Winning Campaign by New York Anti-Pipeline Activists Could Serve as a Model Across the U.S.

Posted June 1, 2016

MP3 Interview with Kim Fraczek, organizer with Resist AIM and co-director of the Sane Energy Project, conducted by Melinda Tuhus

pipeline

Local residents in communities where fracked gas infrastructure is being proposed or under construction, have been joining ever more urgently with those fighting climate change fueled by the extraction and burning of all fossil fuels. Natural gas is composed of methane, which is a much more powerful greenhouse gas than carbon dioxide in the near term. These anti-fracking and pipeline campaigns – along with lower fuel prices – have resulted in the cancellation of 20 fossil fuel projects so far this year.

In New York state, people have come together to fight Spectra's AIM pipeline project, which stands for Algonquin Incremental Market project. Opponents have carried out several direct action protests recently – three in the month of May alone – that resulted in two dozen arrests along the pipeline route. Exerting pressure on New York senators Chuck Schumer and Kirsten Gillibrand, activists won a declaration from both senators asking Spectra to stop construction of the pipeline until more health and safety studies are conducted. Among other concerns, the AIM pipeline is being built within 100 feet of the aging Indian Point nuclear power plant, raising fears of a potential catastrophic accident.

Between The Lines’ Melinda Tuhus spoke with Kim Fraczek, an organizer with Resist AIM and co-director of the Sane Energy Project. Here, she talks about the organizing that's been done thus far, and how activists can use their example as a model in other fight against fossil fuel projects around the country.

KIM FRACZEK: Just the day before, we got some really good news, on Friday, the 20, that Sens. Schumer and Gillibrand have come out publicly calling for a halt of the Spectra AIM pipeline. So we had a postcard campaign going for the last few months to try to get Schumer and Gillibrand to make a public call to halt the pipeline and to investigate FERC – the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission – who approved the project of Spectra Energy. We were so pleased; a lot of people’s energy was elevated on Saturday because we had this piece of information that our senators and our governor and our Department of Environmental Conservation, Public Services, Homeland Security and Department of Health were all standing with us to say, "Yes, we call for a halt of the AIM pipeline."

Monday we all showed up at Schumer’s office and we said, "We thank you for this, but the next step is that you actually have to call out for a halt to the pipeline." We need the next steps of Schumer to actually utilize his power in the Senate to stop the pipeline, and to investigate FERC, which is where we’ve been collaborating with Beyond Extreme Energy, which has been excellent in shining the light on FERC over the last several years, and calling out the faulty bureaucracy of FERC and how they function by only making money from the gas industry. And they’re really regulated by nobody, so there’s no accountability for FERC. They have an incentive to approve pipelines, and that’s what we’re calling on Sen. Schumer – who’s one of the most powerful senators in our Senate – to call out FERC on their behavior against public health and safety.

BETWEEN THE LINES: Kim Fraczek, you all carried out an incredibly creative action last week when you set up a recycled 20-foot shipping container that was transformed into a renewable energy home. And you set it up right on the path of the pipeline where they were doing construction.

KIM FRACZEK: We halted construction for the entire morning. We were hoping that the halts would go on for several weeks. The residents inside this renewable home were supplied with food for two weeks; they had a gray water system; compostable toilet; they had a green roof; solar power electricity-generating bicycle inside to charge their devices if they had to get work done; skylights for natural light. It was a beautiful, beautiful home.

BETWEEN THE LINES: So, the police arrested the two people inside the container pretty quickly, by cutting a hole into it and pulling them out.

KIM FRACZEK: It was actually very symbolic of the police department working in collusion with FERC and Spectra Energy against the will of the community – and against the solutions. So watching them haul off this beautiful, recycled, renewable-powered home in order to continue the construction of the Spectra pipeline was very devastating, very heart-breaking, very symbolic. So we’re hoping to build a popular consensus where we’re watching FERC and Spectra Energy basically shun our state government. Gov. Cuomo has said, please halt the Spectra pipeline so we can do an independent risk assessment, since Indian Point nuclear facility is leaking tritium as we speak; the pipeline right next to that is very dangerous, and we need to see where this might go wrong, and FERC and Spectra both said, "Nope, we’re going to continue." And now, Sens. Schumer and Gillibrand have come out and said, "Please halt this pipeline so we can really investigate. This is really putting the safety of 20 million people in the 50-mile radius of this pipeline at risk if something goes wrong." This is a democracy issue, this is a property rights issue, this is a water issue, this is an air issue.

BETWEEN THE LINES: I know that FERC was found to have illegally divided another pipeline project into segments and approving each one. But hasn’t Spectra done the same thing here?

KIM FRACZEK: What Spectra Energy has done is they have illegally separated the Algonquin Incremental Market pipeline into three separate projects so they don’t have to do a cumulative impact statement or study, and FERC has given them the green light to illegally segment this project. So the AIM is the first part of the project, which is going through Westchester County right now. The Atlantic Bridge will be the next part of the project that will be going from New York into Connecticut. And then the third part of the project will be Access Northeast, which will take this up into Massachusetts and beyond, specifically for export, to export this to international markets that will pay six to ten times more than the American market. They do have a series of power plants lined up along the way, specifically for setting our infrastructure up to be locked into gas for the future of their corporate plan. And building the power plants is a way for them to pass the cost of building the pipeline onto the ratepayers.

Find more information visit Sane Energy Project at saneenergyproject.org; Resist AIM at resistaim.wordpress.com; and on Facebook at facebook.com/resistaim.

BETWEEN THE LINES: What’s your next step?

KIM FRACZEK: The communities that live around these pipelines are saying "No! They do not want this." And Spectra Energy refuses to listen, refuses to comply with our solutions, they refuse to comply with our democracy, and they refuse to comply with the local law. And this is a problem for our entire nation, and if we can turn the Spectra AIM pipeline into the example of our local law taking back their power and shutting this pipeline down, I think we’ll be in really good shape in order to copy and paste that tactic across the nation.

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