Tuesday, July 29, 2014

A gas pipeline through the Catskills?

Last week in the rural New York State I noticed this:

Okay, it is not hard to guess what this is about. The reverse tells more of the story:

From its website, here's a description of the Constitution Pipeline:

The approximately 124-mile Constitution Pipeline is being designed with a capacity to transport 650,000 dekatherms of natural gas per day (enough natural gas to serve approximately 3 million homes). Buried underground, the 30-inch pipeline would extend from Susquehanna County, Pa., to the Iroquois Gas Transmission and Tennessee Gas Pipeline systems in Schoharie County, N.Y. The proposed project route stretches from Susquehanna County, Pa., into Broome County, N.Y., Chenango County, N.Y., Delaware County, N.Y., and terminates in Schoharie County, N.Y.

Not terribly surprisingly, there is local and regional opposition. Natural gas is a cheap fuel, but opponents argue that improving gas infrastructure merely keeps us hooked on fossil fuels when we desperately need to wean ourselves from them for the maintenance of a stable climate. Stop the Pipeline argues that gas pipelines are like addictive drugs: say yes to one and pretty soon New York State will start building ever more gas-moving facilities. These pipelines will increase the pressure for New York to end its moratorium on fracking. Central New York is not currently known for earthquakes; does it want to join Oklahoma as a locus unprecedented, fracking-induced tremors? Does it want to risk additional pollution of its water supplies?

Meanwhile, a study released Friday by the Environmental Protection Agency's inspector general suggests the Constitution Pipeline may face additional obstacles:

The agency's IG found that EPA is doing too little to limit methane leakage from the natural gas transmission sector, which it estimated to contribute more than 13 million metric tons of CO2 equivalent each year.

The report comes as EPA is weighing whether to promulgate new Clean Air Act restrictions to curb leakage of the powerful greenhouse gas from oil and gas systems. ... The IG found that the agency's voluntary programs -- including Natural Gas Star -- have not succeeded in limiting output of methane from pipelines, though they have delivered results elsewhere in the natural gas supply chain. The report instructs the agency to consider ways to curb pipeline leakage, including through regulations implemented on its own or in conjunction with the Department of Transportation's Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration.

While the DOT agency regulates pipelines solely for their effects on public safety, the Clean Air Act compels EPA to consider doing so because of methane's contribution to climate change -- which is at least 25 times as strong on a pound-for-pound basis as that of CO2, the IG said.

We can guess that pipeline owners will fight these controls vigorously.

The signs that sparked my interest in the Constitution Pipeline clearly come from the Laborers' International Union of North America. No doubt the members have hopes of working on building the pipeline. But will the pipeline actually bring lasting jobs to the areas through which it passes? It now seems agreed that the even more controversial Keystone XL pipeline bringing tar sands oil from Alberta to the Gulf of Mexico will only create some 35 permanent jobs. If I lived along the route of the Constitution Pipeline, I would not be expected to be employed by it.

The Laborers are a good progressive union, and like most unions, they work hard for their members. But it is darn difficult to believe that lending their good name to a gas pipeline is good for their home communities or for the country's future.

I noticed that LIUNA was a major sponsor of the recent Netroots Nation conference -- and also that this year's NN seemed without nearly the emphasis on injecting looming climate disaster into our politics that I saw at NN San Jose. Was this lack of emphasis on issues vital to our ability to keep our democracy on a stable path a consequence of NN's dependence on union funding? The only large environmental sponsor was the Sierra Club. Just wondering.

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