Cuomo Denies Permit for Northern Access Pipeline
By Kimberly Ong
New York State blocked the Northern Access Project on April 7, a pipeline that would have carried fracked gas from Pennsylvania to Canada via New York. This is a huge victory not just for New Yorkers but for the entire planet.
The New York State Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC), after a careful and exhaustive study, exercised its right under Section 401 of the federal Clean Water Act to deny certification to the proposed 24-inch diameter, 99-mile pipeline. Without 401 certification, the natural gas pipeline cannot go forward within the state.
Gov. Cuomo and DEC Commissioner Basil Seggos have shown exceptional leadership in denying the permit. This project was a serious threat to water quality, wildlife, trout streams and other habitats, as well as to air quality in the North Country and Western New York. The pipeline would have directly harmed 192 streams, 600 acres of forests and more than 17 acres of wetlands in the state and would have crossed one sole source aquifer—the Cattaraugus Creek Basin Aquifer System—the sole source of drinking water for 20,000 residents in Cattaraugus, Erie and Wyoming counties in New York.
DEC's decision to deny 401 certification for the pipeline is not the first time that Gov. Cuomo has taken bold action to protect the environment. In 2015, New York State was the first state with natural gas resources to ban fracking in the U.S. and in 2016, the State denied a 401 certification to Constitution pipeline, another natural gas pipeline that could have significantly harmed state water quality. This bold state-level leadership is even more vital now in light of the Trump administration's overt courtship of the fossil fuel industry and its planned evisceration of U.S. Environmental Protection Agency's budget.
This decision may not have happened but for widespread opposition from the environmental community across the state. On March 27, hundreds of people from across New York State rallied in Albany to express their outrage over the proposed pipeline, demonstrating statewide opposition to this dangerous project. That same day, 143 organizations, businesses and faith communities representing thousands of New Yorkers signed on to a letter asking DEC to deny 401 certification to Northern Access.
The denial of the 401 certification demonstrates that, even when the federal government erodes basic safeguards on health and the environment, states still have the power to protect their citizens and their waterways from the encroachment of the fossil fuel industry. And when citizens band together, they can halt the construction of unnecessary natural gas pipelines and stand up for their communities.
We commend Gov.Cuomo and Commissioner Seggos' decision to stop this pipeline from moving forward.
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A Game of Jenga<p>Think of it as a game of Jenga and the planet's climate system as the tower. For generations, we have been slowly removing blocks. But at some point, we will remove a pivotal block, such as the collapse of one of the major global ocean circulation systems, for example the Atlantic Meridional Overturning Circulation (AMOC), that will cause all or part of the global climate system to fall into a planetary emergency.</p><p>But worse still, it could cause runaway damage: Where the tipping points form a domino-like cascade, where breaching one triggers breaches of others, creating an unstoppable shift to a radically and swiftly changing climate.</p><p>One of the most concerning tipping points is mass methane release. Methane can be found in deep freeze storage within permafrost and at the bottom of the deepest oceans in the form of methane hydrates. But rising sea and air temperatures are beginning to thaw these stores of methane.</p><p>This would release a powerful greenhouse gas into the atmosphere, 30-times more potent than carbon dioxide as a global warming agent. This would drastically increase temperatures and rush us towards the breach of other tipping points.</p><p>This could include the acceleration of ice thaw on all three of the globe's large, land-based ice sheets – Greenland, West Antarctica and the Wilkes Basin in East Antarctica. The potential collapse of the West Antarctic ice sheet is seen as a key tipping point, as its loss could eventually <a href="https://science.sciencemag.org/content/324/5929/901" target="_blank">raise global sea levels by 3.3 meters</a> with important regional variations.</p><p>More than that, we would be on the irreversible path to full land-ice melt, causing sea levels to rise by up to 30 meters, roughly at the rate of two meters per century, or maybe faster. Just look at the raised beaches around the world, at the last high stand of global sea level, at the end of the Pleistocene period around 120,0000 years ago, to see the evidence of such a warm world, which was just 2°C warmer than the present day.</p>
Cutting Off Circulation<p>As well as devastating low-lying and coastal areas around the world, melting polar ice could set off another tipping point: a disablement to the AMOC.</p><p>This circulation system drives a northward flow of warm, salty water on the upper layers of the ocean from the tropics to the northeast Atlantic region, and a southward flow of cold water deep in the ocean.</p><p>The ocean conveyor belt has a major effect on the climate, seasonal cycles and temperature in western and northern Europe. It means the region is warmer than other areas of similar latitude.</p><p>But melting ice from the Greenland ice sheet could threaten the AMOC system. It would dilute the salty sea water in the north Atlantic, making the water lighter and less able or unable to sink. This would slow the engine that drives this ocean circulation.</p><p><a href="https://www.carbonbrief.org/atlantic-conveyor-belt-has-slowed-15-per-cent-since-mid-twentieth-century" target="_blank">Recent research</a> suggests the AMOC has already weakened by around 15% since the middle of the 20th century. If this continues, it could have a major impact on the climate of the northern hemisphere, but particularly Europe. It may even lead to the <a href="https://ore.exeter.ac.uk/repository/handle/10871/39731?show=full" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">cessation of arable farming</a> in the UK, for instance.</p><p>It may also reduce rainfall over the Amazon basin, impact the monsoon systems in Asia and, by bringing warm waters into the Southern Ocean, further destabilize ice in Antarctica and accelerate global sea level rise.</p>
The Atlantic Meridional Overturning Circulation has a major effect on the climate. Praetorius (2018)
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