City Councilman Costa Constantinides (D-Astoria) won another victory last week in the fight to improve the lives of his constituents living in “Asthma Alley,” the area in western Queens that is home to almost half of the city’s power plants and, especially in the neighborhoods of Astoria and Long Island City, is subjected to pollution from jets taking off and landing at LaGuardia Airport.
The city council voted overwhelmingly to pass Constantinides’ bill, INT. 359. It would ensure that the Department of Environmental Protection and the Department of Mental Health and Hygiene will identify and study environmental justice communities, neighborhoods with a significant low-income population or communities of color. The study would examine sources of pollution, adverse health impacts of the pollution, the environmental impacts of city policies on communities, barriers to participation in environmental decision-making faced by the communities, rate of current and potential future utilization of renewable energy, and policy recommendations to address environmental concerns.
The council also passed INT. 886, which creates an interagency working group to develop plans that ensure all neighborhoods have equal access to environmental protection against pollution as well as environmental benefits, such as greenspace, waterfront access, and infrastructure while including neighborhoods in the planning process. Together, the bills represent the most comprehensive environmental justice legislative package of any city in the nation.
“As the recent executive order on climate shows, the Trump administration will choose fossil fuels over our public health and safety,” Constantinides said. “It’s up to cities to make combating climate change and reducing pollution a top priority. By voting on this legislative package, we show New York is leading the way. We are the first city in the nation to pass any piece of environmental justice legislation since the Trump inauguration.”
Constantinides, the chairman of the council’s Environmental Protection Committee, explained that low-income communities of color bear the disproportionate burdens of power plants, sewage treatment plants, highway factories, and other sources of hazardous pollution. These emissions are stagnant and therefore concentrated in communities such as the Queensbridge Houses, the nation’s largest public housing development, which sits directly across Vernon Boulevard from the Ravenswood generating plant, known to locals as “Big Allis.”
“For far too long, environmental justice communities have had more sources of pollution and fewer environmental amenities in their neighborhoods, leading to adverse health effects,” Constantinides said. “This legislation will work to make our city services more equally and fairly distributed.”
The bills are expected to be signed into law by Mayor Bill de Blasio in the coming weeks.
Reach reporter Bill Parry by e-mail at bparr
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