NYC Department of Parks and Recreation and the Environmental Protection Agency have issued an update on the lead remediation and improvement project at the Red Hook ball fields. Continue reading “Red Hook Ball Fields Remediation Delayed by 10 Months”
Most homes in Suffolk County rely on septic tanks or cesspools to handle wastewater, methods which have resulted in severe nitrogen pollution in Long Island’s bays, rivers, and sound. Continue reading “Suffolk County’s Ambitious (and Expensive) Plan to Clean Waterways”
This post was written by Rachel Cleetus, Lead Economist and Climate Policy Manager for the Union of Concerned Scientists, and originally published on the UCSUSA blog.
News reports indicate that the Trump administration has big plans underway to undermine the work of the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), the lead agency working to protect our health and the environment from pollution. One troublesome development has already happened: last Friday the EPA was instructed to freeze all its grants and contracts, a move that could seriously impede the agency’s work the longer it is in place.
This is bad news for all Americans, especially our nation’s children.
Instead of blatantly attempting to put fossil fuel interests ahead of our clean air and clean water, the Trump administration must instead show us how it will protect our health and well-being.
Why we need the EPA
Clean air and clean water are not just “nice to have.”
Pollutants like smog, ozone, and mercury contribute to worsening asthma attacks (especially in young children), heart and lung ailments, and even premature death. What’s more, pollution imposes billions of dollars in costs to the economy in terms of hospital and other health costs, lost work days, lost school days, and other burdens, in addition to pain and suffering.
The EPA was established nearly 50 years ago, under President Nixon, with a mission to protect human health and the environment. Since then, across Republican and Democratic administrations, it has played an important role in responding to environmental disasters, from the 1979 Three Mile Island nuclear accident to the catastrophic 2008 coal ash spill in Kingston, Tennessee.
Equally important, the EPA has worked to implement major environmental laws passed by Congress, including the Clean Air Act and the Clean Water Act, which have helped to significantly to drive down harmful pollution and improve the health of Americans.
We need only look to the air quality in Beijing or New Delhi to understand where our country would be without these fundamental protections. Americans need and depend on the EPA to be our watchdog and guardian.
Gutting the EPA hurts real people
Efforts to gut the EPA—via budget and staffing cuts, cuts in research grants and activities, or by stopping the implementation of key public health safeguards—will hurt real people. These actions would almost certainly mean more children getting sick and American taxpayers not getting the science-based protections and information we have invested in.
When big car companies like Volkswagen and Fiat Chrysler evade our nation’s emissions laws, it is the EPA that takes the lead in bringing them into compliance (using science and methods that sometimes come from independent investigators such as the West Virginia University team that first discovered the so-called defeat device in VW vehicles).
The EPA works with Tribal communities to help with the cleanup of toxic waste sites, reduce pollution from fossil fuels, and expand access to information such as the toxic release inventory that helps all communities know their risks.
The EPA’s AirData website provides access to air quality data collected from outdoor air monitors around the nation, a vital source of information for communities and researchers.
The EPA’s Brownfields grant programs helps communities around the country to safely clean up and reuse properties contaminated by pollutants and hazardous wastes. These type of actions have helped revitalize neighborhoods and foster thriving communities in places once considered “blighted.”
These are just a few examples of the valuable work the EPA does. There’s a lot more work to do to continue our progress on cleaning up our air and water, particularly in low-income communities, communities of color, and tribal communities—which bear a disproportionate burden of pollution from fossil fuels and industrial sources. There’s always room for improvement, including in beefing up enforcement of existing laws.
But there is no good reason to undertake drastic measures to undermine the fundamental work of the agency, except to pander to the interests of polluting industries that care more about their bottom line than the costs they are imposing on society at large.
Health vs. economic growth is a false choice
We shouldn’t have to choose between our health and a thriving economy—and past experience shows we don’t need to. For example, the data show that over a 20-year period from 1990 to 2010 the Clean Air Act helped drive down total emissions of the six major air pollutants by more than 40 percent while GDP grew more than 64 percent.
In fact, if we act in a short-sighted way and reduce commonsense safeguards, we will undermine future economic growth and have to divert more and more resources to dealing with health problems and cleaning up environmental harms.
We can and should reduce pollution in a fair way that integrates economic prosperity and a cleaner, healthier environment. Americans deserve no less.
Using science and economics to tackle pollution
The EPA’s work is informed by robust science. For example, in setting pollution standards the EPA must take into account what the latest medical studies show about the impacts of pollutants like ozone or mercury on human health. Regulations are also informed by the latest science on cost-effective pollution control technologies and practices.
And for many pollutants the EPA must also do a cost-benefit analysis to ensure that the standards are being set in a way that takes into account the costs of pollution controls relative to the public health benefits. These types of cost-benefit analyses have been a mainstay of regulatory policy dating back to the Reagan Administration, and use very standard mainstream economic methods.
Of course, for toxic pollutants that pose an acute risk to human health, such as mercury, standards are set based on public health criteria as the law requires.
Additionally, the EPA administrator regularly solicits expert opinions from independent scientists and experts, including through the Clean Air Scientific Advisory Committee (CASAC) and the Science Advisory Board (SAB), both of which were created under direction from Congress in the late 1970s. The CASAC has weighed in on issues such as the appropriate setting of ozone standards and standards for nitrogen oxides and sulfur oxides. The SAB has been tapped to provide input on several key issues including the economy-wide modeling of the benefits and costs of environmental regulation and a review of the impacts of hydraulic fracturing for oil and gas on drinking water.
What’s your plan for clean air and water, President Trump?
Setting smart cost-effective public health standards has helped improve our air and water, drive innovation in clean technologies, and allowed robust economic growth to continue alongside. Let’s not turn back the clock on progress, putting our kids at risk of breathing dirtier air or drinking unsafe water.
President Trump, what’s your plan to protect our children from pollution?
We’ve written about the funding and staffing woes of the state’s lead environmental agency many times. To date, despite pleas from watchdog groups and even the state Comptroller, the Cuomo administration has insisted that the Department of Environmental Conservation can do more with less.
New York State’s environmental challenges are growing more, not less, complicated. Just think about sea level rise and what it will mean for New York’s coastal areas by the end of this century.
And then there is the loss of the state’s biodiversity. Last year, according to a recent editorial by Newsday, “the state said 185 local [Long Island] species were declining so quickly they required action within 10 years to save them. They include species with great financial and nutritive value, such as oysters, winter flounder, scallops and hard clams.”
Newsday’s editorial board has called on the Governor to reconsider his position on funding for the DEC as we head toward state budget negotiations. Here’s the editorial from November 28th in full.
Good move, Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo. You’ve named a capable person to head the state’s environmental agency. Basil Seggos is widely respected for his commitment and his abilities.
Now you also must fund the Department of Environmental Conservation properly so Seggos can do his job. If you want a legacy as a green governor, it’s time to do more.
Right now, the DEC has no chance to meet its full mission. Funding and personnel are about 25 percent lower than eight years ago. Inspections and enforcement actions are way down. Funding for the Environmental Protection Fund — which supports efforts to protect clean water, preserve farmland, and recycle — is more than $75 million off from its $255 million high in 2008-09. For nearly 20 years, the state hasn’t had an environmental bond act to help pay for things like cleaning up waterways, improving sewage treatment plants, and buying open space.
At the same time, Long Island and the state face increasing environmental threats — from nitrogen in our waters to pine beetles in our forests, from illegal dumping to sea level rise. These are urgent and longtime threats to health and public safety, and the DEC needs the resources to combat them. This must be a priority when crafting budgets.
Seggos gets Long Island’s issues. His smartly drawn priorities, detailed in an interview, include:
Climate change — he should work toward developing a state climate action plan to improve our ability to withstand stronger storms and rising sea levels;
Water quality — he should continue to support the state/local effort to determine how much nitrogen is in our waters and set targets for reductions;
Wastewater treatment — he must work with Nassau County on an ocean outfall pipe AND a nitrogen removal system for the Bay Park plant;
The southern pine beetle — those who are fighting a valiant but losing battle need reinforcements; and
Fisheries — his plan to rebuild trust with the fishing industry must be balanced with the need to protect stocks.
The litany of Long Island problems is much longer. Last year, for example, the state said 185 local species were declining so quickly they required action within 10 years to save them. They include species with great financial and nutritive value, such as oysters, winter flounder, scallops and hard clams. The DEC said its lack of staffing and resources means little can be done.
Other issues include:
- Sand mines must be more tightly regulated. They can threaten groundwater and shouldn’t end up as garbage dumps, like ones in Coram and Kings Park. State legislation is needed to eliminate exemption loopholes, engineering staff should oversee mines, and Long Island requires more than one inspector.
- A system to track construction and demolition debris should be created by requiring vehicle logs that would detail loads and destinations, in the wake of the illegal dumping scandal in Islip.
- Brookhaven’s landfill is slated to close in 10 years; developing a long-term solid waste management plan should begin now.
- A plan to more tightly regulate pesticide use, including a ban on the most toxic pesticides, is long overdue.
There is a lack of staff to manage the 20,000 acres of DEC land on Long Island; as a result homeowners are illegally expanding backyards and building sheds and decks. There also should be more planned burns in the Pine Barrens to reduce the risk of severe wildfires that threaten homes and lives.
Taken together, the problems seem overwhelming. Seggos shows the passion and smarts required to attack them. But he also needs the tools.
That’s up to Cuomo and the State Legislature. Give the DEC the money it needs. Because if it falls short in its many battles, the cost we will pay will not be measured in dollars.
Unseasonably warm air in upper levels of the atmosphere and an area of high pressure over the Northeast have trapped air pollution in the New York City metro area.
The high pressure area is creating minimal winds. Both light winds and above average temperatures are projected through the week for our area.
“High population density in the NYC area results in high levels of emissions of pollutants,” the state Department of Environmental Conservation reported today, “and because atmospheric conditions are not conducive to mixing and diluting the pollutants, the pollution has been building up.”
Air Quality Health Advisory
Because of this pollution build-up, the state departments of Environmental Conservation and Health have issued an Air Quality Health Advisory for the New York City metro area today, Monday, December 7th. The advisory is in effect until midnight.
Levels of Fine Particulate Matter -a leading air pollutant- are projected to exceed state air quality standards in New York City, and Westchester and Rockland counties.
Fine particulate matter consists of tiny solid particles or liquid droplets in the air that are 2.5 microns or less in diameter. Fine particulate matter [also called PM 2.5] often comes from processes that involve combustion (e.g. vehicle exhaust, power plants, and fires) and from chemical reactions in the atmosphere.
Indoor sources of PM 2.5 include tobacco, candle and incense smoke, and fumes from cooking.
People with heart or breathing problems, children and the elderly may be particularly sensitive to PM 2.5. Exposure can cause short-term health effects such as irritation to the eyes, nose and throat, coughing, sneezing, runny nose, and shortness of breath. Exposure to elevated levels of fine particulate matter can also worsen medical conditions such as asthma and heart disease.
The Brooklyn shoreline—much like the rest of the borough itself—is constantly changing and ever-evolving. But the waterfront holds on to its history, too, and fascinating clues to our maritime past can easily be found with the right guide and the proper perspective.
Step aboard the Kingston, a 1920s mini-style yacht, and take a narrated two-hour cruise narrated exploring the Brooklyn waterfront past and present.
The tours, which take place on Saturdays through mid-October, will also feature special guest speakers, including Sarah Crean and Emily Manley, editors here at New York Environment Report!
Not only will you learn about Brooklyn’s historical role as an industrial powerhouse and its modern-day resurgence, but you’ll also hear how those factors play a part in the ecological health, history, and future of our favorite borough.
Be sure to join us on September 19 or October 10th!
Boat tour routes may include the following sites:
- The Brooklyn Navy Yard, a former Naval shipyard now home to more than 330 creative and manufacturing businesses
- Brooklyn, Manhattan, and Williamsburg Bridges
- Red Hook and Erie Basin, where we will share stories of residents and waterfront businesses in this historically working-class neighborhood
- Governors Island – from military base to parkland
- The Statue of Liberty and Ellis Island
- Hear stories of the diverse range of businesses and entrepreneurs inside growing industrial and creative clusters along the waterfront
- See other emerging uses for the borough’s waterfront, including the development of new green spaces and infrastructure that have reconnected neighborhoods with the city’s waterways and play an important role in protecting the shoreline and maintaining the health of the harbor.
An Ozone Air Quality Advisory is in effect today -Monday- for the New York City metro area and Long Island. Ozone is a dangerous ground-level air pollutant and should not be confused with the protective layer of ozone in the upper atmosphere.
A similar advisory is in effect tomorrow -Tuesday- for the metro area and the Lower Hudson Valley.
Air quality advisories were also issued both days this past weekend.
Ozone pollution is caused by auto exhaust and larger pollution sources, such as power plants which burn fossil fuels. Ozone levels are directly tied to higher temperatures.
Today’s advisory applies to New York City, Westchester and Rockland counties, and Long Island, including Nassau and Suffolk counties.
New York State Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) Acting Commissioner Marc Gerstman and State Department of Health (DOH) Commissioner Howard Zucker issued today’s advisory, which is in effect until 11 p.m.
What is Ozone?
Unlike other air pollutants, ozone is not directly emitted by pollution sources. Instead, this “powerful oxidant” is formed in the air itself during smog conditions.
High temperatures (over 80°F) and sunlight react with emissions from vehicles and smokestacks to form ozone. Hydrocarbons such as gasoline vapors and nitrogen dioxide – what the state calls “ozone precursors”- can help to trigger the gas.
According to the State, automobile exhaust and out-of-state emission sources (such as power plants) are the primary sources of ground‑level ozone.
Ozone is one of the most serious air pollution problems in the northeast. The New York City-metro area is currently in “non-attainment” of 2008 federal ozone standards.
A recent analysis by the City estimated that 2,700 “premature” deaths every year can be tied to ozone and fine particulate matter, two separate air pollutants. Roughly 1 in 10 emergency room visits for asthma in New York City are attributable to ozone pollution.
New York City has made major progress in reducing levels of particulate matter pollution. Reducing ozone levels, especially because they are partially caused by out-of-state pollution sources, remains a huge challenge.
Take precautions- especially when ozone levels peak
People, especially young children, those who exercise outdoors, those involved in vigorous outdoor work and those who have respiratory disease (such as asthma) are being asked to consider limiting strenuous outdoor physical activity when ozone levels are the highest (generally afternoon to early evening).
When outdoor levels of ozone are elevated, going indoors will usually reduce your exposure. Individuals experiencing symptoms such as shortness of breath, chest pain or coughing should consider consulting their doctor, say state officials.
Ozone levels generally decrease at night. They can be minimized during daylight hours by the reduction of pollution from cars and other vehicles, for instance.
New Yorkers can help reduce ozone levels by using mass transit and conserving energy
State regulators are urging New Yorkers to:
- use mass transit or carpool instead of driving, as automobile emissions account for about 60 percent of pollution in our cities;
- conserve fuel and reduce exhaust emissions by combining necessary motor vehicle trips;
- turn off all lights and electrical appliances in unoccupied areas;
- use fans to circulate air. If air conditioning is necessary, set thermostats at 78 degrees;
- close the blinds and shades to limit heat build-up and to preserve cooled air;
- limit use of household appliances. If necessary, run the appliances at off-peak (after 7 p.m.) hours. These would include dishwashers, dryers, pool pumps and water heaters;
- set refrigerators and freezers at more efficient temperatures;
- purchase and install energy efficient lighting and appliances with the Energy Star label; and
- reduce or eliminate outdoor burning and attempt to minimize indoor sources of PM 2.5 [fine particulate matter pollution] such as smoking.
More helpful info from state regulators
DEC and DOH issue Air Quality Health Advisories when DEC meteorologists predict levels of pollution, either ozone or fine particulate matter, are expected to exceed an Air Quality Index (AQI) value of 100. The AQI was created as an easy way to correlate levels of different pollutants to one scale, with a higher AQI value indicating a greater health concern.
A toll‑free Air Quality Hotline (1-800-535-1345) has been established by DEC to keep New Yorkers informed of the latest Air Quality situation.
Native prairie grassland once covered 40,000 acres of central Nassau County on Long Island. The grassland, home to scores of plant, bird and butterfly species, has been described as “the only true prairie east of the Allegheny Mountains.”
Due to commercial development, only a few acres of Long Island’s prairie—known as the Hempstead Plains—remain today.
This is a soothing, late summer glimpse of what the prairie might have looked like:
[KGVID width=”568″ height=”320″]http://www.nyenvironmentreport.com/wp-content/uploads/2015/08/IMG_06541.mov[/KGVID]
You can visit this beautiful meadow, modeled on the Hempstead Plains, at the Brooklyn Botanical Garden. The meadow is in the Garden’s recently expanded Native Flora Garden.
Brooklyn, as is sometimes forgotten, is part of Long Island.
Visit the Long Island Prairie
Even better, you can visit an existing section of the Hempstead Plains on the campus of Nassau Community College. There you can explore some of the last remnants of the Long Island prairie, which apparently developed south of a terminal moraine left behind by the last Ice Age.
The site is “highly ecologically and historically significant,” says the non-profit that is restoring the area.
“The Hempstead Plains supports populations of federally endangered and globally rare plants among its 250 different kinds of vegetation as well as several plant species that are now considered rare in New York State.
It represents one of the most rapidly vanishing habitats in the world, along with scores of birds, butterflies, and other animals that are vanishing with it.”
-Friends of Hempstead Plains
We are a coastal city of islands but it’s so easy to forget that amidst all the concrete.
And because we share our vast coastline and waterways with other cities, City of Water Day extends across the Hudson River. The centers of activity for Saturday’s festivities are Governors Island and Maxwell Place Park in Hoboken, New Jersey, with free ferries running between both locations.
Celebrations will also be taking place throughout the five boroughs, in Yonkers, and in New Jersey. All of Saturday’s events are scheduled between 10am and 4pm.
Celebrate our coastal front yard by jumping in a kayak, taking a boat tour, touching a crab, or just enjoying the waterfront breeze- whether it’s in your neighborhood or in the thick of it all on Governors Island.
And check out the Metropolitan Waterfront Alliance website to find out about other waterfront activities this summer.
City of Water Day 2015 activities include
- Free boat tours on ferries, schooners, fireboats, tall ships, and tugboats
- A “heart-stopping” Cardboard Kayak Race
- Free on-water rowing, kayaking, and sailing demonstrations and lessons
- Special children’s activities
- Waterfront Activity Fairs on Governors Island and in Maxwell Place Park, Hoboken
There are more than two dozen City of Water Day locations throughout the five boroughs, Yonkers, and New Jersey. Shoreline locales include:
- Lincoln Ave and 132nd Street
- Hunts Point Riverside Park
- Barretto Point Park
- Bronx River at Concrete Plant Park
- Kaiser Park
- Gowanus Bay Terminal
- Bushwick Inlet Park/N 15th Street
- Bushwick Inlet/56 Quay Street
- Whole Foods (Gowanus)
- Jamaica Bay & Paerdegat Basin
- Brooklyn Bridge Park/Pier 2 Floating Dock
- North Cove Marina at Brookfield Place
- Piers 25, 40, and 66 in Hudson River Park
- 71st Street Pier/Riverside Park
- West Harlem Piers
- Randall’s Island
- Pier 42/East River
- Hallets Cove
- Gantry Plaza State Park
- Staten Island
- National Lighthouse Museum
- Alice Austen House
- Groundwork Hudson Valley Science Barge
- Beczak Environmental Educational Center
- New Jersey
- Overpeck County Park (Bergen County)
- Laurel Hill Park (Secaucus)
See you on the water!
By Eric Goldstein, New York City Environment Director, Natural Resources Defense Council
The administration of New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio is unveiling a new proposal that will require the largest generators of food wastes here to arrange for composting of those materials, rather than sending them to landfills or incinerators.
The new program is designed to cut methane emissions from landfills and make waste disposal practices more sustainable in the nation’s largest city.
It will apply to approximately 350 of the biggest food generators in the city, including hotels with 150 or more rooms, arenas and stadiums with at least 15,000 seats, as well as large-volume food manufacturers and food wholesalers.
A 2013 New York City law, originally proposed by former Mayor Michael Bloomberg, set the stage for today’s action.
The statute was intended to solve a Catch-22 problem that has long confronted city officials – you can’t have a successful, wide-scale composting program for food scraps and yard waste without having nearby composting facilities that will accept such materials; and such facilities won’t be built or expanded until the business community is assured that there is a reliable supply of these organics, which will be available to serve as their feedstock.
To that end, the 2013 law directed the Sanitation Commissioner to evaluate the capacity of nearby facilities that would accept organics like food scraps and yard waste for composting (or for similarly sustainable disposal processes like anaerobic digestion).
Then, if the Commissioner found that there was sufficient capacity and that the cost of such processing was competitive with landfilling or incineration, the Commissioner was to adopt a rule requiring all food generators, or a subset of such generators, to insure that their food wastes were composted (or handled in another sustainable manner approved by the Department).
Consistent with the 2013 law, Commissioner Kathryn Garcia and her staff spent the past year analyzing the capacity of food waste processors within 100 miles of New York City to accept organics from in-city food establishments for composting.
The Commissioner’s analysis identified between 100,000 and 125,000 tons per year of mostly privately owned capacity in the region for processing the city’s commercial food waste. And the 350 waste generators who will fall into the first subset of waste generators produce approximately 50,000 tons per year of food waste.
In total, the city’s commercial establishments generate roughly one million tons a year of organic waste. So today’s action will need to be followed up with more expansive directives over the next several years, so that the program ultimately includes all significant food waste generators in New York City. This is apparently what the de Blasio administration plans to do. The Mayor’s recently released OneNYC sustainability plan has adopted an ambitious goal of “zero waste,” which aims to reduce by 90 per cent the amount of New York City trash sent to landfills by 2030.
(Today’s announcement deals with food waste generated by commercial establishments in New York City; this waste is collected by private carters. The Sanitation Department is already conducting a separate pilot project that collects food waste for composting from over 100,000 households and over 700 public schools across the city.)
NRDC welcomes today’s announcement. We believe it sends a clear signal to the business community that New York City’s commitment to composting and more sustainable waste handling is here to stay and that this policy determination presents new investment opportunities for composting and related facilities.
Additionally, the new de Blasio plan can become a saber in the fight to curb climate-altering methane emissions from landfills. According to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, landfill gas emissions are the third largest source of methane emissions in the country, and organics like food waste which produce methane when they break down in landfills are the major contributor to this problem.
Today’s proposal must still go through a formal rule-making proposal this fall before it is adopted in final form. And NRDC will be reviewing that proposal with great care, as well as commenting on the program details, to insure that the administration’s admirable sustainability objectives will be fully incorporated into the final rule.
On the eve of July 4th, the de Blasio administration’s new commercial composting program brings New York City one step closer to declaring its independence from environmentally troublesome, methane-generating, climate-altering landfills.
This article appeared yesterday on Switchboard, the staff blog of the Natural Resources Defense Council. Read Eric Goldstein’s blog here.
We thank Eric for allowing us to re-publish this article.