North Brooklyn environmentalists sue state, National Grid over gas depot expansion

national grid protest
Protesters occupy National Grid’s Jay Street office lobby during an Oct. 22 protest.
Lisette DeJesus

They’re turning up the heat!

A group of north Brooklynites and local environmentalists are suing New York State and National Grid, raising pollution concerns surrounding the utility’s planned gas depot expansion in East Williamsburg.

Nonprofit Sane Energy Project, along with a group of residents, filed the suit in Queens County Supreme Court on March 18, alleging the state’s Department of Environmental Conservation wrongly determined that there would not be a significant negative impact from National Grid’s plans to grow its natural gas capacity at its Maspeth Avenue facility. 

Several of the plaintiffs and their organizations have also previously protested the utility’s controversial four-year, seven-mile fracked gas pipeline expansion from Brownsville to East Williamsburg for the past year.

National Grid applied with the state agency last year for a different air permit for its facility near Newtown Creek, dubbed the Greenpoint Energy Center, which included installing new vaporizers.

National Grid’s Greenpoint Energy Center at Maspeth Avenue near the Newtown Creek, seen from the Kosciuszko Bridge.Google

The company currently has six vaporizers to transform natural gas that’s stored in liquid form — also known as liquefied natural gas, or LNG — back into gas to heat the borough’s households. The new infrastructure will increase capacity by 31 percent, according to National Grid, but the petitioners lament that the expansion could up emissions of greenhouse gasses by the same rate.

The utility said they need the new vaporizers to meet higher gas demand during peak use times. 

DEC determined that the new vaporizers would not have a significant impact on the surrounding environment and would thus not require a more thorough environmental assessment.

State environmental honchos have not yet approved the application, but the petitioners filed their lawsuit now, ahead of any major construction by National Grid. 

The plaintiffs claimed that National Grid lowballed its potential emissions figures in the application by saying it would only use the new vaporizers for two weeks out of the year, despite there being no 14-day use limit in its permits. The pollution calculations also didn’t account for greenhouse gasses the facilities might release via flaring or venting, according to the petition. 

Increased pollution alone should have warranted a more thorough review from DEC honchos, argue the plaintiffs, but the agency also failed to consider National Grid’s controversial ongoing pipeline expansion and city permit applications for trucking LNG in-and-out of the north Brooklyn facility.

The fifth and final phase of the pipeline — dubbed the Metropolitan Natural Gas Reliability Project — will be used to help funnel more gas around the network, and the trucking is needed to deliver the fossil fuel to the north Brooklyn site. Taking all these projects as a whole would have a bigger environmental impact on the area than just focusing on the vaporizers, according to the lawsuit. 

“DEC was required to consider the entirety of this action, rather than segmenting the vaporizers and dismissing their environmental impacts in a vacuum,” the legal filings read.

Petitioners called on the state judge to stop National Grid from proceeding on the project until DEC can conduct a more thorough environmental review, which also includes the pipeline and trucking, and ensure the plan complies with the State Environmental Quality Review Act, or SEQRA

The lawsuit was filed by Sane Energy Project; Cooper Park Resident Council, a nonprofit that advocates for the namesake nearby public housing complex; along with Christine Facella, Eric Kun, and William Vega, who all live within a few blocks of the facility.

In nine separate affidavits, plaintiffs and area residents raised their concerns about the project, including emissions from the Energy Center and trucking the gas to and from the facility, which they said would further pollute north Brooklyn, adding to the area’s extensive history of pollution in the air and the soil as a result of local industry.

“This is a highly toxic area, and rather than developing meaningful plans for remediation, National Grid is seeking to build more gas infrastructure. The last thing we need here is industrial expansion and additional fossil fuel infrastructure,” wrote Kun, who lives a block away on Beadel Street.

The suit was filed with the state court in Queens because the DEC’s offices are located in that borough. A spokeswoman for National Grid and the press office of State Attorney General Letitia James did not immediately respond to a request for comment.