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Filmmaker, citizens group challenge National Fuel’s proposed pipeline project

Josh Fox traveled the world seeking answers about climate change for his new documentary.

Fox ground his way through jungles in Peru and Ecuador, rode a homemade pontoon boat by South Pacific islands, interviewed asthmatic children in the smog of hyper-industrialized Beijing and waded through Superstorm Sandy’s rubble on Rockaway Beach.

Fox, 44, brought his message – and a sneak preview of his newest documentary “How to Let Go of the World and Love All the Things Climate Can’t Change” – to a high school auditorium in Pendleton this week, after its international premiere in Toronto.

“Climate change is not one global fight. It’s thousands of local fights,” said Fox, an Academy-Award nominated film director. “This is how we break free.”

Fox, who gained worldwide acclaim in the environmental movement and a 2011 Oscar nomination for his anti-hydrofracking movie “Gasland,” came to the small Niagara County farming community as a show of support for the Pendleton Action Team.

The citizen-based organization is trying to scuttle the National Fuel Northern Access Project, a natural gas pipeline and compressor and dehydration stations proposed in Niagara County to connect Pennsylvania shale gas with Canada.

Residents cite concerns over public health with the proposed natural gas infrastructure. They contend it’s designed to allow National Fuel Gas to export its product overseas for higher profit at a cost of polluting the air of local communities with toxic chemicals.

Kim Lemieux, a Pendleton Action Team organizer, said the proposed project would be too close to residents’ homes in a rapidly developing residential area and would threaten the health of the community.

“There is no need for this pipeline,” Lemieux said. “There is no U.S. benefit whatsoever. All the gas is going to Canada.”

“This isn’t even for us,” added John Cunningham, an area independent environmental consultant.

National Fuel Gas officials, who were not at Tuesday’s event, disagree with the residents’ characterizations.

Karen L. Merkel, a National Fuel spokeswoman, said the gas from Pennsylvania would go into the North American pipeline system “for use across markets in the northeastern United States and Canada.”

She said utility customers in both countries have benefited from nearly a decade of shale gas development through dramatically lower prices. She added the company safely designed and operates 39 compressor stations in New York and Pennsylvania.

“Within its pipeline and storage business, the company has more than a century’s worth of experience in building and operating natural gas facilities and is committed to safely constructing and operating pipeline systems with minimal environmental and community impacts,” Merkel said in a statement.

Merkel said National Fuel’s Northern Access Project would bring millions of dollars of new tax revenue into Niagara County, including to the towns of Pendleton and Wheatfield and their school districts.

Fox told Tuesday’s audience of about 100 people that a strong grassroots appeal to Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo can torpedo National Fuel’s plan.

“I think you will succeed,” Fox said. “If there are enough of us who come together and say, ‘This has to stop,’ then we will stop it.”

“Gov. Cuomo has been sympathetic to that before, especially when it’s not in our interest in any way, shape or form,” he said.

Last month, the Cuomo administration shot down developers’ plans for the Constitution Pipeline, which would have brought Pennsylvania shale gas into New York near Binghamton to connect with another pipeline just west of Albany. The state Department of Environmental Conservation rejected an application on grounds it could threaten regional watersheds.

A decision on National Fuel’s Northern Access permit application is expected by Oct. 25.