Testimony to the New York City Charter Revision Commission
July 19, 2010
Director, Sustainability and Environmental Justice Initiative
Good evening, members of the Charter Revision Commission. I would like to reaffirm the Pratt Center’s conviction that this commission can and must include in its consideration measures to fulfill the 1989 Charter’s promise to fairly distribute the environmental burdens imposed by the entire city’s growth – burdens that now weigh more heavily than ever on New York’s most vulnerable residents. Since 1989, environmental inequity has been exacerbated, rather than reduced, by an accretion of administrative policies and procedures that have thwarted the 1989 Charter’s clear intent. The measures we are proposing that the Commission advance this year are modest. They raise no new issues, and we believe that they will close loopholes that the 1989 commission never intended to create, and lay the groundwork for more comprehensive reforms to the land use and planning processes that my colleague’s testimony will describe.
1) We believe that the Charter’s language should be amended to mandate that City Facilities sitings, expansions, reductions and closures be properly identified in the Annual Statement of Needs. The current practice of allowing City agencies to amend the Statement of Needs by simply notifying the affected Community Boards of additions and changes circumvents the charter’s intended review process. It may, in fact, create an incentive for agencies to omit from the SON information on intended expansions and sitings, precisely because they are thus enabled to avoid a full public review. We support the addition of language proposed by the New York City Environmental Justice Alliance, as follows:
Recommendation A: If a City agency develops a new facility proposal after the Statement of Needs is published - and fails to follow the Charter notification process outlined in §204g (to which we would add community boards) - no review or certification of its 197c application
will be allowed until it unveils its facility proposal in the next SON.
Recommendation B: Facility expansions not identified in the Annual SON must wait until the next year’s SON for consideration.
Recommendation C: Facility reductions and closures not identified in the Annual SON must wait until the next year’s SON for consideration.
2) We strongly urge that the Charter language be amended to require that all polluting facilities and infrastructure be included in the Atlas of Facilities. Private, federal, and state facilities all contribute to the environmental burdens borne by impacted communities – a child’s lungs don’t care who owns the facility that’s damaging them. Power plants, sewage treatment plants, sludge processing facilities, and waste transfer stations all contribute to baseline loads, and should all be included in the Atlas.
3) Technology now makes it completely feasible to develop and regularly update a comprehensive database of environmental and health indicators. At minimum, those indicators should include highways and truck routes, street-level air quality, air emissions permits, Toxic Release inventory data, petroleum spills, Combined Sewer Overflow discharges, and similar data. Public health data, including rates of asthma, diabetes, obesity, heart disease, and other environmentally-related conditions should also be gathered and mapped. We recommend that the Charter require the City to develop and regularly update environmental and public health data at a geographically fine-grained level sufficient to identify communities that now bear disproportionate burdens – as the City of San Francisco already does.
We do not believe that setting forth siting criteria that are transparent, comprehensive, and grounded in environmental and public health data would place an undue burden on the City, its agencies, and the private entities to whom it contracts out much of the environmental work that enables our economy to function, and our residents to carry on their lives. And we emphatically support the position of the New York City Environmental Justice Alliance that the Commission can and should close the loopholes in Fair Share this year, rather than leaving to chance and political whim the resolution of a human rights issue that can hardly be considered less urgent than the electoral reforms we have heard about this evening.