New York’s Energy Crossroads

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Executive Summary

In his most recent energy plan, Governor Cuomo set ambitious goals to reduce the state’s greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions 40% below 1990 levels by 2030. To prepare, in 2017 several New York state agencies released a Methane Reduction Plan describing initial steps needed to achieve these GHG reduction goals, including in the oil and gas sector. Also in 2017, the state Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) announced the intention to develop new regulations to control oil and gas air pollution.

With these plans in mind, New York officials and agencies also face important choices on how to stop or limit GHG emissions from the impending buildout of natural gas pipelines, compressor stations, and other natural gas infrastructure across the state.

To help inform those choices, Earthworks commissioned Physicians, Scientists, and Engineers for Healthy Energy (PSE) to answer this question: “If proposed natural gas pipelines and associated infrastructure are built and used at current average rates, can the Cuomo Administration achieve its 2030 GHG reduction targets?” In short, the answer is a resounding no.

PSE calculated lifecycle GHG emissions from ten pipelines proposed for New York, as well as nine compressor stations (both new and upgrades) and five meter and regulator (M&R) stations associated with those pipelines. PSE’s analysis shows that the combination of additional methane leakage from pipelines, in-state emissions from compressor stations, and out-of-state emissions from gas production, combustion, and processing to supply New York consumers would effectively put the 40% reduction by 2030 target out of reach.

However, DEC and Governor Cuomo possess considerable legal and regulatory authority to prevent the gas infrastructure buildout and greatly limit the air quality and climate impacts of any pipelines and infrastructure that are constructed and operate in the state.

According to PSE’s analysis, DEC has placed on hold (i.e., denied permits for) projects that represent more than 40% of projected emissions from the proposed gas infrastructure buildout. Yet, at the same time, DEC has not fully exercised its state authority to limit pollution and require that operators use far more protective air emissions controls for new gas projects.

This report describes the choices that New York decisionmakers face and outlines possible paths forward in confronting proposals to expand gas transportation and delivery infrastructure. With the PSE analysis in hand, we further recommend policy levers available to the state to improve chances at meeting the goal of 40% GHG reduction below 1990 levels by 2030. This report does not analyze in detail related efforts to reduce overall GHG emissions from other methods such as increases in energy efficiency, renewable energy, and reductions in demand.

Based on our research for this report we recommend that Governor Cuomo and DEC use a blend of permitting, regulation, and enforcement to stop or limit the pipeline and infrastructure buildout to prevent new sources of emissions—giving New York a far better chance of reaching its GHG reduction goals. In particular, Governor Cuomo, elected officials, and state agencies should:

  1. Fully exercise delegated federal authority, especially under the Clean Air Act and Clean Water Act, to restrict or deny permits for proposed projects.
  2. Fill the “regulatory vacuum” created by the Trump Administration with a robust set of strategies to implement the state’s 2017 Methane Reduction Plan and limit air pollution from oil and gas operations.
  3. Enforce specialized permit conditions for pipeline infrastructure.

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