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Opponents want pipeline-related permits rescinded

President Donald Trump revived the Keystone XL pipeline and Dakota Access pipeline with a highly publicized executive order this week. In New York state, Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s administration has quietly acted to further energy pipelines across the state.

On the day before Christmas Eve, Cuomo’s Department of Environmental Conservation approved permits to allow a 200-mile gas pipeline in New York state to expand its capacity. The permits, which became effective on Jan. 1, allow three gas compressor stations to upgrade. That will enable the existing Dominion-New Market pipeline to pump larger quantities of fracked natural gas.

It was weeks before opponents discovered that the permits had been granted. Now, 69 groups are asking that the decision be rescinded because they say the environmental agency did not adequately address their concerns expressed in public comments.

Keith Schue with the Cooperstown-based group Otsego 2000 said the whole point of having environmental regulations and a permitting process is for the agency to answer public worries.

“There’s 10 pages worth of legal analysis that we did,” Schue said. “And we don’t see any response to that important legal analysis.”

Schue said he has plenty of proof that the comments did indeed get to the DEC, including screen shots of time-stamped emailed comments and the receipt for a hard copy of the comments mailed to the agency. He said he also delivered the legal analysis and other papers in person to the agency.

Nicolle Dillingham, who is the director of Otsego 2000 and an attorney with experience in environmental law, said the groups are considering court action if they don’t get a response.

“We’re looking at whether that would constitute legal grounds for a suit,” Dillingham said.

Dillingham said it’s ironic that New York state bans fracking, but the pipeline’s expanded capacity will subject people who live in other states to suffer what she believes are its ill health effects.

“I refer to this as a ‘frack your neighbor’ policy. It is intellectually dishonest and ethically wrong,” Dillingham said. “If it’s not safe in New York, it’s not safe for the people of Pennsylvania or West Virginia or Ohio.”

Not everyone is unhappy with the decision. Greg Biryla with the chamber of commerce-affiliated Unshackle Upstate said better access to cheap natural gas can boost manufacturing and create needed jobs in New York.

“It will provide more energy resources into the system,” Biryla said, “hopefully making it more affordable and cheaper for high-end energy users like manufacturers to operate in New York state.”

The Department of Environmental Conservation said in a statement that the permits were issued after “careful review” and include “stringent and unprecedented conditions to address air quality concerns.”

And, the agency said, all public comments received were adequately addressed.

Here’s the full statement:

“After careful review, the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) issued minor source permits on 12/23/16, effective 1/1/17, for the three facilities proposed by Dominion. The permits included stringent and unprecedented conditions to address air quality concerns. Before issuing the permits, DEC held three legislative public hearings on the issue and extended the public comment period in order to ensure the public had adequate opportunity to assist DEC in its review. DEC reviewed and considered all comments prior to making its final determination on the permits, including comments submitted by all commenting interest groups involved in this process before as well as during the public comment period.”

Karen DeWitt is Capitol Bureau Chief for New York State Public Radio, a network of 10 public radio stations in New York State. She has covered state government and politics for the network since 1990.