In the name of reducing greenhouse gas emissions, the Cuomo administration has been doing everything it can to block construction of natural-gas pipelines in New York. But that policy is probably accomplishing just the reverse—increasing greenhouse gas emissions by boosting reliance on fuel oil, which results in even higher emissions.
The counterproductive impact of the governor’s anti-pipeline stance is among the key points made in a new Manhattan Institute report, Out of Gas: New York’s Blocked Pipelines Will Hurt Northeast Consumers.
Robert Bryce, Manhattan Institute senior fellow and author of the report, cites detailed instances in which the state Department of Environmental Conservation blocked pipelines by stretching its legal authority under the federal Clean Water Act to determine “whether a given project is consistent with its rules for protecting wetlands and streams.”
DEC first exploited this “weapon,” as Bryce terms it, in April 2016 to block the Constitution Pipeline planned to run from Pennsylvania to Schoharie County, and has since blocked two other pipelines that would have served the Buffalo area (Northern Access) and New York City and Long Island (Northeast Supply Enhancement Project).
Constraining the northeasterly flow of gas has not only threatened economic development in the region—it also has had environmentally harmful consequences. “Ironically,” Bryce writes, “the constraints on natural gas supplies in New York and New England result in more pollution and higher carbon-dioxide emissions from burning oil.”
The comparatively low cost of natural gas has pushed homeowners and businesses to transition away from heating oil, and that comes with an environmental benefit: natural gas releases about 27 percent less carbon dioxide in generating the same amount of heat as the needed amount of heating oil, and does it without the secondary emissions coming from delivery trucks.
Constraints on gas supplies have frustrated what was otherwise a market-driven effort that had the pleasant side effect of cutting emissions. Bryce notes that statewide, about 1.8 million households are still using oil, and areas such as lower Westchester County and parts of New York City face moratoriums on new gas hookups explicitly because supply hasn’t kept pace with demand.
The Cuomo administration has taken a global view on all things related to greenhouse gas emissions, and it’s gone so far as to justify its $540 million-per-year subsidies for nuclear plants by measuring its purported benefit on the entire world population.
Yet in neighboring New England, where about half the electricity is produced from natural gas, generators remain reliant on oil when demand peaks because of the limited gas supply. During 2018, just one percent of electricity in New England came from oil-fired plants, but Bryce writes that a cold-snap that ran from December 25, 2017 to January 9, 2018 saw New England getting 27 percent of its electricity from oil. And even more New Englanders (2.1 million) heat their homes with fuel oil as do New Yorkers.
New York’s own energy goals have meanwhile been buoyed by increased natural gas use. New York, for one thing, cut its greenhouse gas emissions from electric generation by more than one-third between 2005 and 2015 chiefly because natural gas plants edged out older oil and coal facilities. That includes state-owned gas plants in New York City, not to mention the Cuomo administrations plans to heat and power state government’s Albany complex with natural gas.
And with the governor’s support, the Legislature also just passed the Climate Leadership and Community Protection Act, under which the state government will be empowered to significantly disrupt virtually every corner of New York’s economy to achieve a goal of near-zero carbon emissions—within its own borders—by 2050.
Given the supposed urgency of Cuomo’s much-touted “fight against climate change,” pushing New England to burn oil instead of natural gas makes zero sense.
Then again, maybe the Russians are listening and they can find a solution.