Gotham Gazette

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Offshore Wind, Onshore Justice

sunset park waterfront

the Sunset Park waterfront

In New York City, we have learned from hard experience that our energy, environmental, and economic systems are highly interrelated. Decades of underinvestment in low-income communities of color – particularly from the loss of blue-collar industries -- compounds the profound vulnerability of these neighborhoods to climate change.

Beyond New York, 2017 saw ten consecutive Atlantic hurricanes, a historical first: Irma was the strongest storm to reach beyond the Caribbean; Harvey brought the greatest rainfall; and months after Maria wrought unprecedented devastation, half of Puerto Rico is still in the dark.  For both the Global South and South Brooklyn, the time for incremental solutions has passed. We need an immediate and just transition towards a regenerative economy.

At UPROSE, a community-based organization in Sunset Park that advocates for sustainable economic development and environmental justice, our advocacy for climate justice is rooted in our struggles against displacement—displacement by rising waters and rising costs of living. The Climate Justice Alliance is a national collaborative of over 50 community-based and support organizations working to forge a scalable, and socio-economically just transition away from an extractive economy and towards local living economies.

Together, we are calling for the creation of new offshore wind manufacturing and logistics jobs on New York City’s waterfront to strengthen neighborhood resilience and make the case against re-zonings that irreversibly impair our capacity to address climate change locally.

Sunset Park is home to one of the city’s last working waterfronts and is today the target of rampant commercial speculation. Offshore wind energy can address the neighborhood’s vulnerabilities by saving maritime industrial sites, displacing dirty fossil-fuel plants that disproportionately affect people of color, and creating thousands of local jobs. The Department of Energy expects 40,000 such jobs by 2030 – and those opportunities will accrue wherever the ports and workforce are.

Positioning New York City at the center of this industry would localize supply chains and capture jobs for a fast-growing regional market. By 2020, our waterfront could see the first wave of opportunities: welding and turbine final assembly jobs, all under the banner of organized labor. Significant benefits to ancillary businesses could prioritize M/WBEs and lift local economies.

To advance this vision, Mayor de Blasio can take three actions.

First, the City can leverage its purchasing power to catalyze offshore wind construction.  Second, the City can prioritize offshore wind uses at its waterfront industrial sites. Third, it can partner with local groups like UPROSE, labor, industry, and CUNY to ensure community members have the necessary skills to work in the industry.  These actions will bring to the city reliable, locally-sourced clean energy and new career pathways for working waterfront neighborhoods.

The history of New York City was written at the water’s edge. How we leverage our waterfront at this inflection point will define our era’s response to the dual crises of growing climate disruption and mounting inequality. The City is today presented with a clear and decisive opportunity to act boldly and demonstrate its commitment to economic, environmental, racial, and climate justice. Anything short of this would be throwing dust to the wind.

Elizabeth Yeampierre is Executive Director of UPROSE, an environmental justice community-based organization in Sunset Park. ​She was the first Latina Chair of the US EPA National Environmental Justice Advisory Council and currently serves on Mayor de Blasio’s Sustainability Advisory Board.

Angela Adrar currently serves as the Executive Director of the Climate Justice Alliance, a 55+ member coalition of urban and rural frontline communities and organizations in the climate change movement. She has served as a leading member of local and international groups dedicated to food and environmental justice.

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