On Friday, March 11, 2022, and Saturday, March 12, 2022, Chair Raúl M. Grijalva (D-Ariz.) of the Committee on Natural Resources and Chairwoman Carolyn B. Maloney (D-N.Y.) of the Committee on Oversight and Reform toured multiple neighborhoods in New York City, including Queensbridge, Sunset Park, and West Harlem.

The lawmakers visited communities that have been subjected to a long history of racist, unjust policies and proposals, including the deliberate placement of power plants, sewage treatment plants, and other polluters in their backyards. These environmental injustices pollute their air, poison their water, and reduce their economic opportunities.

To be clear, residents in these communities have not simply stood by as their wellbeing has been sacrificed for polluter profits. Grassroots-level activists have organized, mobilized, and fought against disproportionate pollution in their communities for decades. They have had inspiring successes, but they continue to face major roadblocks along the way.

Through their experience, local community leaders have become the involuntary experts in what policy changes we need at the local, state, and national level to make sure everyone — no matter where they live — has access to clean air, clean water, and an environment that enriches their lives.

That’s why Chair Grijalva and Chairwoman Maloney wanted to visit these communities. On one hand, it was a chance to see firsthand the realities of environmental injustice. But more importantly, it was an opportunity to get invaluable input from local and state leaders about how federal policy can help ensure environmental justice for all, both in these communities and across the country.

Chair Grijalva’s Environmental Justice For All Act, which he introduced with Rep. A. Donald McEachin on March 18, 2021, is no stranger to community input and feedback. The bill — the most comprehensive piece of environmental legislation to date — has been shaped through a historic years-long, community-led process, which you can read more about here. The lawmakers visit to New York was the kick-off of a nationwide tour of environmental justice communities that will continue to shape this comprehensive legislation before it goes to committee markup, the next big step in the legislative process.

Chairwoman Maloney also introduced the Justice in Power Plant Permitting Act on Feb. 1, 2022. It will advance an equitable transition to clean energy in environmental justice communities overburdened by pollution from sources like the Ravenswood Generating Station, the largest fossil-fuel burning power plant in New York State, which Chairwoman Maloney and Chair Grijalva visited with community leaders. As the Chair of the Committee on Oversight and Reform, she is also leading the charge to oversee implementation of the Biden-Harris Administration’s Justice40 Initiative.

When we craft policy solutions to address problems, it’s critical the people most affected by the problem have a seat at the decision-making table. Chair Grijalva and Chairwoman Maloney’s two-day visit in New York City helped make sure that was the case.

Highlights from each event and site visit, including quotes and pictures, are detailed below in chronological order.

Stakeholder Meeting on Justice40 Initiative Oversight and Ravenswood Generating Station Tour — Queens, New York

Chairwoman Maloney hosted Chair Grijalva and other stakeholders for a meeting at the Jacob Riis Neighborhood Settlement in Queensbridge Houses, the largest public housing development in the country. Located in Chairwoman Maloney’s district, Queensbridge Houses is surrounded by ten peaker plants within one mile, and their pollution is exacerbated year-round by the Ravenswood Generating Station, the largest baseload power plant in the city. The housing development is home to mostly Black and Latino residents and is part of the area dubbed, “Asthma Alley.”

Environmental justice and state leaders at the meeting discussed the Biden-Harris administration’s Justice40 Initiative and federal policy proposals. The meeting participants convened outside Jacob Riis for a press conference where they shared more about their personal experiences and hopes for federal policy.

Participants joining Chairwoman Maloney and Chair Grijalva for the meeting and press conference, included:

Elizabeth Yeampierre, Executive Director of UPROSE, Member of the New York State Climate Justice Working Group, and Co-Chair of the Climate Justice Alliance Board of Directors

Eddie Bautista, Executive Director of the New York City Environmental Justice Alliance and Member of the New York State Climate Justice Working Group

Dana Johnson, Senior Director of Strategy and Federal Policy, WE ACT for Environmental Justice

Anthony Karefa Rogers-Wright, Director of Environmental Justice for New York Lawyers for the Public Interest and Member of the New York Renews Steering Committee

Doreen Harris, President and CEO of the New York State Energy Research and Development Authority and Co-Chair of the New York State Climate Action Council

Basil Seggos, Commissioner of the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation and Co-Chair of the New York State Climate Action Council

Donovan Richards, President of Borough of Queens, New York

A recording of the livestream of the press conference is available here:

“Those closest to the pain should be closest to the power. Why? Because our families and children, especially those in working class communities of color deserve not just a better today but a better tomorrow. They deserve air they can breathe, water they can drink, housing that is safe, and a community that is not left in shambles in the wake of every storm.”

— Donovan Richards

“If we don’t check climate change, and dismantle its root causes, white supremacy, patriarchy, and colonization, environmental justice communities like this one — where we stand right now — will continue to be treated as energy and economic sacrifices. In short, we must not allow Justice40 to become the next 40 acres and a mule.”

— Anthony Karefa Rogers-Wright

Following the press conference, Chairwoman Maloney invited Chair Grijalva and the other stakeholders for a tour of the Ravenswood Generating Station, presented by the plant’s owner, Rise Light & Power. Its biggest generating unit and smokestack is notoriously known as “Big Allis” to community residents, and Big Allis and Ravenswood’s other fossil fuel units provide 20–25% of the city’s power generation. The plant exclusively relies on fossil fuels, sparking major concerns about the impact of the plant on community residents’ health from environmental justice leaders and Rise Light & Power.

Over the past year, Chairwoman Maloney and community residents have called on the state to adopt plans to shutter the plant and convert it to a renewable energy hub through the FY2023 budget, wind energy solicitations, and clean energy transmission awards. Rise Light & Power has submitted proposals to renewably repower the entirety of Ravenswood’s fossil fuel fleet at least ten years before the state’s climate law mandates a clean power sector. These proposals had already earned support from several environmental justice stakeholders who participated in the Committee events. Also joining the tour in support of the proposals were representatives from New York City Housing Authority (NYCHA) Resident Associations, the NAACP-NYCHA branch, and the Utility Workers Union of America Local 1–2. The tour included a presentation of Rise Light & Power’s plan followed by a community dialogue facilitated by the Chairs. Environmental justice leaders and local residents spoke to the importance of public participation and reducing cumulative pollution impacts in frontline communities when the state considers such proposals.

Sunset Park Neighborhood Tour and Presentation by UPROSE — Brooklyn, New York

UPROSE is a nationally recognized, grassroots organization that promotes sustainability and resiliency in Brooklyn’s Sunset Park neighborhood through climate justice advocacy. They have been successful in leading efforts to stop the siting of power plants, instituting an urban forestry campaign, and doubling the amount of open space in Sunset Park, among other efforts. The group has also been instrumental in providing input for Chair Grijalva’s Environmental Justice For All Act.

UPROSE led Chair Grijalva and Chairwoman Maloney on a bus tour of environmental justice sites throughout the neighborhood including:

· South Brooklyn Marine Terminal (SBMT) — This 72-acre industrial waterfront site will soon be home to one of the largest offshore wind port facilities in the nation. UPROSE has been advocating to bring offshore wind to SBMT for more than two decades.

· Sims Recycling Center — Located in New York City’s largest industrial waterfront, the recycling center is a prime example of how private industry has worked with the surrounding communities to make infrastructure sustainable and safe.

· Brooklyn Army Terminal — The terminal is a quasi-public-private entity that is home to UPROSE’s 685-kilowatt community solar project that will provide 150–200 local households and business significant savings on their energy bills. UPROSE and the city’s Economic Development Corporation are also working to implement other green energy projects at the site that support local businesses and workers.

· Bush Terminal Piers Park — The 23-acre recreation area located on the industrial waterfront was opened in 2014. UPROSE led advocacy to create the park using part of the $40 million in federal, state, and city funds that were secured to clean up the landfill formerly located at the site.

“One of the things that I like about EJ [Environmental Justice] For All is that it centers community engagement in a meaningful way and understands that communities have to be partners in governance, that it embraces this idea of co-governance — not threatened by community leadership, but sees that the community has access to a brain trust that actually amplifies the work of any elected official.”

— Elizabeth Yeampierre, UPROSE

South Brooklyn Marine Terminal
Bush Terminal Park

After the tour, UPROSE hosted Chair Grijalva and Chairwoman Maloney at their headquarters for a presentation on the organization’s Green Resilient Industrial District (GRID) proposal for Sunset Park’s industrial waterfront area. The proposal provides an alternative to the current proposal to zone the area for luxury big box retail.

The GRID proposal would provide the area with critical climate adaptation, mitigation, and resilience infrastructure. Doing so would provide a working model for justly transitioning from a fossil fuel-dependent economy to a green industrial economy that provides residents with workforce training in renewable energy and climate jobs.

“All over the United States, what we’ve learned from doing this work, is that communities are looking to shut down the industrial sector because it’s killing them. But here in Sunset Park, we had to think about how you retain the working-class character of the community? How do you keep it a walk-to-work community? We do that by looking at the industrial sector and thinking about how we can serve our future needs, create jobs, and keep it industrial and retain industrial uses… So we have been meeting with industrial partners to see how we can re-power, retrofit their buildings, retrofit their trucks, and keep them in business. Just not at the expense of our lives.”

— Elizabeth Yeampierre, UPROSE

Public Input Forum for Environmental Justice For All Act — Virtual

Staying true to the robust public input process that has shaped the bill since its inception, Chair Grijalva held a virtual public input forum on the Environmental Justice For All Act. Following remarks from Chair Grijalva, the bill’s co-author Rep. McEachin, and Chairwoman Maloney, the forum’s participants were split up into breakout rooms where local environmental justice leaders facilitated conversations about the legislation.

The conversations centered on key aspects of the bill, including changes to Title IV of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and provisions related to cumulative pollution impacts, public input requirements, and federal agency accountability. The conversations were transcribed and will be used to strengthen the bill and support future legislative proceedings.

Facilitators for the forum included:

Dana Johnson, Senior Director of Strategy and Federal Policy, WE ACT for Environmental Justice

Anthony Karefa Rogers-Wright, Director of Environmental Justice for New York Lawyers for the Public Interest and Member of the New York Renews Steering Committee

Violeta Múnera Guerrero, Climate Resilience Coordinator at UPROSE

Raya Salter, Member of the Evergreen Advisory Board, Member of the New York State Climate Action Council, and Adjunct Professor of Law at the Cardozo Law School

“It is my hope that the feedback we receive from you and other communities across the nation will help to ensure that this bill continues to be grounded by community-led solutions and that the Environmental Justice For All Act continues to serve as ‘the peoples’ bill.’”

— Chair Grijalva

Community Meeting and Presentation by WE ACT for Environmental Justice — West Harlem, New York

WE ACT for Environmental Justice is a nationally recognized, grassroots organization committed to building healthy communities by supporting the active participation of communities of color and low-income communities in the environmental policymaking process. For more than 30 years, they have been successful in fighting against polluters in their community and securing funds for environmental initiatives. The group has also been key to helping shape the Environmental Justice For All Act.

The organization hosted Chair Grijalva, Rep. Adriano Espaillat, and local community residents at their headquarters in West Harlem for a presentation on their work to identify faulty equipment design at the North River Sewage Treatment Plant that was causing the release of noxious fumes. As a result of WE ACT’s advocacy, the plant has upgraded their facility to meet higher air quality standards and reduce the release of toxins. The state has also constructed a 28-acre state park to increase the amount of open space in the neighborhood.

The meeting also gave participants the opportunity to give additional feedback on the Environmental Justice For All Act and how its provisions could support the work they’re doing in West Harlem and beyond.

“To be able to sit at the table and imagine and envision and brainstorm around what could be in our communities in a way that aligns and supports resident interests is also what [the Environmental Justice For All] bill gives us the opportunity to do.”

— Dana Johnson

“[When I started on] the Environmental Justice For All bill, I made the same arrogant mistakes that other legislators make — coming in with the assumption that you know everything and basing it on your experience. There are some commonalities among frontline communities, but there is uniqueness among them as well. One cookie cutter approach is not going to satisfy every community… So, we decided on a whole different process. It was going to be developed through a public engagement process that involved the communities that were there, communities that were fighting it, advocates, and organizations.”

— Chair Grijalva

--

--

Get the Medium app

A button that says 'Download on the App Store', and if clicked it will lead you to the iOS App store
A button that says 'Get it on, Google Play', and if clicked it will lead you to the Google Play store
Nat Resources Dems

House Natural Resources Committee Democrats, U.S. House of Representatives.