Landmark NY Pipeline Rejection a Turning Point for State Action
New York State’s recent rejection of a new gas pipeline to Long Island and New York City, based in part on its recent-enacted climate law, is emerging as a possible precedent for other jurisdictions across the U.S.. But legal counters are just as likely, particularly given the Trump administration’s predilection for challenging state authority when it comes to fossil fuel development.
“Law professors and New York state policy experts say this is the first time they’ve seen New York, and perhaps any state, use a climate law to effectively block a fossil fuel project,” InsideClimate News reports. The move is a clear message that “this is how you walk the talk,” said Peter Iwanowicz, the executive director of Environmental Advocates of New York and a former acting commissioner of the Department of Environmental Conservation. “Merely having goals absent the force of law [isn’t] enough,” he told ICN.
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While the message is being heard—ICN reports that New Jersey regulators also denied permits for the pipeline—there is still a difficult road ahead. The denials, along with any future attempts to assert the decision’s broader legal authority, will be challenged in court, said climate lawyer Eleanor Stein, a former administrative judge for New York’s public utilities commission.
“The agency’s argument to deny the water permit for the Williams project would be far more vulnerable during any legal challenge if it relied solely on the state’s climate law for justification and did not cite concerns about toxic sediments compromising water quality,” she told InsideClimate. “This is by no means the end of the road in terms of law.”
Generating further headwinds for those hoping to invoke state climate laws to fight fossil infrastructure will be the Trump administration, “which has worked to speed up the development of fossil fuel infrastructure through deregulation and by challenging states’ authority,” writes ICN. Over the last year, in particular, the White House has been seeking to weaken Section 401 of the Clean Water Act, which “essentially gives states the power to stop federally approved projects if they pose a threat to state waters.”
Evaluating the significance of such interference, Stein observed: “There has always been a tension between federal and state rights. But this is a whole new level.”