By Sue Smith-Heavenrich
Assemblywoman Barbara Lifton (D/WFP-125th District) and 21 other state lawmakers are asking Governor Andrew Cuomo to impose a statewide moratorium on permits for new pipelines, compressor stations, power plants and gas storage facilities. Earlier this month, Lifton penned the sign-on letter to the governor outlining environmental and health concerns.
“We need to stop rolling out new major fossil fuel infrastructure,” Lifton told Tompkins Weekly last week. In her letter, Lifton notes that these facilities have caused explosions and fires, and discharge toxic pollutants into the air. In addition to environmental hazards, they perpetuate New York’s dependence on highly polluting gas, oil, coal and other fossil fuels that contribute to global climate change, the letter states.
“We have learned over the past 10 years that methane is a huge contributor to climate change,” Lifton says. “According to Dr. Robert Howarth at Cornell University, methane is 104 times more potent as a greenhouse gas than carbon dioxide.” One-third of all methane emissions in the U.S. derive from natural gas and petroleum systems. Methane is emitted at all stages of natural gas production, from drilling to processing, storage, transmission and distribution.
“If we want to bring down the amount of carbon quickly, and stop contributing to global warming, the best thing we can do is to stop throwing methane into the atmosphere,” Lifton says. Rather than waiting for the federal government to make policy, Lifton feels that New York can take the lead in what she calls the “new green revolution”.
The first step is to stop creating ways to burn more fossil fuels and focus on decreasing the demand. Cuomo understands this, Lifton says, citing his State of the State “Built to Lead” address. In that speech, Cuomo explains that the least expensive and most effective way to meet New York State’s energy goals is to reduce the energy consumption in New York’s homes, businesses and institutions. That can be achieved by making these buildings more energy efficient.
That increased energy efficiency means lower utility bills for customers and lower operating costs for businesses. It means putting less carbon into the atmosphere. Lifton’s only criticism: why set the bar so low? “Cuomo’s plan is aimed at one-sixth of the homes in New York”, she says. “Why not 50 percent?”
While Lifton is collecting signatures from lawmakers, Walter Hang, president of Toxics Targeting in Ithaca, encourages citizens and environmental groups to sign on to the same letter hosted at his website (toxicstargeting.com/MarcellusShale). As of July 18, there were nearly 900 signatures. Many of these, Hang explained, are from people who don’t want fracked gas in New York.
“There are about a dozen major pipeline proposals, power plant proposals, and compressor station proposals all over the state,” Hang says. “They are moving toward approval.” One of these is Dominion’s $158 million New Market pipeline expansion project that includes a huge new compressor station. The transmission pipeline cuts through Ithaca, Ellis Hollow and Dryden, and would convey gas from Pennsylvania to New England and beyond. He questions the need for infrastructure that will ensure continued fossil-fuel use for the next 50 years.
According to a New York Independent System Operator (NYISO)’s report, “Power Trends 2016,” the state has plenty of energy for the next decade. The report predicts that future use will be flat or go down. We don’t need additional fossil fuels that contribute to pollution and climate change, Hang says.
One person who doesn’t support a moratorium on fossil fuel infrastructure is State Senator Thomas O’Mara (R/C/I-58th District). He is the chairman of the Senate Environmental Conservation Committee and, while he believes New York should continue focusing on short- and long-term strategies to develop more clean energy sources, he contends the moratorium isn’t the way to do it.
In an email comment, O’Mara said the moratorium is “an unworkable proposal that would be a job-killer.” He feels it would further drive manufacturing and other private-sector economic growth out of the Southern Tier and Finger Lakes regions, and produce skyrocketing energy costs for consumers.
O’Mara characterized the call for a moratorium on fossil fuel infrastructure as unbalanced and unreasonable action that, he said, “would jeopardize local and statewide jobs, workers, employers, consumers and communities from ever being able to survive the economic decline and struggle that’s still confronting upstate New York.”
Lifton disagrees. Focusing on renewable energy, constructing energy efficient buildings and insulating homes and government buildings means work for New Yorkers. “Tens of thousands of jobs,” she estimated. “Good local jobs.”
As for costs, Lifton concedes that renewable energy comes with a higher price. But so does continuing reliance on fossil fuels. Noting the enormous costs of climate disasters, she believes we can’t afford to keep burning gas and oil. “We’re still cleaning up after Sandy,” she notes.
By Sue Smith-Heavenrich