(Photos: Ben Brandstein)

Environmental and community groups gathered outside New York University’s Kimmel Center this morning, rallying against a natural gas pipeline proposed by the Williams energy company. Meanwhile, inside, Governor Cuomo announced a $1.4 billion commitment to renewable energy programs. It’s said to be the biggest by any state in US history, but some protesters continue to say that Cuomo isn’t doing enough to stop fracking off the coast of New York City and elsewhere. 

Armed with signs and illustrations depicting the various projects they disapprove of and the organizations they stand with, protestors condemned the Williams Northeast Supply Enhancement Pipeline as unnecessary, expensive, and harmful, chanting, “When New York harbor is under attack, what do we do? Stand up, fight back!”

The pipeline would run along the coast of Staten Island, crossing the harbor south of Brooklyn to join existing pipelines off the Rockaways. If approved, the pipeline will carry fracked natural gas under New York Harbor. Williams proposed another pipeline, the Constitution pipeline from Pennsylvania to New York, in 2013, but after multiple delays and needed approvals, the New York Department of Environmental Conservation denied the application in 2016. Reuters reported that this was due to the company’s “failure to provide sufficient information to determine whether the project would comply with the state’s water quality standards.” Last month, however, the company asked U.S. federal energy regulators to review the order.

 Kim Fraczek– director of Sane Energy Project, a group that works to stop fracking infrastructure throughout the state– says of the Williams Northeast Supply Enhancement Pipeline. “They’ll be trenching 23 miles of ocean floor,” she says, “digging up all these PCBs [polychlorinated biphenyls] and pollution that has settled over the years. It’s bad for the climate, bad for our marine family, bad for our health, safety, and democracy.” Since last summer, Fraczek has been denouncing the Williams pipeline by organizing events and setting up petitions opposing the project. She’s also one of the campaign coordinators of the Wind Not Williams campaign, supporting the offshore wind farm announced by Governor Cuomo earlier this year.

Many have accused Governor Cuomo of talking the talk but not walking the walk when it comes to environmental issues. Fraczek, for instance, references Governor Cuomo’s fracking ban in 2014. “You know, he banned fracking but we’re still seeing an insane buildout of fracking around New York State.” Protestors cited the proposed fracked gas power plant in Sheridan Hollow as an example of Governor Cuomo’s hypocrisy, a project that could expose residents to pollution in order to power and heat the Albany capitol building. Soon, Governor Cuomo will have another opportunity to show New York where he stands; Williams will be releasing their draft environmental impact statement regarding the pipeline later this month. “Once that process takes place he’ll have the power to deny the pipeline based on state rules,” says Fraczek.

As protestors filled the sidewalk outside NYU’s Kimmel Center, Governor Cuomo was inside making an environmental announcement of his own. Joined by former Vice President Al Gore, Cuomo made a formal request for New York to be excluded from the new five-year National Outer Continental Shelf Oil and Gas Leasing Program. The program, launched in January, proposes to make over 90 percent of the total U.S. offshore acreage available to oil and gas drilling. Cuomo also announced $1.4 billion in awards for 26 large-scale renewable energy projects throughout the state. “We believe the future is a clean energy economy,” said Cuomo, “and New York is going to lead a counter-movement to what this administration is doing to the environment and illuminate the path forward.”

Governor Cuomo’s words are encouraging, but will his actions in the coming months reflect this? When asked for a response to the governor’s announcement, Fraczek said, “We are very pleased the Governor is opposed to drilling off New York, and we look forward to him exercising the same climate leadership to deny Williams NESE Pipeline, as well as other fossil fuel infrastructure currently plaguing New York residents.”

Until then, those at Sane Energy Project and other environmental groups will continue to organize events throughout the city, such as an information session at the Coney Island Aquarium on March 26,  which will then culminate into a state-wide march on the capitol building on April 23.

Correction: An earlier version of this post conflated the Constitution pipeline with the Northeast Supply Enhancement Pipeline and, as a result, misstated the year the latter pipeline was proposed.