Brooklyn Boro

Opinions & observations: Astoria power plant proposal undermines NYC’s resiliency goals

September 24, 2020 Justin Brannan and Costa Constantinides Special to the Eagle
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Every thick governmental report and violent natural event right out of a 1970s disaster movie screams that we have to do more than say “Climate Change is real.”

We’ve yelled as much at everyone from Con Edison executives to the former New Yorker unfortunately occupying the White House.

It’s abundantly clear we need shovel-ready projects to make our air cleaner and our shores safer. So it makes no sense that we stand idly by while an energy company seeks to build a new fossil fuel plant in Astoria.

Which is why New York state must reject NRG’s application for a new natural gas-fired power plant on the western Queens waterfront.

This project flies in the face of every historic commitment we’ve made to renewable energy, environmental justice and clean air. It also puts more dirty infrastructure on a beleaguered waterfront we should be reinforcing — not wearing down.

It’s been well established that this plant will only continue the environmental injustice that’s dominated western Queens for too long. Astoria generates more than half the city’s power, but all residents have gotten in return are higher asthma rates.

Many of the neighborhood’s power plants were built on false promises, having now outstayed their welcome. Still, they must fight for their right to breathe.

All the while, Astoria residents have been cut off from a waterfront that once defined the neighborhood. While other neighborhoods have reclaimed the space once used for warehouses and factories and turned it into resilient parks, this community has struggled at times to get a clogged drain pipe fixed. Astoria’s shores have instead been worn down by dirty, aging infrastructure. When it rains more than a half inch in one day, for instance, the 80-year-old wastewater treatment plant just down the road from the NRG site pours raw sewage into the river.

So we cannot own the mantle of a 21st-century resilient city if we’re going to double down on shorefront infrastructure. During Hurricane Sandy the intensifying rains and crushing storm surge blew up a Manhattan Con Ed facility at 14th Street and the river. That will pale in comparison to what will happen in Western Queens when sea levels rise by as much as two and a half feet over the next 30 years and creep in on the new NRG plant.

None of this makes sense when we have the technology and willpower to generate solar, wind and geothermal energy. All of which can make us more sustainable and can be built to resist the effects of climate change. And we can create more jobs in cutting-edge fields in the process.

To ignore those options, when New York State has a 70-percent renewable energy commitment looming in 10 years, seems foolish. Rikers Island is a few hundred yards away, where the remediation of empty jail buildings could mean we can start building resilient infrastructure there within a few years.

The Regional Plan Association says that replacing the old wastewater facilities there alone could free up as many as 200 acres of publicly owned waterfront.

First, imagine expanding that number by closing power plants like NRG. Then imagine the resilient, accessible waterfront we can build for communities like Astoria. Allowing the construction of a new NRG plant will only serve as a hindrance to the five-borough resiliency plan we have sought to legislate in the City Council.

Implementation of this bill will be half-hearted in neighborhoods like Astoria if dirty power infrastructure stands in the way.

And bear in mind the problem in Western Queens is the same issue for the South Bronx and New York City’s other environmental justice communities. If we let this plant get built, these neighborhoods will be over-polluted and underwater.

Let’s draw the line at Astoria before it’s too late.

Councilmember Justin Brannan represents Bay Ridge in the New York City Council and chairs the Committee on Resiliency and Waterfronts. Councilmember Costa Constantinides represents Astoria and Chairs the Committee on Environmental Protection.

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