Brooklyn residents rally outside the National Grid offices Sept. 16. Photo: Illapa Sairitupac

A group of Brooklyn residents have teamed up to take legal action against a proposed National Grid expansion in Greenpoint, saying the project’s environmental impact has been “flatly ignored” by state regulators.

In a lawsuit filed Thursday afternoon in the Supreme Court of New York County of Queens, residents took aim New York’s Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) and National Grid.

It alleges the pair has turned a blind eye to the environmental impact of adding two new Liquefied Natural Gas vaporizers to the utility’s Greenpoint facility.

The lawsuit was brought by the Cooper Park Resident Council, which represents 701 families living in NYCHA housing half a mile from the facility, as well as three other Brooklyn residents and nonprofit Sane Energy Project.

A map of Phase 4 and 5 of the pipeline. Phase 4 is under construction and Phase 5 is currently under proposal. Photo: NationalGrid

Cooper Park Residents Council Vice President Elisha Fye said the expansion must be stopped immediately to protect the families of the NYCHA building, and other Brooklyn residents.

“I’m appalled that we weren’t even notified,” Fye said, noting in his affidavit that he knew nothing of the Greenpoint expansion from National Grid, and that it would further reduce air quality in the area.

He said the expansion would require National Grid to complete the final part of the North Brooklyn Pipeline through Greenpoint, which opponents have been fighting for over a year. The first four phases of the pipeline have already been built through Brownsville, Bed-Stuy, Bushwick and Williamsburg.

“This pipeline, I looked at the schematics, it goes through all the Black and Brown communities, and ends up in ours which is a Black and brown community. We cannot go on like this, living life in fear cause of big companies doing harm to our communities.”

Brownsville residents protest the pipeline. Photo: Supplied/Gabriel Jamison

The background

In Thursday’s lawsuit, Brooklyn residents say increased emissions from the project would harm the health of local residents and contribute to climate change, but New York regulators ignored that.

National Grid applied in May 2020 to New York’s Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) for an air permit to add the two new vaporizers to its facility.

The vaporizers heat up liquified gas so the utility can add more gas into the system during peak demand. National Grid said the vaporizers would not add more LNG to the facility, but would allow it to transform gas quicker on the coldest days.

In November, the DEC issued a “Negative Declaration” ruling the project would not have significant adverse environmental impacts.

However, the lawsuit claims the department made the wrong decision.

A protest against the expansion in Downtown Brooklyn. Photo: Jessy Edwards for the BK Reader.

It says the DEC assessed the application in a vacuum, without considering how the project could lead to trucking of explosive LNG gas through NYC and required the completion of the North Brooklyn Pipeline.

The DEC only looked at a short environmental assessment form submitted by National Grid, and didn’t look at supporting information to assess areas of environmental concern, the lawsuit said.

At the very least, the project would increase the Greenpoint vaporizers’ emissions by 31%, opponents claim.

“These increased potential emissions alone — especially in an area with already-poor air quality and in a non-attainment area for ozone — warranted a conclusion that the project may have significant environmental impacts,” the lawsuit says.

Photo: Jessy Edwards for the BK Reader.

After a push late last year from Sane Energy and anti-pipeline activists, the public filed more than 6,000 comments against the project, and the DEC opened a public hearing on the issue.

“During three public hearings so far, not a single person has supported National Grid’s proposal and the opposition from community members and elected officials who spoke out against the project was unanimous,” Sane Energy Project said in a press release. The final hearing is March 18.

Pipeline link

Last week, Sane Energy and other parties walked out of confidential rate case settlement negotiations, where National Grid asks the state for money from ratepayers to fund its projects.

The group said New York State had allowed the case to “drag on undemocratically behind closed doors while the investor-owned utility continues to build community contested infrastructure they expect to raise monthly bills to pay for.”

Sane Energy says National Grid wants $59 million from customers for the vaporizers alone.

Anna von Muehlen with children Conrad and Sheppard. Photo: Jessy Edwards for the BK Reader.

But National Grid spokesperson Karen Young said its Greenpoint Energy Center Project expansion was necessary to ensure that 1.9 million residential and business customers had the energy they needed to stay warm “on the coldest winter days.” The utility says the vaporizers are not related to the pipeline.

“We will transition to clean energy technologies, they have to be available and affordable for everyone,” she said. 

National Grid said it would continue to work with the Brooklyn community as the application process continued, and directed people to its website for the project for more information.

“Our commitment to combating climate change is aligned with the region’s clean energy  goals, as demonstrated by our own NetZero by 2050 Plan,” Young said.

Photo: Jessy Edwards for the BK Reader.

“We will help advance the transition to clean energy solutions with initiatives like our geothermal demonstration project on Long Island and our National Grid Renewables division, which is focused on operating clean energy projects in New York as well as across the United States.”

What’s next?

The residents are suing the DEC and National Grid under a New York Civil Law and Rules Article 78 Special Proceeding, which is designed to allow people to challenge government action or inaction.

The lawsuit is asking a judge to say that it was wrong for the DEC’s to give a Negative Declaration decision stating that the project will not have a significant adverse effect on the environment.

It’s also asking a judge to stop National Grid from going ahead with the project until the DEC fully considers New York’s State Environmental Quality Review Act and other local regulations.

It’s seeking a full environmental assessment and asking that the court revoke all current and future permits for LNG trucking through Greenpoint and Phase 5 of the North Brooklyn Pipeline until DEC fully reviews National Grid’s application.

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Jessy Edwards

Jessy Edwards is a freelance writer based in Bushwick. Originally from New Zealand, she has written for the BBC, Rolling Stone, NBC New York, CNBC and her hometown newspaper, The Dominion Post, among others.

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