U.S. EPA to Investigate NYS Department of Environmental Conservation Approval of Brooklyn Natural Gas Pipeline

Complaint Filed by Brooklyn Community Groups in August Accused DEC of Discrimination After Failing to Review Natural Gas Pipeline

Contact: Amy Paul, paul@nclej.org

The United States Environmental Protection Agency is investigating the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation’s actions in approving National Grid’s Brooklyn natural gas pipeline, following a federal civil rights complaint filed in August alleging the pipeline discriminated against communities of color.

Community groups include Brownsville Green Justice, the Ocean Hill-Brownsville Coalition of Young Professionals, Mi Casa Resiste, and the Indigenous Kinship Collective. The community groups who filed the federal complaint are represented by the Civil Rights and Disability Justice Clinic at New York Law School Legal Services, Inc., and the National Center for Law and Economic Justice. 

The complaint alleges DEC was aware of National Grid’s violations during the construction of the pipeline, which runs through predominantly communities of color, including failing to notify community members of the project and bypassing critical safety and health regulations. Despite these issues, DEC failed to conduct the appropriate environmental reviews and allowed the project to proceed. The complaint alleges that DEC would not have given its approval had this project been planned in predominantly white communities. 

In a letter, the U.S. EPA stated it would investigate why DEC failed to conduct an environmental review of the entire pipeline and only issued a “negative declaration” declaring no adverse impact for a small subsection of the project. Furthermore, the EPA will examine whether DEC failed to properly engage and consult impacted communities in the review process. 

The EPA also said that it would refer the investigation of the National Grid and the Department of Public Service, which is also named in the complaint, for consideration to the Departments of Justice, Transportation, and Energy. 

“The failure of DEC to properly review this pipeline with the LNG facility is just the latest in a long history of environmental racism against communities of color. We allege that had this project been proposed in white communities, DEC would have been much more rigorous and actually undertaken an environmental assessment of the risks and dangers of this project. DEC’s illegal segmentation and failure to review the environmental harms of the Pipeline and LNG facility together is in stark contrast to state law and the position it has taken in white communities, where it has required that an environmental review of pipelines and the gas and power plants they connect to as one project before they can go forward. National Grid has always made clear that this pipeline was designed to massively increase the amount of gas that the Greenpoint LNG facility stores, produces, and sells, and DEC’s failure to consider these projects together means that the environmental harms of the pipeline have gone unchecked. Because this pipeline runs through Black and Brown neighborhoods, they believed they could get away with skirting the law. The decision by the EPA to investigate DEC is a big victory for residents, and we will continue to do everything possible to hold state regulators accountable,” said Anjana Malhotra, Senior Attorney at the National Center for Law and Economic Justice. 

The August filing was submitted to the Environmental Protection Agency, the Department of Justice, the Department of Transportation, and the Department of Energy alleging violations under Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, which bars entities that receive federal funding from engaging in racial discrimination. 

The August complaint alleged that National Grid did not follow the required procedures to notify or educate the public about the pipeline or consider the impact of the pipeline on communities of color. Furthermore, DEC failed to review the environmental impact of the pipeline, including the disproportionate impact it would have on communities of color, in violation of state law and Title VI.

In particular, DEC did not review phases 1-4 when it reviewed the environmental impact of the Greenpoint LNG facility separately, which breaks from its direct precedent when reviewing such projects in predominantly white communities. Phases 1-4 of the pipeline is completed and currently transporting fracked gas through the Brownsville, Ocean Hill, Bushwick, East Williamsburg, and Williamsburg neighborhoods, which are predominantly Black and Latinx. These areas have the highest rates of asthma in the city and lower life-expectancy rates than the rest of the city, due in part to local health disparities caused by pollution.

The Greenpoint portion of the pipeline and project has already been halted. According to demographic data, Greenpoint has the largest proportion of the white population compared to the other neighborhoods impacted by this project.