For the first time, Governor Andrew Cuomo has invoked his broad powers under a 2019 environmental law as part of his efforts to block a natural gas pipeline.

The state Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) on Friday moved to block the Williams Companies’ proposed 17-mile Northeast Supply Enhancement pipeline that would bring gas from New Jersey to Brooklyn, Queens and Long Island. 

But unlike its first denial in May 2019, which focused on the extent to which the seafloor would be disrupted during construction, DEC went out of its way to say “it is clear that the Project is inconsistent” with requirements outlined in last year’s Climate Leadership and Community Protection Act.

The Climate Act gave the governor’s agencies expansive powers over the economy in pursuit of reducing the state’s emissions, with the goal of cutting them 34 percent by 2030 and 84 percent by 2050.

As warned in this space last June, the law among other things lets state agencies weigh emissions “in considering and issuing permits, licenses, and other administrative approvals and decisions.”

State agencies, to be sure, have been administratively blocking gas pipelines since 2016. But under the new law, Cuomo or a future New York governor could—and has now proven, might—among other things:

  • refuse to register certain cars or trucks based on their gas mileage or emissions levels;
  • deny environmental permits to businesses or farms that generate more emissions than the state deems warranted for its amount of employment or other economic metric (as it was already apt to do when it shut down certain “peaker” power plants); and
  • block construction projects subject to the State Environmental Quality Review Act (SEQR) unless projects meet specific standards, such as heating systems that don’t burn natural gas or oil.

DEC had no issue, in issuing either NESE decision, with finding established reasons (such as heavy metals in the sediment and the impact on shellfish) for blocking the project. But their readiness to invoke the new climate law even in the face of a severe economic recession is a bad omen. The Climate Act’s open-ended regulatory powers will expose New Yorkers to even costlier moves in coming years.

The Climate Act, in many ways, is analogous to the Legislature’s March vote to let the governor issue executive “directives” as part of the state’s novel coronavirus response. The lesson in both cases is the same: don’t give New York’s governor an executive power you don’t want him or her to use.

You may also like

82 Questions Hochul’s Pandemic Report Should Answer

This is the month when New Yorkers are due to finally receive an official report on the state's response to the Covid-19 pandemic, one of the deadliest disasters in state history. T Read More

The Real Lack of Courage Driving NYC Congestion Pricing

Governor Hochul is taking heat after postponing the state’s years-old plan to charge drivers to enter lower Manhattan. As critics slam her for lacking “political courage,” it’s an appropriate time to examine some of the underlying issues that congestion pricing was meant to indirectly mitigate—because many if not most advocates were afraid to touch those issues themselves. And if congestion pricing proponents are to be taken at their word about their concern for MTA finances, or traffic, or air quality, they must show some of the same courage they’ve accused the governor of lacking. Read More

To Encourage Recycling, Pols Move To Trash The Legislature

New York state lawmakers in recent years have surrendered some of their policymaking and taxing powers to the executive branch. With the 2024 legislative session coming to close, they’re poised to go even further and turn those powers over to an organization outside of government entirely. Read More

Lawmakers Seek To Revive a $10 Fee for Prescriptions That Was Dropped by DFS

A plan to require a $10.18 "dispensing fee" for filling drug prescriptions is back on the table in Albany – this time in the form of legislation rather than regulation. The Read More

Running Over Taxpayers: Legislature Speeding to Protect Cadillac Benefits for NYC Retirees

Bills designed to block any change to retiree health coverage for state and local public employees have been introduced repeatedly by legislators in both parties over the past 30 years. But the latest statewide “anti-diminution” measure, inspired by an ongoing controversy in New York City, would be the broadest and most costly yet—and more than two-thirds of state lawmakers are supporting it. Read More

How a Medicaid ‘Cut’ Could Lead to More Unionization of Home Care Aides

A money-saving maneuver in the newly enacted Medicaid budget could end up increasing costs in the long term – by paving the way for more unionization of the state's burgeoning home health workforce. Read More

Eight in 10 New York towns and cities have lost population since 2020

Filling in more details of New York's ongoing demographic decline, the Census Bureau has just released updated local population estimates showing that 80 percent of the state's towns and cities have lost residents since 2020. In addition to New York Ci Read More

Sales tax receipts are signaling slow growth in most of New York State

After rising sharply with an extra push from the inflation surge of 2022, sales tax receipts in New York grew much more slowly during the first four months of this year, according to from state Comptroller Thomas DiNapoli's office. Statewide sales tax Read More