and impact 73.377 acres of federal and state wetlands, the DEC stated. This would have significantly impacted multiple animal species, the agency stated, including the brown and rainbow trout and the Eastern Hellbender.
"Crossing multiple streams and freshwater wetlands within a watershed or basin, including degrading riparian buffers, causes a negative cumulative effect on water quality to that watershed or basin," the DEC stated. "If allowed to proceed, the Project would materially interfere with or jeopardize the biological integrity and best usages of affected water bodies and wetlands."
The DEC stated the project would not only affect the environment during the project's construction phase, but after it is completed, as well.
Also, disturbances to wetlands would have "permanent and temporary negative impacts on New York's surface and subsurface water quality by decreasing wetland functions and benefits directly associated with protecting and preserving the integrity of water chemistry and biology," the DEC stated.
In Niagara County, the project called for the construction of a 22,214-horsepower compressor station in the Town of Pendleton, and a natural gas dehydration facility on Liberty Drive in the Town of Wheatfield.
In response to the proposed projects, local residents, officials and organizations have expressed several concerns at public information session and rallies since getting wind of the project's plans for their neighborhoods in 2015.
Main concerns regarding the dehydration station among Wheatfield residents included malfunctions, hazardous emissions, damage to the environment and noise.
In response to the DEC's decision, Jennifer Wozniak, a member of the Wheatfield Action Team, said, "I think this proves that vocal citizens can make huge changes when they mobilize."
Wozniak, as well as other Wheatfield Action Team members and those of other community organizations, has worked to raise awareness of concerns regarding the project by addressing elected officials, knocking on doors, sharing information via social media and rallying.
Members of the Sierra Club Niagara Group have been very involved with stating concerns about the wetlands and streams and other environment components that would be affected by the project.
"We are very pleased that Gov. Cuomo and the New York State DEC agreed with us that this is a dangerous project for our waterways and our residents and decided to deny the water certification," said Diana Strablow, Sierra Club Niagara Group member and former Errick Road Elementary School teacher.
Strablow said Sierra Club Niagara Group members rallied in Albany last month to encourage Cuomo to deny the permits. She said they went with a coalition letter in hand signed by 145 different groups from across New York state all requesting DEC deny the permits.
The DEC's denial of the water quality permits comes after the Federal Regulatory Commission approved the project in February. FERC said the project would not have a significant impact on the human environment.
Tanski said, "What is perhaps the most troubling aspect of this decision is that the NYS DEC waited literally until the 11th hour to issue this denial, even though we had detailed discussions with NYS DEC staff over a 34-month period and undertook detailed engineering and environmental studies at the agency's request, to support the stream-crossing techniques that now form the basis of their denial. We believe the NYS DEC's analysis completely ignores the record that we developed in this process and is inconsistent with the standards of the Clean Water Act. Further, it attempts to set a new standard that cannot possibly be met by any infrastructure project in the state that crosses streams or wetlands, whether it is a road, bridge, water, or an energy infrastructure project."
He added, "Moreover, we are highly concerned about the ability of utilities in the state to meet the future energy needs of their consumers and the businesses and industries that drive the state's economy. New York's continued denial of permits for energy infrastructure projects is simply not sustainable, as it will have the effect of reducing New York's energy reliability, lead to higher costs for consumers and be a limiting factor in the ability for industry to locate or expand in the state. While New York proclaims that it is 'open for business,' and 'a premier place to invest and grow,' the NYS DEC's action belies that claim."
Tanski further stated, "Today, 57 percent of the electric generation capacity in the state is powered by natural gas, and, as more coal and nuclear power plants are scheduled to be shut down, new gas-fired plants are being built in their place. Additional natural gas infrastructure is essential to connect nearby, growing supply areas to New York consumers. As New York continues a long-term transition to more and more renewable electric generation, it is essential for the natural gas industry to stand ready, at a moment's notice, to provide the gas supply necessary to generate the power to support the reliability of the power grid. National Fuel remains committed to this energy infrastructure project that will be an important contributor to the energy dependability and economic vibrancy of New York state."
National Fuel's release also stated, "The Project is designed to transport domestically-produced natural gas, providing increased reliability to the Western New York natural gas markets, and access to a low-cost source of energy for residential and commercial customers throughout the North American pipeline grid. The Project also supports new and growing employment at National Fuel and is estimated to increase annual property tax receipts by $11.8 million for four New York counties, with an additional one-time sales tax impact of $6.6 million for the same four counties. Twelve school districts within those counties will benefit from the annual incremental increase in tax revenue."
Still, Strablow said, "We applaud Gov. Cuomo and DEC's decision to do the right thing in denying this pipeline. The temporary construction jobs the project would have created were not worth the price our climate, our waters and the health, safety and well-being of our residents would have to pay, now and in future generations. We stand ready to support labor union jobs that protect our air and water and ramp up our renewable energy sector. We should not have to choose between good paying jobs and a sustainable future. We need a just transition from fossil fuels that takes care of workers and provides a healthy, livable environment."
Despite the DEC's decision, Strablow and Wozniak said they don't think this is the last they'll hear of the project.
"I don't think the fight is over just yet," Wozniak said. "We await possible litigation from NFG (National Fuel Gas), but we are ready! We will not rest and will continue to fight for clean air and water and safe communities."
If National Fuel decides to address the "deficiencies" outlined in the denial of the permits, the DEC stated a new application would be required.
National Fuel also has the right to a public hearing on the denial of a permit. A request for a public hearing by National Fuel would need to be made within 30 days after it received the notice from the DEC.
Tribune Editor Lauren Zaepfel contributed to this report.