Brooklyn residents are calling on the federal government to turn off the gas running through National Grid’s controversial new North Brooklyn pipeline, alleging the pipeline is unsafe and was forced through communities of color.
On Monday morning, more than a dozen residents gathered at Brownsville Playground to announce a new federal complaint laid against the utility.
In the administrative filing sent to the U.S. Department of Justice and three other federal departments Monday, Brooklyn residents allege National Grid has breached the federal Civil Rights Act by purposefully building the North Brooklyn pipeline through Black and Latinx Brooklyn communities, while avoiding white neighborhoods.
The complainants also allege they’ve discovered evidence of thousands of dangerous gas leaks in Brooklyn and Queens from National Grid pipes in 2020.
“This pipeline is just another example of how communities of color that have historically borne the burden of environmental racism continue to pay the price,” Ocean Hill-Brownsville resident and member of Brownsville Green Justice Fabian Rogers said.
“The only solution to this current problem is to stop the flow of the gas.”
Allegations of environmental racism
The new complaint comes after more than a year of public and political backlash to the pipeline and the rate hike that would see 1.9 million New York residents pay for it. The rate hike was recently approved by the Public Service Commission.
Monday’s complaint signals Brooklynites are not done fighting the pipeline. It alleges National Grid has violated Title VI of the Civil Rights Act, which bars entities that receive federal funding from engaging in racial discrimination.
The pipeline project started in 2017 and phases 1-4 were completed last year. The new pipeline now carries fracked gas through the predominately Black and Brown neighborhoods of Brownsville, Bed-Stuy, Bushwick and Williamsburg, with a proposed phase 5 set to go through Greenpoint.
Monday’s complaint alleges National Grid purposefully decided to build the pipeline through these five Brooklyn neighborhoods, even though they exacerbate environmental racism.
“These areas have the highest rates of asthma in the City and lower life-expectancy rates than the rest of the city, due in part to local health disparities caused by pollution, which would be exacerbated by the pipeline,” the complainants say.
“Though alternative routes were proposed that would have run through wealthier, whiter neighborhoods, residents and advocates allege National Grid rejected these options without adequate explanation.”
The Brooklyn residents also say they weren’t notified about the pipeline until it was already being built, or gas was running through it.
The complainants add that, while the pipeline is completed and running in phases 1-4, the Greenpoint portion of the pipeline has been halted. “Greenpoint also happens to be the whitest neighborhood impacted by this project.”
National Grid spokesperson Wendy Ladd did not address the racial discrimination claims against the company, but told BK Reader the pipeline was fully compliant with all laws, rules and regulations.
“[The pipeline] was designed to help efficiently operate a distribution system that is vital to meeting the critical energy needs of our 1.9 million customers downstate safely and reliably.
“The project provides an additional loop within the existing gas network that services all of Brooklyn to improve system reliability, operational flexibility, and redundancy.”
She said National Grid maintains more than 4,100 miles of infrastructure within its service territory in neighborhoods throughout New York City, and that the MRI is part of that system.
Allegations of unsafe pipes
Monday’s filing also alleged National Grid records recently made public indicate that leaks plague its Brooklyn pipeline structure, with at least 22,107 leaks on the Brooklyn Backbone system since 2016.
“In 2020, National Grid had a backlog of 1,944 open leaks in its Brooklyn Backbone system,” the complaint says. “National Grid-Brooklyn had the second-highest backlog of hazardous leaks that went unremedied in 2020, second only to National Grid Upstate.”
It said approximately 159,000 New Yorkers, who are predominantly and disproportionately Black and Latinx, live within the 1,275-foot blast evacuation radius of the North Brooklyn Pipeline. Overall, approximately 70% of the community surrounding the pipeline is non-white, and 30% is white, the filing states.
It also points the finder at the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) and the New York State Department of Public Service (DPS), saying both were complicit in environmental racism as both knew National Grid failed to perform basic checks on safety issues, but still asserted the pipeline would not have any adverse environmental impact.
In response, the DEC told BK Reader that it subjects all applications for environmental permits to a rigorous review process encouraging and reviewing public input and reviewing federal and state standards to uphold “environmental justice and fairness.”
As the matter is subject to potential litigation, DEC said it could not comment further.
The DPS said it was “100% committed to environmental justice” and that it had determined the pipeline complied with all applicable laws and regulations.
It added that National Grid had recently suspended phase 5 of the pipeline, which is set to go through Greenpoint, and will need to file a petition with the PSC to seek the necessary approvals if it wished to proceed.
The complaint was filed by Brownsville Green Justice, the Ocean Hill-Brownsville Coalition of Young Professionals, Mi Casa Resiste and the Indigenous Kinship Collective, who are represented by the New York Law School Civil Rights and Disability Justice Clinic and the National Center for Law and Economic Justice.
It was sent to the U.S. Justice Department, Environmental Protection Agency, Department of Transportation and Department of Energy.
The federal departments will now review it.
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