Protesters rally outside National Grid demanding mayor intercept pipeline expansion

National Grid protest
North Brooklyn environmentalist Willis Elkins calls for the city to halt National Grid’s pipeline expansion on Sept. 16.
Photo by Kevin Duggan

Dozens of protesters rallied outside National Grid’s Downtown Brooklyn offices Wednesday, demanding Mayor Bill de Blasio and other city officials step up to halt the ongoing construction of a seven-mile natural gas pipeline through eastern and northern Brooklyn neighborhoods.

“What National Grid is trying to do is criminal. At a time of unprecedented climate emergency, they’re running a massive pipeline through our borough,” said Greenpoint activist Kevin LaCherra outside the utility company’s Jay Street MetroTech Center headquarters on Sept. 16.

The demonstration was organized by the coalition of environmentalist and leftist groups No North Brooklyn Pipeline, whose members have collected more than 10,300 signatures for an online petition for city leaders to revoke past municipal permits for the project and deny any future licenses to expand fossil fuel infrastructure. 

One north Brooklyn environmentalist called out de Blasio for publicly pledging to combat climate change, including a February executive order explicitly stopping the expansion of fossil fuel infrastructure in the city, but not following through with action.

“It’s really mind-boggling that on one hand the city can say, ‘We don’t want any more new pipelines or fossil fuel infrastructure,’ and then allow this to happen, to issue the permits for this construction to go on,” said the director of the Newtown Creek Alliance Willis Elkins.

De Blasio’s pre-pandemic directive ordered an end to the expansion of fossil fuel related infrastructure in the Five Boroughs, to help the city’s stated goal of battling climate change and pivoting to renewable energy in accordance with the United Nations’ 2016 Paris Agreement, the decree proclaims.

National Grid installing the pipeline on Central Avenue in Bushwick.National Grid

“To ensure that New York City’s ambitious emissions goals are achieved, the City will not support the addition of infrastructure within its energy shed that expands the supply of fossil fuels via pipelines or terminals for the transfer of fossil fuels or via the construction of new fossil-fuel-based electric generation capacity,” reads the order.

A mayoral spokeswoman declined to say whether de Blasio would veto or withdraw any fossil fuel permits for National Grid, saying only that City Hall was reviewing the pipeline expansion against the backdrop of an ongoing state rate hike case for the utility. 

“There is an ongoing rate case with National Grid. We are reviewing the project in the context of that case,” said Julia Arredondo in a statement Thursday.

National Grid in April 2019 applied for permission with the state’s Public Service Commission to rake in an additional $286.2 million in annual gas delivery revenues by March 2021 coming from an average monthly residential heating bill increase of $16.66 for its customers in Brooklyn, Staten Island, and parts of Queens, and about $7.14 for folks on the Rockaway Peninsula and Long Island, according to public filings

The staggering increase is required to pay for “federal, state, and local regulatory requirements,” along with an increase in property taxes and higher price of environmental cleanups the company is involved in, National Grid claims, but activists have accused the utility of trying to shoulder the cost of the pipeline via the rate hikes. 

National Grid started the project — officially dubbed the Metropolitan Natural Gas Reliability Project — back in 2017 with the sign off from the PSC, tearing up the streets along its seven-mile route beginning in Brownsville and continuing through Bedford-Stuyvesant, Bushwick, and East Williamsburg, before its final destination which will connect to the company’s Maspeth Avenue depot at Newtown Creek sometime in 2021.

Protesters set up an installation showing the pipeline’s seven-mile route through several Brooklyn neighborhoods.Photo by Kevin Duggan

Opponents of the pipeline have been demonstrating against continuing construction since January, when activists and members of Community Board 1 blasted reps from National Grid who presented the proposal to the civic panel at a heated meeting. 

Gas gurus halted work at the height of the pandemic in March but resumed operations to much opposition from advocates and politicians in May.

Company officials claim the expansion is a worthy investment designed to relieve pressure on its network and spur economic growth in the area, but opponents and residents along the project route have come out against the scheme, calling on the company and government officials to instead expand green energy infrastructure and divest from fossil fuels.

One Brownsville resident disagreed with National Grid’s claims, slamming government officials for allowing the company to bore underneath many working class communities.

“I feel that the pipeline is the opposite of investment,” said Gabriel Jamison. “Invest in people in human beings. I feel like the pipeline is selling out the health, the safety, and the prosperity of our community.”

In a statement, National Grid spokeswoman Karen Young said: “It’s our obligation to provide safe and reliable energy to our customers and we’re working in compliance with all city and state rules and regulations to complete any work.”

Update (Thursday, Sept. 17, 2020, 12:04 pm): This story has been updated to include comment from Mayor Bill de Blasio’s office and more information on National Grid’s ongoing rate hike case.