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Cuomo cites regional natural gas shortage, asks PSC for answers

Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo at Farmingdale State College

Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo at Farmingdale State College on Sept. 18. Credit: Newsday/Steve Pfost

Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo, even while accusing National Grid of holding “a gun to the head of the people" of New York with its natural gas moratorium, Thursday morning acknowledged a regional gas shortage exists and did not emphasize the state's opposition to a new pipeline.  

Earlier this month, Cuomo expressed skepticism about National Grid's claim of a regional gas shortage and underlined the state's stance against the project: "We have taken a position: We’re against the pipeline," he said at the time. 

But in a letter to the state utility regulator and in a radio appearance, Cuomo called for "quick" action to deal with "this obvious supply issue."

In the letter to Public Service Commissioner John Rhodes, Cuomo acknowledged that the "looming shortage has been discussed for years with many options for additional gas supply put forward over the years." 

He asked why National Grid and the PSC "did not better protect customers and consumers by exploring the alternatives to mitigate this obvious supply issue when it was first raised?" 

Cuomo told Rhodes it was "incumbent upon you to immediately analyze the existing supply needs and provide alternatives to the pipeline and in the event the pipeline project is undertaken and not completed on time." 

New York State's Department of Environmental Conservation has twice rejected water permits for the pipeline, which would require disturbing some 24 miles of seabed under New York Harbor and neighboring waterways. A review of the rejected permit is ongoing, as is one in New Jersey, which has also rejected the Williams Co. pipeline. 

Cuomo directed Rhodes to "expeditiously demonstrate that you have fully analyzed the existing supply needs and alternatives to natural gas pipelines," including alternatives such as oil, propane and shipping liquefied natural gas to the region to fill supply. 

Cuomo also asked Rhodes for an analysis of the environmental, community, ratepayer, and economic impacts for delivery of alternative sources. 

He accused National Grid of having "consciously failed to develop alternative supplies both as an alternative to the pipeline and as a contingency to a stalled pipeline." 

National Grid spokeswoman Karen Young said, “We remain committed to working with all parties to address these critical supply constraint and customer connection issues. We continue to focus on reconnecting customers as outlined in our recently filed implementation plan in response to the PSC Order.”

Cuomo in his letter to Rhodes also demanded the PSC review its own "performance of its oversight duties" in analyzing preparations for meeting supply, adding, "National Grid's lack of preparedness for the looming supply shortage, failure to explore options, over-reliance on a highly complex and controversial pipeline project and extortive behavior wrongfully terminating customers and halting development, were open and obnoxious hostile actions to customers and your agency failed to adequately anticipate, respond, or prevent this harm which was your regulatory duty." 

Cuomo also asked the agency to provide insight on "when and how we eliminate an abusive utility from the state to protect consumers." 

He asked the agency to provide "a specific explanation of potential grounds for revocation of National Grid's license."

And Cuomo indicated plans to appoint a monitor to oversee National Grid on an "intense and constant basis" to guarantee consumer protection. 

Cuomo, on Long Island News Radio with Jay Oliver, railed against the “corporate abuse” of a company holding up gas hookups and broader development through its pipeline moratorium, and said the state would move to toughen regulations on them.

“We have to make decision now,” he said of the pipeline, “and longer term we have to look at these utilities and how effectively they’re regulated. We have to be tougher. They think they have all the chips on their side of the table.”

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