For more than a year, Brooklyn activists have been fighting against the completion of National Grid’s North Brooklyn natural gas pipeline, arguing that its construction discriminated against communities of color.

Now, after filing a federal civil rights complaint in August, the groups opposing the pipeline have got the attention of the United States Environmental Protection Agency.

The EPA said it will investigate the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation’s actions in approving the pipeline following the complaint filed by Brownsville Green Justice, the Ocean Hill-Brownsville Coalition of Young Professionals, Mi Casa Resiste, and the Indigenous Kinship Collective.

The complaint says that DEC was aware of National Grid’s alleged violations during the construction of the pipeline — which runs through predominantly communities of color — which allegedly included failing to notify community members of the project and bypassing critical safety and health regulations.

Despite these issues, the complaint alleges that DEC failed to conduct the appropriate environmental reviews and allowed the project to proceed, adding that it would not have given its approval if the project been planned in predominantly white communities.

Phases 1-4 of the pipeline are completed and currently transporting fracked gas through the Brownsville, Ocean Hill, Bushwick, East Williamsburg and Williamsburg neighborhoods. The Greenpoint portion of the pipeline and project has been halted.

The EPA said in a letter that it would investigate why DEC failed to conduct an environmental review of the entire pipeline and only issued a “negative declaration” declaring no adverse impact for a small subsection of the project, and it would also look into why 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 Departments of Justice, Transportation, and Energy.

When the lawsuit was filed, 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 litigation, DEC said it could not comment further.

At the time, 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,” she said.

“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 maintained 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.

However, those opposed to the pipeline allege National Grid violated the federal Civil Rights Act and should be held to account.

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.

The complaint alleges that National Grid did not follow the required procedures to notify or educate the public about the pipeline or consider the impact of the pipeline on communities of color. It also alleges that DEC failed to review the environmental impact of the pipeline.

New York Law School Legal Services, Inc. Civil Rights and Disability Justice Clinic Director and civil rights attorney Professor Britney Wilson said the plaintiffs in the case applauded the EPA’s decision to investigate, and they hoped that the gas flowing through the first four phases of the pipeline would be stopped.

She added that DEC should “finally be made to evaluate the impact of the pipeline as a whole on the communities of color it runs through and that the community members who were robbed of their right to make their voices heard about this pipeline before it was constructed and put in service are given that opportunity.”  

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Anna Bradley-Smith

Anna Bradley-Smith is Brooklyn-based reporter with bylines in NBC, VICE, Slate and others. Follow her on Twitter @annabradsmith.

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  1. What a waste of time and energy! Don’t these protesters have jobs to go to…oops, not likely.

    4 other communities had no problem with this pipeline to move natural gas to heat their homes. All this does is delay the completion of necessary infrastructure for this community. Good job people!

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