If you don’t want to pay for National Grid’s controversial North Brooklyn Pipeline, don’t pay.
That’s the message of the No North Brooklyn Pipeline Coalition, which announced a gas bill strike at midday today, in protest of the pipeline.
The pipeline, which is already built, will carry fracked gas under Brownsville, Bed-Stuy, Bushwick, Williamsburg and Greenpoint, ending at a National Grid Depot on Newtown Creek.
The coalition is encouraging Brooklynites and others opposed to the pipeline to withhold $66 of their National Grid gas bills, until the state rejects a recent rate hike proposal. They say that’s how much the utility wants to raise Brooklynites’ bills to pay for its controversial pipeline.
If 15,151 ratepayers take up the bill strike pledge, National Grid would be short $1 million. National Grid told BK Reader protestors were setting “a dangerous precedent” by telling people not to pay their bills.
But strike organizer Lee Ziesche said the people had done everything possible to oppose the pipeline “in the right way,” but it seemed the utility and state didn’t hear them.
“We submitted thousands and thousands of comments, we had people who never get involved in these things getting involved, and they just ignored us.
“We know they listen to money, so we’re withholding money, because that’s the only thing they care about.”
The New York Department of Public Service and National Grid filed a joint proposal for the rate hike on May 14, but it is yet to get final approval.
The proposal would see 1.9 million customers in Brooklyn, Staten Island, parts of Queens and Long Island pay more in their rates to cover the cost of the pipeline.
According to Sane Energy, a non-profit opposing the pipeline, the agreement proposes to raise monthly bills for 1.9 million customers by at least $125 per year on average by the middle of next year. They say over time, the average customer will pay about $66 for the pipeline.
National Grid said the agreement would increase the average customers’ bill by about $88 extra per year by the end of 2022.
The agreement comes after two years of confidential rates negotiations that ran parallel to protests mounted against the pipeline from Brownsville to Greenpoint.
Opponents say the pipeline is an unnecessary piece of infrastructure designed to allow the utility to ask the state for more money from ratepayers.
Like many energy infrastructure projects, the pipeline has been built through historically Black and Brown communities with barely any community notification.
Communities of color and low-income communities are disproportionately located in areas that are vulnerable to extreme weather events and places that are polluted with toxic waste. Research has also highlighted it is likely that polluters site their activities in low income areas.
The Public Service Commission still needs to approve the agreement, which will likely happen in an August meeting.
Anyone who wants to take part in the show of opposition to National Grid is asked to withhold $66 from their next gas bill. That means, if a bill is $100, the person would pay $34.
Organizers of the strike said, due to the pandemic, National Grid is not currently charging late fees if you make part payment on your bill. If they were, the late fee is typically 1.5%, or 99 cents out of $66.
“And if for some reason they started harassing people, the coalition is there to fight for people’s rights,” Ziesche said.
In a statement to BK Reader Tuesday, National Grid spokesperson Wendy Ladd said it is regulated by the Public Service Commission, which carefully reviews its capital investments.
“Our goal is to maintain safe, affordable, and reliable delivery of energy for all customers. National Grid provides natural gas service to our customers and in return, like all utilities, there is an associated cost. Our customers understand the value and reliability that gas service provides.
“Informing customers not to pay their bills is irresponsible and sets a dangerous precedent.”
However, this is not the first time New Yorkers have organized a bill strike against a utility.
In 1980, after Con Edison discovered over 100,000 gallons of radioactive water had spilled at its nuclear power plant station at Indian Point in upstate New York, it sought a rate hike to pay for the mistake.
In 1981, protestors organized a rally and a bill strike, asking people to withhold 10% of their energy bill.
“Eventually they were successful in getting that refunded to people,” Ziesche said. For more information on the rate strike, click here.
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