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Pressure mounting against pipeline expansion

Lisa Marshall's facebook page

Opponents of a pipeline expansion that would flow through vast portions of New York want the Cuomo administration to deny a key permit, an act that could halt the upgrade.

The New Market Dominion pipeline is one of a dizzying array of fuel pipelines that flow through New York, in many cases taking natural gas from hydrofracking sites in other states to markets in New York and other places.

The pipeline, which is largely regulated by the federal government, is trying to expand its capacity and to build more powerful compressor stations in three sites along its route in the Southern Tier and central New York.

But opponents said Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s Department of Environmental Conservation has the power to shut the project down because the pipeline company needs the DEC to sign off on a key water quality certification, as well as three air quality permits for upgrades to the compressor stations.

Walter Hang, with the Ithaca-based Toxics Targeting, said his group already found instances where the existing pipeline violated state pollution standards, so the state environmental agency should issue a new certification.

“Unfortunately, the existing pipeline has already caused enormous water quality violations that were never cleaned up to state standards,” Hang said.

There is precedent for the state to reject the water quality permits. On Earth Day this year, the environmental agency denied a similar water quality certification for the Constitution pipeline, which was to be a newly constructed line stretching across vast sections of upstate New York.

Hang is one of the leaders of the anti-fracking movement that led to a ban on hydrofracking in New York state in late 2014. He said he and others turned up the heat on the Cuomo administration during an extended public comment period that ended Sept. 12, writing letters and making phone calls.

“We’re just hammering away,” said Hang, who added Cuomo’s claims as a climate change activist are in jeopardy if he issues the permits.

Hang said his group is seeking a “moratorium” on all fossil fuel project approvals anywhere in New York.

Dominion is not asking for a new pipeline, but instead requesting approval for an upgrade. Lisa Marshall, who lives in Horseheads in the Southern Tier, said it still means a big change. She said the new line would carry up to 112 million cubic feet of gas per day.

“If you can imagine a football field a half a mile into the air, that’s the volume of gas they’re talking about,” Marshall said.

Marshall lives just a few blocks from the Horseheads compressor station. She said 50 homes, two day care centers, a group home for disabled people and many elderly citizens live within a half-mile of the site.

“A lot of them are concerned about safety, they’re concerned about the noise,” Marshall said. “They’re concerned about their property values.”

Marshall said she and other advocates have learned through the fracking fight — where years of protests eventually led Cuomo to ban the natural gas drilling process — that applying political pressure can work.

“If the governor hears us and feels like there’s enough of us that are upset about this, then maybe he’ll do something,” Marshall said. “That’s our hope.”

A spokesman for the DEC said the proposal does not involve building a new pipeline, and instead seeks to “modify an existing compressor station,” and create two new ones.

Spokesman Sean Mahar said the public comment period was already extended to “ensure the public had adequate opportunity” to help the environmental agency in its review. And he said all comments will be “considered prior to making any final determination.” Currently, there’s no exact timetable on when a decision will be made.

Karen DeWitt is Capitol Bureau Chief for New York State Public Radio, a network of 10 public radio stations in New York State. WBFO listeners are accustomed to hearing DeWitt’s insightful coverage throughout the day, including expanded reports on Morning Edition.