New York City Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito and Councilmember Maria del Carmen Arroyo, Chair of the Community Development Committee, penned a joint letter to the State Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) last Friday in regard to the application of New York Power Authority (NYPA) for the Title V re-permitting of its Harlem River Yards (HRY) fossil fuel power generation facility comprising two turbines, located at 688 East 132nd Street in the South Bronx.
As representatives of the environmentally overburdened community, where the deadly outbreak of Legionnaires was recently linked to the community’s chronic respiratory and other illnesses, the councilwomen asked for an extension to the public comment period and a public hearing on the re-permitting.
“…no evidence has been presented to our offices that the closure of this plant would have any impact on the price or availability of electricity in the City or have any other impact other than the elimination of a source of air pollution from a severely overburdened neighborhood,” the letter stated.
Located on State land privately leased by then Governor Mario Cuomo, the NYPA facility was pushed through as a temporary facility 15 years ago and bypassed environmental review at the time on the basis that it generated 79.9 MW, 0.1 MW shy of the trigger for a comprehensive impact analysis. The power plant sits within an approximate half mile of five other facilities also requiring air pollution permits and in close proximity to traffic-heavy highways and NYCHA and other residential buildings.
“This is the cycle in environmental justice communities of color,” said Mychal Johnson, co-founder of South Bronx Unite, a local environmental and economic justice organization, and board member of the Bronx Council for Environmental Quality. “How can we keep allowing projects to be sited and permitted without evaluating the harm? If we have a health crisis in the South Bronx because of such projects, why isn’t there a higher level of scrutiny?”
More than 200 residents and other environmental leaders wrote letters to DEC urging rejection of the permit.
Concerns and questions raised include the necessity of the facility, the adequacy of the siting process, the lack of pre-construction environmental review and the risk of exceeding permitted emission limits, including during start up and shut down. Organizations have also asked to review compliance reports, mitigation plans and PM 2.5 measurements, among other requests.
“DEC has a policy mandating enhanced public participation in environmental justice communities,” said Harry Bubbins, Director of Friends of Brook Park. “We hope they will not close the door to engagement before giving us the information to formulate meaningful questions.”
While DEC originally closed the public comment period last Friday, September 4, they have now extended it to September 18. South Bronx Unite is encouraging people to continue contacting DEC in regard to this matter.