Column by Mike Zagata, April 27, 2018
Christians Told: Help The Poor,
But Resist Continental Pipeline
Each week while attending church, a member of the clergy reminds us of our responsibility to assist the poor. Doing so is important and something engrained in us by our parents.
It is especially important in this area because we are part of Appalachia, a region known for its poverty. Indeed, according to Catholic Charity’s definition of poverty, 30 percent, or three out of 10 of Otsego, Delaware and Schoharie counties’ residents live in poverty.
What is interesting about this is that, when the issue of exploring for natural gas in New York was being debated, Oneonta’s churches inserted a flyer opposing fracking for natural gas in their weekly bulletins. The direct result was the loss of the jobs that would have come to the area and thus help lift people out of poverty.
That includes jobs for the BOCES graduates trained as welders, heavy-equipment operators and surveyors.
At the time, there was valid concern that this misunderstood process might contaminate our water and air. Those concerns have not been realized in Pennsylvania and that economy has prospered – more people have jobs as a result.
However, it just seemed inconsistent with what I was hearing about helping the poor to oppose something that could have helped lift them out of poverty.
The real impact on the poor wasn’t fully understood at the time. However, it is now crystal clear.
New York State Electric and Gas (NYSEG), now owned by a company headquartered in Spain, was counting on the new source of natural gas and the Constitution Pipeline to enable it to provide Oneonta with the gas it needs.
That means not just gas needed for us to grow, but enough gas (and electricity in the form of three-phase power) to be able to supply the needs of the businesses, institutions and residences that are here now.
NYSEG brings gas to Oneonta via a pipeline from DeRuyter. That pipeline is in a state of disrepair after decades of neglect, and Iberdrola, NYSEG’s Spanish owner, isn’t interested in spending the money it would take to repair the pipeline to the degree that it could deliver enough gas to meet existing demand, no less improve it to the point that it could meet demand from projected growth.
They look at Oneonta as being stagnant and thus not a good place to invest capital. Some are questioning whether or not they are living up to their franchise agreement to provide an adequate gas supply.
You might not know this, but our some of our educational institutions and the hospital are on what is known as “curtailment” with regards to their natural gas supply. That means, if it gets too hot or too cold and the overall demand for natural gas increases beyond NYSEG’s ability to supply it, those institutions must replace their use of natural gas for heating with oil-fired generators.
That is more expensive and increases air pollution.
Things are so bad that Lutz Feed bought a new gas-fired dryer to reduce the moisture content of stored corn and NYSEG told them not to hook it up. Why? because there wasn’t enough natural gas. What does that tell us about the likelihood of Oneonta being able to attract new businesses and manufacturers that could provide jobs to those who need jobs and to the young people who might like to remain here?
The next time the basket is passed in church, put in a little extra to help the poor. You see, we helped keep them that way.
Mike Zagata, former DEC commissioner in the Pataki Administration and environmental executive for Fortune 500 companies, lives in West Davenport.