A nearly four-year battle in New York and New Jersey against a billion-dollar fracked gas pipeline came to an end in May, when New York Governor Andrew Cuomo rejected permits necessary to build the project.
While the pipeline was rejected primarily due to its threat to water quality (construction would disperse harmful toxins in the New York harbor), the decision from the state’s Department of Environmental Conservation raised a more fundamental reason to stop it: Any project that relies on fracked gas makes the climate crisis worse.
New York’s new climate law — the Climate Leadership and Community Protection Act — maps out a plan to drastically reduce the state’s greenhouse gas emissions. As the DEC letter denying the Williams pipeline put it, “the continued long-term use of fossil fuels is inconsistent with the State's laws and objectives and with the actions necessary to prevent the most severe impacts from climate change.”
This has the potential to be a massively important decision — and not just in New York. Other states have set climate goals that are simply incompatible with building new fossil fuel infrastructure of any kind. So now the question is whether other governors will follow New York’s lead.
Here are four projects currently under review that could — and should — meet the same fate as the Williams pipeline.
Danskammer: A Wall Street hedge fund is seeking to massively expand a rarely used gas-fired power plant on the shores of the Hudson River. The nearby town of Newburgh — which has recently battled with a major water contamination crisis — is already burdened by air pollution.
- Projected greenhouse gas emissions: Almost 2 million tons per year
- Climate goals: If Governor Cuomo blocked the Williams pipeline due to its climate impacts, a massive power plant that would be a substantial new source of greenhouse gas emissions should be swiftly rejected. In the permitting process, state regulators are already raising questions about how the project would comply with the law.
NJ TransitGrid power plant: The state’s public transit agency is using federal funding from Superstorm Sandy to build a 140 megawatt gas plant near north Jersey communities that are already saddled with substantial air pollution.
- Projected greenhouse gas emissions: Over 500,000 tons per year
- Climate goals: Governor Phil Murphy has loudly championed his credentials as a climate leader. His administration’s Energy Master Plan, unveiled this year, aims to reach the goal of 100 percent clean energy by 2050 — a goal that goes beyond the targets enshrined in state law. Neither of those goals can be plausibly met if the state approves new gas-fired power plants. Governor Murphy must say no to this gas plant.
Killingly Energy Center: A 650 megawatt fracked gas power plant proposed for the northeast corner of the state has drawn intense local opposition and legal challenges.
- Projected greenhouse gas emissions: 2.2 million tons per year
- Climate goals: Governor Ned Lamont has committed to reduce carbon emissions from the power sector to zero by the year 2040, and the state’s climate law sets a target for reducing greenhouse gas emissions to 80 percent of 2001 levels by the year 2050. The plant still needs several more permits from Connecticut regulators; if Governor Lamont means what he says about climate, this plant cannot be part of Connecticut’s future. So far, he has been quoted that he is ”sort of doubtful” about the need for the project. He needs to come up with a better answer than that.
Chickahominy Power Plant, C4GT Power Plant, Dominion “Peaker” Plants: Virginia is the site of several fierce battles over new gas projects, which are being proposed in environmental justice communities.
- Projected greenhouse gas emissions: The two proposed gas-fired power plants (Chickahominy and C4GT) would be built just over a mile from each other, in environmental justice communities already burdened with pollution. The two plants together would account for about 10 million tons of greenhouse gas emissions every year.
- Climate goals: This April, Governor Ralph Northam signed the Virginia Clean Economy Act into law, with a goal of zero carbon electricity by the year 2050. While it has serious shortcomings, Northam has used the law to bolster his climate credentials, saying that it should “propel Virginia to leadership among the states in fighting climate change.” Of course leading on climate means stopping new gas infrastructure projects. Although Dominion championed the VCEA legislation (largely because its passage protects their interests from more serious climate bills), their commitment to clean energy is superficial — and they plan to derail clean energy efforts by building new “peaker” plants that will supply energy to Virginia at peak hours.
Governors Who Let These Projects Pass Aren’t Climate Champions
It’s not enough to give lip service to climate change. Leaders have to do exactly that — lead. If they’re willing to say one thing to constituents but do another when it comes to projects that are this damaging to public health, they aren’t leaders, just politicians. Sharing this news is crucial to holding these governors accountable.