Posted on April 20, 2017
New York City environmental justice groups outline plan for climate action in Trump era
The New York City Environmental Justice Alliance is releasing a report this week pushing for more aggressive city action on energy and environment issues as President Donald Trump’s administration looks to shutter a catalog of programs designed to help the poor and the environment.
The group, which represents environmental interests for under-served communities, applauded Mayor Bill de Blasio’s push for a variety of clean energy and pollution-curbing policies. But it also outlined areas where it believes the city needs to make better progress on both cutting emissions and protecting vulnerable communities from the effects of climate change, especially under a president who seems opposed in theory to clean energy and environmental protection.
“In the Trump era, everyone knows any kind of climate action is going to be at a city and state level,” Eddie Bautista, director of the New York City Environmental Justice Alliance, told POLITICO New York. “We tried to be realistic and understand that with the Trump administration, we’re going to have to be creative on how we fund some of the city’s resiliency needs.”
The paper, titled “Climate Justice in a State of Emergency: What New York City Can Do,” lays out five policy areas the group wants City Hall to focus on: urban heat island mitigation; food system resiliency; renewable energy and energy resiliency; air quality and low-emission zones; and coastal resiliency. The group also proposes the creation of a city fund dedicated to climate and resiliency issues as hundreds of millions in federal dollars stand to be cut.
Urban heat island is a condition that results from lack of vegetation and excessive heat produced by buildings, boosting the temperature of cities. It can be lethal for vulnerable communities with high rates of respiratory and other medical conditions. Citing scientific research, the group expects that by 2080, 3,000 people in New York alone will die of heat-related illnesses. By 2050, the number of heatwaves are expected to quadruple.
The report calls for the city to prioritize at risk communities through expanded tree planting and other green infrastructure and with greater access to cooling centers.
Food resiliency encompasses both food waste and food insecurity. During major storms like Hurricane Sandy, the city’s food distribution facilities were vulnerable to floods and were cut off from key access points. The report calls on the city to implement strategies for food distribution in the event of a similar storm. It also calls on the city to more aggressively pursue food waste reductions through donation programs and with less dumping in vulnerable communities.
The report calls for the city to enter into power purchase agreements for offshore wind, and the group asks the city to make sure there is local job creation, with training, as wind is developed off the coast of Queens and Long Island. It also calls for greater deployment of solar and battery storage to communities, both to reduce the use of “peaker plants,” which tend to have high emissions, and to provide power amid large-scale outages.
The group also calls for increased study and implementation of “low emission zones” to improve air quality. Low-income communities of color tend to have an outsized share of power plants, waste facilities and highway traffic, exacerbating an already critical incidence of asthma and other respiratory illnesses. Low-emission zones would eliminate some of the infrastructure that has historically led to such pollution.
Finally, the report argues post-Sandy funding for coastal resiliency has been poorly allocated, leaving many low-income communities under threat of flooding in another major storm. The report recommends a series of fund-raising measures to ensure coastal areas other than just Lower Manhattan have adequate funding.
The group recommends the establishment of a “citywide coastal resilience fund,” derived from a $100 fee on all Department of Buildings permits, which the report claims will generate more than $19 million annually for coastal protection.
The group proposes that businesses in “significant maritime and industrial areas,” which tend to have higher pollution rates than elsewhere, donate 10 cents per square foot of property to the fund with the city matching 25 percent of contributions.
As noted in the report, the mayor has proposed aggressive policies around green infrastructure, zero waste, renewable energy and flood mitigation, all within a lens of equity for low-income communities. But the report is meant to focus on areas where the group believes there has not been sufficient progress, with a goal of pushing City Hall even further as support from Washington dwindles.
“We commend Mayor DeBlasio for reframing the conversation around sustainability and resiliency by putting equity at the forefront; however, there is considerable work to be done to safeguard low-income communities of color from various climate change impacts,” the report’s conclusion states. “The environmental justice movement will continue to work with Mayor de Blasio’s team to expound on and implement these initiatives, and we look forward to the progress that will be announced this Earth Day.”
The full report can be read here.