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Energy and Resources New York becomes latest U.S. state to reject a natural gas project

A bid to build a controversial pipeline to boost New York’s natural gas supply was rejected by authorities on Wednesday, the latest manifestation of a nationwide divide over the United States’ energy future.

The denial of the Northeast Supply Enhancement (NESE) project, whose plans included about 23 miles 37 kilometres of submarine pipeline off New York City’s coast, came as Washington state and Los Angeles also turned their backs on natural gas.

The nearly $1 billion plan by energy infrastructure firm Williams was denied by the New York Department of Environmental Conservation, which cited concerns over water quality and aquatic life.

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“Construction of the proposed project would result in significant water quality impacts from the re-suspension of sediments and other contaminants, including mercury and copper,” it said in a statement.

The decision comes a week after Washington state Governor Jay Inslee opposed two natural gas projects in his state, and three months after Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti said the city would phase out natural gas operations at three power plants.

In a statement, Williams lamented the decision and said it would resubmit an application to obtain the permits “quickly”.

“The Department of Environmental Conservation raised a minor technical issue with our application for water quality certification,” said Chris Stockton, a Williams spokesman.

Natural gas consumption has been growing steadily across the United States, totaling nearly 30,000 billion cubic feet last year, according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration.

The NESE project would have added 0.4 billion cubic feet a day.

It takes one billion cubic feet to supply about 5 million U.S. homes for a day.

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Though natural gas emits less planet-warming carbon dioxide than other fossil fuels, the pipeline would have been “a step in the wrong direction”, locking the country into a high-carbon future, said Robert Howarth, a professor at Cornell University.

A landmark United Nations report on climate change said last year that to keep the Earth’s temperature rise to a 1.5 degrees C target would require that renewable energy supply 70 per cent to 85 per cent of electricity by 2050, compared with about 25 per cent now.

“New York should be a leader toward that transition” to renewables, Howarth said.

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