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Fifteen people were arrested today at a rally this morning outside the Manhattan office of New York Sen. Charles Schumer, where they have maintained a presence for the past 60 days. With the Algonquin Incremental Market (AIM) expansion of the Spectra Energy pipeline in Westchester County, New York set to go online by Nov. 1, opponents are asking Schumer to intervene and use his influence to put a halt to the project. Schumer's office did not respond to a request for comment by EcoWatch.
Members of Resist Spectra and their supporters showed up on Third Avenue, chanting "We will not let you build this pipeline." Many sat along 780 Third Avenue, the building housing Schumer's New York City office.
The AIM project is set to carry Marcellus Shale fracked gas to New England, passing through New York State and crossing the Hudson River at scenic Stony Point.
Map of AIM expansion project carrying fracked gas from the Marcellus Shale to New England.Spectra Energy
The pipeline runs close to the aging Indian Point nuclear power plant in Buchanan. The oldest of the three reactors on site began operations in 1962, but has since been shut down. The other two operating reactors date to 1974 and 1976.
One of the opponents' main concerns is the proximity of the pipeline to the nuclear facility. The 42-inch pipeline passes within 105 feet of an electrical substation and 1,320 feet from the reactors. While it's not California, Westchester County does have a history of earthquakes and the Ramapo Fault runs near the Indian Point nuclear plant. In 1783, a magnitude 5.0 quake struck the area, and in the early morning hours of Oct. 19, 1985, a 3.6-magnitude earthquake on the Ramapo Fault system caused the plant to declare "an unusual event" but no damage was reported. The probability of a 5.0 or greater earthquake in the county in the next 50 years is estimated at 3.36 percent.
That's enough to rattle residents from Westchester to Brooklyn. Pipeline opponents point out that 20 million people live within a 50-mile radius of Indian Point. An elementary school sits just 400 feet from the pipeline.
The AIM pipeline runs within 105 feet of the aging Indian Point nuclear power plant.Resist Spectra
The specter of another San Bruno, California-type event may be weighing on those who live in the zone. In 2011, a 30-inch natural gas pipeline exploded in this Bay Area town just south of San Francisco, sending flames 1,000 feet into the sky. It destroyed 38 homes and killed eight people. On April 29, a Spectra Energy 30-inch pipeline blew up in Westmoreland, Pennsylvania, severely burning one man and damaging two homes. Roads melted from the heat.
Data from the Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration (PHMSA) shows that 12 significant incidents have occurred on gas transmission pipelines in New York State since 2000, resulting in at $4.4 million in total costs. Spectra Energy pipelines were involved in 38 incidents in the U.S. from 1986 to 2012, according to ProPublica. The PHMSA cited Spectra for at least four violations from 2013 to 2015.
Disaster experts, public officials and health care professionals got a first-hand look at the pipeline site on Oct. 18, hosted by Physicians for Social Responsibility. A statement released by the organization following the inspection tour read:
"Requests by safety experts and public officials for emergency protocols and safety preparedness indicate no evidence of planning for a pipeline rupture or explosion adjacent to the nuclear plant. The lack of emergency training and preparedness reflects the lack of recognition of the safety experts' concerns regarding the perilous impact of a pipeline accident at that location and the imminent and permanent danger the AIM pipeline poses to the nuclear plant and the entire New York metropolitan area."
Opponents of the Spectra AIM pipeline urge Sen. Schumer to act at a rally in Manhattan this morning.Resist Spectra
In May, New York Senators Schumer and Kirsten Gillibrand urged the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) to suspend action on the AIM project until independent health and safety reviews of the project are completed.
"I have serious concerns with the Algonquin gas pipeline project because it poses a threat to the quality of life, environmental, health and safety of residents across the Hudson Valley and New York State without any long-term benefit to the communities it would impact," Schumer said in a statement in May. The two senators again wrote to FERC on Aug. 3 requesting that the agency suspend construction.
A Bloomberg BNA analysis released in February said that the industry dominates lobbying of the PHMSA. Major companies lobbying the agency include TransCanada Pipelines Ltd., Norfolk Southern Corp., Dow Chemical Co., American Airlines and Shell Oil Co. The American Petroleum Institute, Association of American Railroads, Renewable Fuels Association and the American Farm Bureau Federation are among the Industry trade associations engaged in lobbying the PHMSA.
Aerial view of Indian Point nuclear facility with pipeline infrastructure in the foreground.Resist Spectra
"Despite repeated warnings from nuclear power and pipeline safety experts that a pipeline rupture at that sensitive location could result in a nuclear catastrophe worse than the Fukushima nuclear disaster, their insistence on a full, independent risk assessment was to no avail," Ellen Weininger of Grassroots Environmental Education told EcoWatch.
Spectra may soon help create the largest energy infrastructure company in North America if a planned merger with Enbridge goes through. Enbridge is a minority owner of the controversial Dakota Access Pipeline.
"As a physician and a public health professional, I say, unequivocally, that risks of this pipeline, as will be explicitly described by my colleagues, far outweigh the possible benefits and pose an unacceptable level of vulnerability to the men, women and children of this entire region—and beyond," wrote Dr. Irwin Redlener in a statement sent to EcoWatch. Dr. Redlener is director of the National Center for Disaster Preparedness and a professor at Columbia University.
Correction: This article has been updated. A paragraph has been removed, which erroneously stated that NRG Energy was the same company as Natural Resource Group. We regret the error.
From Ivory Tower to Behind Bars: Professor Joins Climate Activists in New York Fracking Pipeline Fight
By Sara Stidstone Gronim
On Aug. 29, 2015, I was getting ready for another semester of teaching at Long Island University Post. One year later, I was in jail.
On Aug. 29, 2016, I was arrested for a peaceful protest in front of National Grid's Brooklyn headquarters. How does one go from the Ivory Tower to behind bars? From professor to protester? Let me explain.
Sara Stidstone Gronim getting arrested during a peaeceful protest at National Grid's Brooklyn headquartersErik McGregor
When I first taught American environmental history in the 1990s, it was a hopeful enterprise. Students learned about the growing burden that industrialization placed on the air and waters of the U.S. and about the citizens who confronted these challenges. They learned of those Americans who set up parks and nature preserves, mandated food inspection and addressed workplace safety.
I taught them about the great burst of national unity in the 1960s and 70s, when Republicans and Democrats worked together to make history. They created the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and wrote legislation that by the 1990s was making us all healthier by cleaning the air, land and waters of the U.S. Though environmental problems remained in the '90s, I wanted my students to understand the history: engaged citizens tackled serious problems and made significant progress.
By the 2010s, it was no longer possible for me to teach so optimistically. When global climate change came to public attention in the 1980s, I reduced my energy consumption. But it became clear that personal actions, while necessary, were grossly inadequate to face the tsunami of greenhouse gas emissions. And worse, there was no longer a bipartisan consensus in the U.S. about the value of protecting the environment. Powerful interests had captured one political party and hobbled the other. As a result, the federal government was paralyzed in the face of the climate crisis.
My students now faced a future filled with the disruptions of a warming world.
So I left. I retired from my associate professorship because the urgency to halt the accumulation of greenhouse gasses cannot be ignored. I've joined the ranks of the climate activists who have been fighting for years.
Climate activists come from many backgrounds, like the faith-focused groups who seek better care for creation, the medical groups who recognize climate change is a public health issue or the Native Americans protesting a pipeline in North Dakota. These activists move on many fronts, from renewables to public transportation to eating less meat. But we share a common goal of ensuring that the burdens of the transition to a low-carbon economy don't fall on those least able to absorb those burdens. In many ways this echoes the active citizenry that accomplished so much in decades past, replenishing the hope that once flowed effortlessly to my students in the classroom.
Time is short and the odds still long, but I will do everything I can. On Aug. 29, I was arrested while participating in a non-violent direct action. Eight of us blocked the doors of the Brooklyn offices of National Grid, a partner in the Algonquin Incremental Market (AIM) pipeline. Spectra Energy is currently laying this 42-inch diameter pipe across a wedge of New York State, to bring fracked gas from Pennsylvania to National Grid subsidiaries in Massachusetts and Rhode Island.
The AIM pipeline has no benefit for New York State, where fracking for gas like this is banned. Yet it forces us to bear the risk. Compounding the normal dangers of pipes carrying gas, AIM runs right past the aging Indian Point Nuclear Power complex in Westchester County. If this Spectra pipeline were to explode like a Spectra pipeline in Pennsylvania did in April, the resulting damage to the nuclear facility could be catastrophic.
Mayors and town councils all along its route have called for its halt. New York's Gov. Cuomo asked Spectra to pause while an independent safety study is conducted. New York senators Schumer and Gillibrand asked the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) to put a halt to construction while such a study is carried out.
Spectra and FERC both declined these requests.
And so, with government helpless, activists have turned to the prospective purchaser. We want National Grid to cancel the contract to buy this gas and instead commit to moving towards clean energy. With no buyer for its gas, this pipeline project would no longer be economically viable.
We need to stop building the fossil fuel infrastructure that will commit us to burning gas for the next 40 years. We need to shift decisively towards renewable energy. That is the infrastructure we should be building.
But activists can't do it alone. The pipeline is scheduled for completion in November, so we don't have the time it took to build the Keystone XL movement. It must be stopped now. Now is the time for leaders like Schumer to step up and tell FERC to do its job protecting Americans.
For years I did my job, teaching the next generation about the progress made by previous ones. Now I feel it's my duty to be part of that process.
Sara Stidstone Gronim joined 350Brooklyn.org to work with others on local solutions to climate change. She was formerly an associate professor of history at the Post campus of Long Island University.