Internet resources for what you need to know on NYC Environment
Sites For Beginners

The Topic
"Environment" refers to the places where New Yorkers live; our surroundings; the air, water and land that make our existence possible.
The Context
With more than 22,000 people per square mile, NYC must take considerable measures to protect the environment from the effects of such population density. Problems like asthma, PCBs, lead poisoning and waste disposal compromise the quality of the City's natural resources and threaten the health of its residents. The policy implications for solving environmental problems are complex: Should commercial activity take priority over environmental protection? To what extent can we require changes in lifestyle and consumption through legislation? How far does our responsibility extend to those in other places and future generations?
The Reporter
Alison Blackman Dunham is the former Director of Special Projects for the Recycling Division of the New York City Department of Sanitation, and former Executive Director of The Green Guerrillas, a citywide community gardening organization. She is an author who is known as one-half of The Advice Sisters.

Michael Burger is a freelance writer and native New Yorker. His work has appeared in The Village Voice, The Earth Times, Terrain, Artbyte, and other magazines."

The Archives
See past monthly updates for Environment.

by Michael Burger

Turbine Turmoil

(Jan '01) The New York Power Authority's plan to install 10 temporary, gas turbine generators around the city in preparation for next summer's predicted energy frenzy has been met with resistance by environmental justice activists in Brooklyn and business leaders in Queens. The activists point out that the generators, which pour smog-causing nitrogen oxide into the air, are, as usual, being placed in low income and minority communities: two on 23rd St. and 3rd Ave. and one on River Street. Silvercup Studios, producers of HBO moneymakers "Sex in the City" and "The Sopranos", has said it would abandon plans to build studios on its acreage along the East River in Long Island City because of its proximity to two of the proposed generators.

But the Power Authority's plan limits the generators' capacity to 79.9 megawatts, falling - not coincidentally - just shy of 80 megawatts, the threshhold at which facilities undergo a siting process that includes a comprehensive environmental review and funding for groups that want to challenge the placement. While Silvercup Studios may be able to throw its financial interest into the fray and have the generators located elsewhere, the agency is nonetheless sneaking its agenda through the system, leaving neighborhood and environmental concerns without a forum.

At least a few of the temporary generators will employ General Electric's turbine technology. As reported in Newsday, GE is funding a behind-the-scenes lobbying campaign aimed at undercutting a federal program that places strict pollution controls on new power plants. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has already issued draft guidance and a background paper that suggests power plants that install specific turbine technology - like GE's - might not need to include emission controls that can cut nitrogen oxide and other pollutants by as much as 90 percent.

The Power Authority intends to use the temporary generators for two years, at which point private energy companies looking to break into the city's deregulated energy market will begin to supply power from new and rebuilt plants around the city. Several of those new plants - including a 500 megawatt unit at the Poletti facility in Astoria and a 750 megawatt facility in Riverhead - will employ GE's turbine technology. If GE is successful, those plants will be free to spew forth their pollutants into the city's already destitute air. Their cost-cutting will cost New Yorkers plenty.

Sites For Beginners:

  • Natural Resources Defense Council - Their report, entitled "New York's Vital Signs," offers an excellent summary of NYC's overall environmental health. Mixed conclusions: in the last 25 years, air, rivers and bays have improved, but the quality of drinking water has declined.
  • NYC Department of Environmental Protection - Find out about the NYC's water supply, wastewater treatment, environmental planning and other environmental issues. Especially recommended: their info on the 3rd Water Tunnel. Great graphics.
  • U.S. Environment Protection Agency, Region 2
  • Environmental Advocates - An aggressive, Albany-based advocacy group for environmental concerns throughout the state. Reports on many different issues (some NYC-specific), voters' guides and volunteer opportunities, as well a terrific list of links.
  • New York Public Interest Group - A notoriously flinty organization, NYPIRG performs some heavy lifting in unglamorous environmental topics. Check out their report on waste plant emissions.

Other Recommendations:

  • Wind Power New York (WPNY) - A project of the American Wind Energy Association, was formed to promote the development of wind-powered electricity generation in New York State. For more information about the PG&E project in Madison, follow their link to The windmills of Madison County, a feature of Syracuse Online.
  • Cornell Cooperative Extension - Entomologists from Cornell University tell you everything you want to know about the Asian Longhorn Beetle, from how to identify it to how it can be destroyed.
  • Audubon Society - Founded in 1905 and named for famed ornithologist, explorer, and wildlife artist John James Audubon (1785-1851), the National Audubon Society's mission is to conserve and restore natural ecosystems, focusing on birds and other wildlife for the benefit of humanity and the earth's biological diversity. Learn why birds are an "ecological litmus paper".
  • www.moregardens.org - This pro-garden web site provides background on Esperanza Garden and efforts to preserve the city's other community gardens. Log on to learn about the Samson Bill, which would make all New York City community gardens permanent State parkland, and SLR 61, a complimentary bill that the City Council must endorse before the State can act.
  • Center for Bioenvironmental Research at Tulane and Xavier Universities - Environmental concepts made easy. A great little Web site that provides comprehensive information about lead, environmental estrogens and, in case you were wondering, environmental astrobiology.
  • The Environmental Defense Fund - In conjunction with several other prominent environmental groups, presents a comprehensive explanation and analysis of global warming. Contents range from a simple explanation of how global warming works, to a discussion of its likely impact in the coming century. Be sure to check out the map of early warming signs.
  • Environmental Health Center's Asthma page - The Environmental Health Center, a division of the National Safety Council, provides voluminous, easy-to-understand background information on a comprehensive array of environmental and safety issues. If you live in New York City, this is a good place to start learning about asthma risks and prevention.
  • The Fire Island Ecology Coalition - Fans of Fire Island who can't bear the long winter separation may visit this comprehensive site, but they won't get the languorous summer feeling associated with their traditional summer visits. Instead, it offers a vigorous examination of threats to the island that demand serious attention„from the proliferation of jet skis and deer to global warming.
  • The New York City Environmental Justice Alliance - This page belongs to a coalition of grassroots organizations concerned with providing a clean and safe environment to communities of color and low-income communities, with topics such as "What's Transportation got to do with Environmental Justice?" This site connects you with such groups and shows you what they're doing . . .and how you can help.

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