A rate hike that will see 1.9 million New York residents pay for National Grid infrastructure projects, including four of five phases of the controversial fracked-gas carrying North Brooklyn Pipeline, has been approved by the Public Service Commission.
The commission voted unanimously on Thursday to approve the hike, which opponents say will not only fund climate destroying projects, but will increase rates by more than $125 per year in a time many are struggling to afford basic living costs.
National Grid, meanwhile, says the commission's approval of the three-year investment plan that will increase rates over the next two years will allow the company to "prioritize energy affordability" while investing in existing gas networks and programs to "accelerate the transition to a cleaner energy future."
But Brownsville Residents Green Committee member Gabriel Jamison rejects that, saying "the decision of the Public Service Commission today is a continuation of environmental racism."
Jamison, who has been vehemently fighting the pipeline project alongside a number of other community groups, residents and local politicians since learning about it in 2019, said National Grid's proposal did not comply with the city's environmental Climate Leadership and Community Protection Act and put already disadvantaged communities further at risk.
"Our state and city agencies are in the pocket of National Grid, and therefore have not been doing their job. Since the state proved today that they do not believe Black lives matter, the people have to take actions, organize and mobilize and shut this pipeline down."
The pipeline, which was started in 2017 and is almost complete, will carry fracked gas under Brownsville, Bed-Stuy, Bushwick, Williamsburg and Greenpoint, ending at a National Grid Depot on Newtown Creek. The rate hike will partially reimburse National Grid for phases one to four of the project, which have already been built. The fifth and final phase of the project, which is yet to be built, will not be covered by the rate hike.
The company has agreed to stop work on the on the final phase of the project, and it says it will not resume construction unless and until it is separately approved by the PSC in a proceeding that would consider stakeholder feedback.
"We want to reiterate; this project is designed to help efficiently operate an energy system that is vital to meeting the diverse and critical energy needs of our customers. This is about improving critical reliability, not increasing gas capacity," a company spokesperson told BK Reader.
"We live and work in the communities we service and place our infrastructure where it's needed most to ensure that we fully meet our obligation to all the communities that we serve."
But opponents say the project puts the health and safety of predominantly Black and Brown working class neighborhoods at risk and will exacerbate climate change.
The PSC's commission comes after New York Department of Public Service and National Grid filed a joint proposal in May to get 1.9 million customers in Brooklyn, Staten Island, parts of Queens and Long Island to pay more in their rates to cover the cost of the pipeline. The agreement followed two years of confidential rates negotiations that ran parallel to protests mounted against the pipeline from Brownsville to Greenpoint.
In a recommendation to the PSC to approve the rate hike, Administrative Law Judge James Costello said the capital projects in the rate case "do not harm disadvantaged communities" despite the Department of Public Service (DPS) never having done any assessment to see if the pipeline would disproportionately harm disadvantaged communities, SANE Energy Project said.
SANE Energy Project, a non-profit, has led the fight against the pipeline for many Brooklynites over the past years. Director Kim Fraczek said today's decision meant that the fracking industry won in a state where fracking was outlawed.
"New York State took a major step backwards on climate and environmental justice, turning their backs on the people and the planet in exchange for private profit taken from our pockets," Fraczek said.
"What we saw today goes beyond climate denial. Cuomo's PSC is colluding with National Grid to commit climate destruction, cementing another dimension of Cuomo's legacy of abuse."
Earlier this year, community members opposed to the project launched a gas bill strike in refusal to pay for the nearly $129 million National Grid spent on the pipeline in 2020 and 2021. Currently, 300 people were withholding $66 from their bill, which is what the average customer will pay for the fracked gas pipeline over time, SANE Energy Project said.
Brooklyn resident Margot Spindelman said that PSC's decision went against everything that was needed to combat the current threats of climate change.
"The same week the IPCC released a report saying we need to immediately cut fossil fuel emissions, Cuomo's PSC is choosing to double down on fracked gas and environmental racism — and they want us to pay for it," she said.
"We will never pay for this pipeline. Time has run out for incrementalism and we refuse to participate in an energy system that harms our communities just so corporations like National Grid can profit."
Jen Chantrtanapichate, an organizer with Frack Outta Brooklyn, added that opponents were "sadly unsurprised that an undemocratic, Cuomo appointed, decision making body like the PSC" was blind to the correlation between a higher number of capital projects in communities of color, and poor health and environmental outcomes.
"It is a dismal reality for New Yorkers in 2021, that the PSC would rather prioritize the profits of corporate monopolies like National Grid than the health, safety and future of our planet for BIPOC and all people."
Opponents of the pipeline and other National Grid projects that focus on fracked and liquified natural gas did have some minor victories in the hearing. Now, National Grid will now have to meet several clean energy goals, hold more public hearings and obtain the approval of an independent consultant before the company can raise customer bills for those costs.
However, concerns are already being raised about the process, with the new independent consultant selected by the Department of Public Service in consultation with the gas industry.
The coalition of pipeline opponents said PSC was protecting the corporate interests of National Grid, which is not an electricity provider in the region and stood to lose market share as customers abandon gas to electrify their heating.
National Grid said the commission's approval of the joint settlement on National Grid's three-year investment plan, "will allow us to prioritize energy affordability while investing in programs necessary to maintain the safety and reliability of our natural gas networks and implement new programs to accelerate the transition to a cleaner energy future."
Previously, the utility company told BK Reader its goal was to maintain safe, affordable, and reliable delivery of energy for all customers, and that the new pipeline would allow the current gas supply to move around with more safety, reliability and efficiency.
"National Grid provides natural gas service to our customers and in return, like all utilities, there is an associated cost. Our customers understand the value and reliability that gas service provides."