Economy / Environment

Mayor unveils new plan at The Point

Danny R. Peralta

Mayor Bill de Blasio holds up One New York: The Plan for a Strong at The Point on April 22.

Environmental cleanup, wage raises are coming, de Blasio tells Hunts Point

Mayor Bill de Blasio has an ambitious new blueprint for cleaning the city’s air, curbing its waste and raising wages, and he chose Hunts Point as the place to unveil it.

Surrounded by an entourage of administration officials, de Blasio came to The Point on Wednesday to outline the details from his administration’s just-released 332-page One New York: The Plan for a Strong and Just City, promising steps to significantly reduce gas emissions and cut down on the mountains of waste New Yorkers send to out-of-state landfills, while raising the minimum wage. With local Earth Day celebrations just three days away, the mayor hoisted the thick book containing his master plan above his head, calling it “the blueprint for the future of New York City.”

In introducing the mayor to the packed atrium, The Point’s executive director, Kellie Terry, welcomed the news that new policies are promised to help clean up the neighborhood, and the rest of the city.

“We need infrastructure that helps rather than hurts our community,” said Terry.

Throughout his presentation, de Blasio emphasized the need to balance economic growth with sustainability, and to lift the environmental burden critics have long said low-income neighborhoods are forced to cope with by hosting treatment plants for a disproportionate share of the city’s trash. In addition, the mayor said the minimum wage will be raised from $13 per hour next year to $15 an hour in 2017.

“What was unacceptable was to see the inequalities just fester,” de Blasio said.

At the same time, he balanced the apocalyptic with the domestic.

“We understand that climate change is an existential threat to this city, and the earth,” he said at one juncture, and at another drew roomwide laughs while holding up a metal thermos and announcing that was the new norm in his home because his children no longer allow him to buy plastic water bottles.

The plan is a progression from PlaNYC, said the mayor, referring to the administration’s prior set of guidelines for addressing the city’s most pressing issues, but which, he said, came up short. He lauded The Point for its work providing a voice for Hunts Point and Longwood’s low-income residents, who suffer some of the city’s highest asthma rates.

“You are fighting to make a neighborhood that often got less than its fair share a better neighborhood,” he said.

The mayor touted Zero Waste, the blueprint’s focus on eliminating landfills. That initiative promises to stop all trucking of city waste to landfills within 15 years. He called the practice of loading garbage onto trucks to haul long distances “outrageous and outdated. We’re not going to be party to it.”

Nilda Mesa, the director of the mayor’s New Office of Sustainability, gave a sampling of scientific innovations included in the plan. Methane emitted at the wastewater treatment plant, she said, will be captured and converted into an energy source for the food distribution centers.

All of the city’s wastewater treatment plants will be “energy positive” by 2030, she said.

Among its boldest objectives, the One New York plan calls for:

  • Raising 800,000 people above the poverty level in 10 years.
  • Reducing to zero the amount of waste the city trucks to landfills by 2030.
  • Cutting waste disposal by 90 percent, through more stringent recycling.
  • Reducing greenhouse gas emissions by 80 percent by 2050.
  • Ensuring the city has the country’s cleanest air among large U.S. cities within 15 years.
  • Making many more of the city’s jobs accessible to workers within a 45-minute commute via public transit.

Although no dates have been set for implementation of the initiatives trumpeted in his plan, the mayor said that its rollout will be closely linked with the May 7 announcement of the city’s capital budget, as well as the executive budget.

Environmental advocates said they were excited at the mayor’s announcement, and are waiting to see what comes of it.

“If there’s any place in the city that needs to reduce the waste stream, it’s the South Bronx,” said Michael Brotchner, executive director at Sustainable South Bronx, pointing out that the area’s recycling rates are the city’s lowest.

Omar Freilla, founder of Greenworker Cooperatives, which provides green jobs training, said the administration has recently shown signs of understanding the need to cut the disproportionate amount of the city’s waste Hunts Point is forced to process.

“It is refreshing and inspiring to hear the language of environmental justice,” said Freilla. “They’re definitely taking a different approach, having equity as a central theme.”

Maria Torres, co-founder and president of The Point, said many of the new initiatives are overdue, but the city finally got it right. Mesa’s plan to convert methane produced in the wastewater treatment plant into energy for the food markets, for example, is an idea local advocates have been pushing for years, she said.

“She nailed it,” said Torres.


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