2011 will go down as the year of the Daiichi nuclear meltdown in Fukushima, the Keystone XL Pipeline, and a moratorium on drilling in the Gulf from the previous year, which has been phasing out. In essence, energy sources dominated environmental news. Yet there were still a variety of environmental situations around the world, and the greater NYC area had its own volume of stories. What were your environmental memories and thoughts from 2011? Here are some highlights straight from NYC from January to December.
In January, hundreds of people filed as interveners for the NJ-NY Expansion Project, known as the Spectra Pipeline, which would plug into Con Ed in the Meatpacking District. This was the first time the controversy over the pipeline, which would carry Marcellus Shale gas to NYC emerged significantly on this side of the Hudson River, as it had enflamed the public domain in Jersey City. Proponents, including unions, saw tons of jobs to be created while others, including Mayor Healey and reps from the LeFrak real estate giant, saw a ticking time bomb underneath the recent waterfront development there as well as hospitals, schools and traffic centers. The burst of interveners in Manhattan came just in time as that window closed. Interveners could sue the FERC (Federal Energy Regulatory Commission) but could also support FERC’s decision. There were some 500 who intervened against the pipeline or who had concerns and about 25 in favor.
On June 9th, New York Contra Gasoducto commenced the first of their protests at Federal Plaza (in the Civic area of Manhattan) where the Army Corps of Engineers oversees such projects as La Via Verde gas pipeline, known as Gasoducto, in solidarity with the opposition in Puerto Rico. Earlier in May, some 30 thousand people in Puerto Rico had marched in resistance of the proposed gas pipeline, which would cross nearly the entire island, regardless of wetlands and populations. The majority of the island’s population has been recorded to be in opposition to the pipeline, which is a product of the rise of shale gas. There was an economical concern that the public would be funding a pipeline that wouldn’t carry gas for ten years; in addition, there was suspicion of corruption, that Governor Fortuno was supporting a childhood friend in the industry. By the time the Army Corps released an environmental assessment and started a commentary period at the end of the year, the assessment was only written in English, whereas the majority of the island’s population is not bilingual.
The fracking moratorium of the Paterson era, for high volume horizontal hydraulic fractring (or HVHHF) ended on July 1st. Shale gas drilling in general was still not to commence until the DEC could finalize the SGEIS (generic environmental impact statement to supplement the 1992 GEIS). On the 8th, a preliminary or preview statement was released. It had been announced since the the moratorium ended that the NYC and Syracuse watersheds would be off limits as well as state parks and buffer zones near principle and primary aquifers (ones that affected relatively large populations).
Constant rallies against Indian Point and nuclear energy came into play in August. A rally at Dag Hammarskjold Plaza near the UN on August 4th, organized by Green Peace and NYPIRG (New York Public Interest Research Group) brought on opposition to the Indian Point nuclear Plant, which is in Westchester. In the previous June there was a public hearing in northern Westchester over the relicensing of the plant. As almost all of the 104 nuke plants in the US were built in the 70’s, their licenses have been expiring. The meltdown of the Daiichi plants in Fukushima in March added fuel to the controversy, as well as a 5.8 earth quake on the east coast that led to the emergency shut down of a plant in Virginia. Indian Point is on the Ramapo Fault Line, has been listed by NRC (Nuclear Regulatory Agency) as the most dangerous in the US, and is reported to be able to withstand earthquakes up to 6.0 in magnitude. It employs some 2 thousand people. Most available reports say it lends to 30% of NYC’s energy, though it has been reduced to about five. Manhattan is 35 miles away from the plant; some legislators and others call for a fifty mile emergency evacuation zone. Mayor Bloomberg supports IP in his PlaNYC 2030, while it is out of the City’s jurisdiction; Governor Cuomo has opposed the plant’s continuation.
In September, Dag Hammarskjold Plaza filled again, this time in anticipation of the UNFCCC climate negotiations (COP 17) in Durban, South Africa, which would happen in November. According to a Huffington Post summary, a legally binding commitment was for the first time implemented, including the heaviest emitters such as China, India, EU and the US but is not set to commence for eight years.
The last FERC hearing for the Spectra Pipeline in NYC was highly attended. On October 20th, hundreds of people marched from the Occupy Wall Street protest at Zuccotti Park to the top of the West Village, chanting against fracking and the pipeline. They comprised a portion of the packed hearing, second to a NYC hearing in Staten Island, and testified to FERC as well. Almost the entire crowd was against the pipeline.
On November 2nd, Japanese New Yorkers aligned with Shut Down Indian Point Now! and others to deliver letters and over 6 thousand signatures to the Japanese Consulate on Park Avenue in Midtown in concert with actions around the world and some 200 mothers camped outside of the Ministry of Economy in Tokyo, which continue today. The actions were in light of the Tokyo government’s decision to accept radioactive rubble into its harbors. Protesters preferred for the rubble to stay in the Fukushima region and for women and children to be evacuated. The country’s share of the economic crisis, meanwhile, had been exacerbated by the Tsunami and meltdown that March.
The DRBC (Delaware River Basin Commission) cancelled its November 20th meeting for voting on permits for fracking in the Delaware River Basin. The river provides water for 5.6 million people including in NYC. Much of the opposition movement showed up to the cancelled meeting anyway. The DRBC needed three of five votes to move forward with permits. DEC Commissioner Joe Martens had expressed that NY would probably vote no; Delaware’s governorship was set to vote no, and the federal agent (Army Corps) was not ready. NYS Attorney General Eric Schneiderman had established a lawsuit, which was followed by another suit filed by a coalition of environmental groups including Riverkeeper and Delaware Riverkeeper, against the federal government for violating NEPA (National Environmental Policy Act) because a legally necessary federal review had not been conducted.
The food justice committee of OWS held a rally on December 4th in a community garden in the East Village to bridge the gap between farm related and urban related food issues. The control that large food and agriculture corporations have over the food system fell perfectly into the 1% and 99% narrative. It may have been the largest food justice protest in NYC ever, as hundreds of people marched through the East Village and LES to Zuccotti Park.
Final DEC hearings for fracking ended with a bang in Tribecca on November 30th. Hundreds of people attended both sessions in one long day. Although it was not unpredictable nor universal that the NYC hearings would be filled almost entirely with opponents, it was the largest turnout for a fracking hearing in NYC after many in a series that began in 2009. Concerns with the SGEIS included the lack of fault line maps, as earth quakes had been correlated with fracking in previous months.
As the year came to a close, almost a hundred people from NYC, other parts of NY and PA, went to Dimock, PA to deliver fresh water from NYS and other parts of PA. Dimock had served as the hallmark for fracking gone wrong. NYS Senator Greg Ball (R) had gone there before taking a moratorium stance. After some three years, the PA government allowed Cabot Oil and Gas to cease delivering water to eleven households.