By: Samantha Maldonado
A second federal agency is kicking off a civil rights probe into the approval of part of a natural gas pipeline snaking through Brooklyn.
The U.S. Department of Transportation will investigate whether the state Department of Public Service violated of federal discrimination laws when the Public Service Commission gave thumbs up to National Grid’s North Brooklyn Pipeline in August, according to a letter from DOT sent Friday and obtained by THE CITY.
The investigation is the second of its kind in response to a complaint filed in August by lawyers on behalf of several Brooklyn community groups. The federal Environmental Protection Agency is examining the state Department of Environmental Conservation’s actions in a related probe announced in October.
“We’re really glad the DOT is investigating because it’s a terrible precedent and really harmful for these communities, and it’s just kind of another way that state agencies skirt the law to allow infrastructure to be built in communities of color without adequate protection,” said Anjana Malhotra, a lawyer at the National Center for Law and Economic Justice, who filed the complaint.
She added the results of the probe could snag the last phase of construction of the pipeline, which is set to stretch from Brownsville to Greenpoint.
The complaint to the U.S. Department of Justice, Environmental Protection Agency, Department of Energy and Department of Transportation alleged the location and operation of the pipeline and related projects discriminate against communities of color that live along the nearly seven-mile route.
The complaint, which charges violations of federal and state environmental and civil rights laws, alleged National Grid misled the public about the nature of the pipeline project — and that the Public Service Commission, as part of the Department of Public Service, improperly approved it.
“The PSC makes its decisions based on a robust factual record and ensures that all interested stakeholders have an equal opportunity to add to that record,” said James Denn, spokesperson for the both state entities.
DOT is looking into whether the state violated federal laws when the PSC approved the expansion of the pipeline “without analyzing the adverse disparate impact of the pipeline on the African-American and Latinx New Yorkers,” according to the letter.
DOT will also examine whether the state is in compliance with nondiscrimination requirements in place to make sure people with disabilities and who speak languages other than English can engage in the state review process.
The line of inquiry is in response to the complaint’s allegation that community members were not aware of National Grid’s plans for the pipeline until 2020, after construction had begun.
The rate hike the PSC approved in August for National Grid customers in New York City and Long Island would in part pay for the first four phases of the pipeline — now operational from Brownsville to East Williamsburg — as well as infrastructure upgrades designed to ensure energy reliability and efficiency, as well reduce energy demand.
As part of that decision, the PSC is requiring a review showing the fifth phase — to the Greenpoint hub — is necessary for reliability before approval. The first four phases had been okayed by the city before the PSC approved cost recovery from ratepayers.