Joe Mahoney

ALBANY — Raising the stakes in a tense battle over a pipeline project, Gov. Andrew Cuomo threatened to cancel the operating certificate of National Grid — one of New York’s biggest utility firms — for the downstate region after the company refused to provide new natural gas connections.

“I’m not going to let the people of New York be bullied and exploited,” Cuomo, a Democrat, told a New York City television station after giving top National Grid officials a 14-day ultimatum that he plans to revoke the company’s operating certificate in that region.

National Grid has thousands of customers in the North Country, western New York and the Oneonta region.

But they would not be immediately affected if the Cuomo administration were to make good on its threat to revoke the company’s certificate to provide gas service to downstate residents.

The company declared a moratorium downstate after the Cuomo administration refused to allow the proposed construction of the Northeast Supply Enhancement Project, a $1 billion gas pipeline backed by Williams Partners.

The latter company is also a prime investor in the Constitution Pipeline, a proposed transmission project whose route into New York from Pennsylvania would take it through Delaware County, just east of Oneonta, then into Schoharie County. That project has also been blocked by the Cuomo administration over environmental impacts.

Amplifying the threat, Cuomo said in the television interview that if National Grid fails to issue a plan for providing future gas supply, “we’ll find a utility who can.”

“… A lot of companies would like to have this franchise, so they have 14 days to explain to the people of this state what the alternatives are, and there can’t be a moratorium,” he said.

Cuomo’s threat against a state-regulated utility drew a sharp rebuke from Senate GOP Leader John Flanagan, R-Suffolk County. He said the threat illustrates Cuomo’s “failure to lead for the people of this state, and his willingness to cater to extreme environmentalists who have no real plan to solve this crisis.”

National Grid said in a statement that it will “respond accordingly” to Cuomo’s letter, though it offered no hint of the specific steps it may take.

Gavin Donohue, the head of the Independent Power Producers of New York, called the governor’s threat to revoke the certificate of a major utility player in New York “unprecedented.”

“This makes New York a scarier place to do business,” Donohue told CNHI in an interview. “They (National Grid) have been doing what they have been supposed to do as a regulated utility.”

But Anne Marie Garti, an environmental lawyer who represents a grassroots group called Stop the Pipeline in the fight to derail the Constitution Pipeline, agreed with the state government’s response to National Grid’s use of the moratorium to pressure the state to allow the downstate pipeline project.

*”National Grid manufactured a crisis and the state is not letting them get away with it,” she said.

Cuomo, in his letter, argued National Grid should have looked into other supply options before denying new connections.

“Gas can be trucked, shipped, or barged, and other infrastructure could be proposed or additional unloading facilities installed,” he said.

The trucking of compressed natural gas, a business practice that has grown in recent years in the upstate region, has been controversial, with environmental activists calling such trucks “virtual pipelines” posing hazards on highways.

Ken Girardin, a policy analyst for the Empire Center for Public Policy, an Albany think tank, said the governor’s action eliminates “any remaining illusion” that the state Public Service Commission — New York’s primary utility watchdog — has been acting independently under the Cuomo administration.

“When you give a single state agency so much power to regulate such a big part of the economy, the last thing you want is a politician manipulating that agency to satisfy his personal political whims,” Girardin said.

According to Newsday, a Long Island newspaper, the ongoing showdown over the downstate pipeline has stalled new home construction and delayed oil-to-gas conversions planned by numerous businesses and property owners.

*Updated to add quote at 10:50 a.m. Nov. 13, 2019.

© 2019 The Daily Star

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