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OpinionColumnistsMichael Dobie

Is the Williams Pipeline plan out of gas?

Many New Yorkers against the Williams pipeline protested

Many New Yorkers against the Williams pipeline protested with their children outside of Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo's Manhattan office on May 8. Credit: Li Yakira Cohen

There are at least two ways to look at the decision by state officials Wednesday night to temporarily deny the application for a 24-mile natural gas pipeline under New York Harbor.

The first is that the Department of Environmental Conservation made a decision on the merits, telling Williams Transco that it needs to mitigate several potential water quality violations. That’s certainly the narrative offered by Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo, who told reporters earlier on Wednesday that he was not involved in the decision and that it would be made by the DEC based on the facts of the case.

The second is that Cuomo was involved in the decision and that the denial serves to take some heat off the controversial issue and put off its ultimate resolution. By this theory, making Williams Transco re-file a modified application buys Cuomo time to announce next week big awards for offshore wind farms off the coast of Long Island without any kind of cloud hanging overhead.

It would be reasonable to surmise that postponing a final decision will test the durability of pipeline opponents’ passion. But dozens of them rallied at City Hall Thursday to celebrate and let it be known that they’re not going away.

“However this unfolds in the future, we will continue to work to block this and similar fossil fuel build-outs in NYS, and to push forward with a variety of renewable strategies,”’s Sara Gronim emailed The Point just before the rally. “So a victory! But the work never stops...”

Some pipeline foes said the DEC’s denial is a signal to ramp up efforts on increasing renewable energy, reducing energy waste in buildings, and speeding up the deployment of heating systems that can run on renewable energy sources.

National Grid president John Bruckner, whose company services Long Island and New York City and has a contract for the pipeline’s gas, told The Point that the denial means “we will not be processing any new applications from residential customers and gas conversions at this point.”

Both sides seem at the same loggerheads post-decision as they were before.

Bruckner called the DEC denial procedural, saying, “As a result of the process they have additional questions, I don’t think that’s out of the ordinary...I would expect DEC to get the information they need.”

Gronim, on the other hand, wrote, “We doubt that Williams will be able to figure out a way to avoid the threats to health and marine life that the DEC found in the current plan.”