With bill blocked unaccountably, heavy waste processing in poor Brooklyn still unabated

Why did Miller flip-flop?

December 19, 2017 By Mary Frost Brooklyn Daily Eagle
A privately owned sanitation truck drives down Metropolitan Ave. in the Greenpoint section of Brooklyn. Legislation that would have cut the amount of waste processed in Brooklyn by half was killed by a Councilmember from Queens on Monday. AP file photo by Henny Ray Abrams
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“Waste equity” legislation, designed to relieve the trash processing burden in north Brooklyn, south Bronx and southeast Queens, died on Monday after one of its many co-sponsors, Queens Councilmember Daneek Miller, unexpectedly blocked it before it could reach a City Council vote.

These three low-income areas process 75 percent of New York City’s waste, with the most capacity located in north Brooklyn neighborhoods including East Williamsburg and Bushwick.

The waste transfer stations bring non-stop truck traffic, pollution and accompanying health problems, including almost twice the asthma rate of surrounding communities.

Reaction came swiftly from the coalition of environmental justice advocates, community activists, officials and others who had been negotiating evolving versions of the bill, Intro 495-C, over several years. The final legislation had 23 sponsors — just three votes from a majority. Nine of the sponsors were from Brooklyn, including Stephen Levin, Antonio Reynoso, Laurie Cumbo, Mathieu Eugene, Robert Cornegy, Brad Lander, Rafael Espinal, Jumaane Williams and Carlos Menchaca.

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Jen Chantrtanapichate, a founder of the community group Cleanup North Brooklyn, said in a statement, “It is heartbreaking for our north Brooklyn community to hear that New York City Councilmember Daneek Miller has been persuaded by waste lobbyists on 495-C, a bill that could improve the quality of life for thousands of families and children. It is unconscionable that north Brooklyn, south Bronx and southeast Queens families will continue to suffer due to the whims of one southeast Queens council member.”

Eric Goldstein, NYC environment director at the Natural Resources Defense Council, called the action shameful. “We’re left wondering what could possibly have motivated him to do so,” he said.

Miller, who has co-sponsored the bill since it was first introduced in 2014, gave no explanation for his last-minute flip-flop.

In a statement sent to this paper by his spokesperson, Miller said, “Without question, we absolutely remain committed to passing waste equity legislation that is both sustainable and environmentally sensible for Southeast Queens and the City of New York. I will continue to work with my colleagues, including our newly elected members, to see thoughtful and intelligent legislation come to fruition, and for anyone to suggest otherwise is disingenuous.”

A request to his spokesperson for further explanation received the response, “I can only refer you to the statement.”

“His statement didn’t give any clarity,” Melissa Iachan, senior staff attorney of the environmental justice program for New York Lawyers for the Public Interest (NYLPI), told the Brooklyn Eagle on Tuesday.

“He’s been supporting the legislation for the past four years,” she said. But Miller appeared to be “waffling” over the past few months, she added. After some last-minute negotiations that would have reduced north Brooklyn’s waste processing capacity by fifty percent and Queens and the Bronx’s capacity by 33 percent, “Nobody heard from him,” Iachan said. “We assumed he would voice any complaints … There’s no explanation. Community members are calling; some went to his district office.”

Iachan says that Miller owes an explanation to his Queens community, North Brooklyn and the Bronx. She also has a beef with Melissa Mark-Viverito, the speaker of the City Council, “who allowed a consensus-building bill, with many years of compromises, to be derailed at the last minute. This is disturbing; it’s not how democracy works.”

Now that the bill is killed, legislation will have to be negotiated again from scratch, assuming the sponsors want to jump back on board.

North Brooklyn has to deal with the most waste, Iachan said. Given the difficulty surrounding this bill, Councilmember Reynoso may decide to sponsor a bill covering Brooklyn only, she said.

While that would disappoint NYLPI, as citywide advocates for environmental justice, “I can understand where it’s coming from,” she said. “This is as close as it’s ever come. It’s really disappointing.”

UPDATE: On Tuesday, waste industry website Waste Dive published an article stating that campaign finance records show that Miller received six successive contributions on Sept. 19, from employees or family members involved with area company Royal Waste Services. These contributions total $2,500.

Also on Tuesday, Waste Dive notes, Reynoso came to the defense of Miller via Twitter.

“[Daneek Miller] did not kill this bill. It is way more complicated and nuanced than that. The advocates should take a step back and note he was one of the strongest advocates for waste equity in the NYC Council over the last 4 years,” Reynoso wrote.

Replying via Twitter, commenter Eddie Bautista said, “Correct — he was … until he wasn’t. We needed more than an advocate today. We needed a vote.”

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