Representatives of local EJ (environmental justice) groups in NYC addressed the DEC (Department of Environmental Conservation) on Wednesday on the agency’s new, proposed regulations for power plant siting. At 90 Church Street in Manhattan, the groups represented Southern Brooklyn, Northern Brooklyn, the South Bronx, West Harlem and less directly, all “EJ communities” and anyone now or potentially exposed to power plant pollution.
The DEC is required to amend Article 10 of the Public Service Law under the Power New York Act of 2011, which was pushed by Governor Cuomo last year. The original Article 10 expired in 2003 and groups have been lobbying for it’s renewal and revision ever since. The purpose of Article 10 is to both limit C02 emissions from power plants and to create further protections for low income, minority and environmentally burdened communities from new or expanding power plants that generate at least 25 MWs in or near residential areas. Article 10 will require applicants of power plant permits to conduct an EJ analysis, which will include demographic variables as well as existing environmental variables.
Although there were some differences, such as a diversion into the Indian Point nuclear plant, the EJ activists generally commended the Cuomo Administration for pushing forward this action. However, there were common suggestions such as increasing the “impact study area” of a half-mile radius from a power plant to two miles: air pollutants, particularly smog, travel beyond a half-mile. “That may be okay for New York City,” said Norris McDonald of the African American Environmental Association (AAEA) “but I think the two-mile limit will probably work better outside of that in other areas of the State, particularly in rural areas, specifically as it relates to low income communities.”
The suggestion of expanding the impact study area to two miles related to another theme of the hearing: gentrification. Several speakers pointed out that what may have been a result of early EJ victories in the 1980s and 90s, certain communities have experienced a significant demographic shift. The south side of Williamsburg, said a member of El Puente, in the 2000 Census was 75% Latino; it is now 46%. Under the proposed regulations, minority residents will have to comprise at least 51% of the impact study area in order for it to be considered an “EJ community.” Eddy Baltista, Executive Director of the NYC EJ Aliance (NYCEJA) suggested confidently that the power plants will end up where the minority residents are.
Common concerns also included the provision in the proposals for the permit applicant (the power plant company) to conduct the analysis. In addition, Gavin Kearny of NY Lawyers for the Public Interest suggested that the language could be interpreted by the applicant “to give the applicant discretion as to whether to increase the impact study area beyond a half-mile.” The proposed regulations involve the potential of a wider impact study area depending on certain conditions. Kearny suggested that the language should be strengthened as to make that widening mandatory under those conditions.
Another common suggestion was to include more existing environmental conditions in an impact study area such as minor particles, mobile emission sources and cumulative impacts of minor emissions.
The Power Act was passed within the context of a possible closure of Indian Point Energy Center (IPEC) in 2016. Since such an event may trigger new power plants in NYC, the AAEA supports the renewal of IPEC’s license. The NYCEJA on the other hand, opposes the relicensing of the forty-year-old plant in Buchanan, Westchester. “Even though we are concerned with the impacts of co-pollutants and greenhouse gases we are more concerned with the radioactive exposures and other associated impacts in case there’s an accident,” said a member of UPROSE.
Article 10 is to go into effect August 4th. The comment period ends on March 15th. All information is available on DEC’s website and they will be accepting digital comment.
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