Op-ed: New York must say ‘no’ to a new NRG plant

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Much of the world is on fire this summer, and July was the hottest month ever recorded on Earth. In the South Bronx, toxic smoke blowing in from massive wildfires in the West now adds to pollution from power plants, highways, waste transfer stations and truck traffic to and from warehouses that we’ve been living next to for decades here in “Asthma Alley.”

There’s no more time to waste. We urgently need cleaner air and good green jobs, and we need to do everything we can to slow down the climate crisis.

The last thing we need is another massive power plant burning fossil gas — and potentially even more dangerous and carbon-intensive hydrogen gas — in our backyard. And yet the NRG corporation is proposing building such a fracked-gas plant in Queens, close to dense residential neighborhoods and just across the East River from Black and brown communities in the South Bronx, Hunts Point and Rikers Island. Once again, corporations look to have environmental justice communities bear the brunt of their pollution.

More than 50 years old, the existing power plant in Astoria, Queens, serves as a “peaker”; it fires up and spews pollution on the hottest days, when energy demand for air conditioning spikes, and when air quality and pollution are already at their worst. The new proposal would replace the old plant with yet another fossil fuel-burning peaker. The plan, which its corporate proponents suggest would be an improvement, would invest hundreds of millions of dollars in continuing environmentally damaging, outdated fossil fuel technology.

Ultimately, we pay the price through bills to ratepayers for overheating our communities and the planet, and for damaging our families’ health.

Now, as environmental injustices compound the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic — including when fine-particle pollution makes COVID infection more dangerous and deadly — we need to work to address the decades of neglect and disinvestment that have led to avoidable health disparities, starkly delineated by race. We must further New York City and New York State goals to help address the climate crisis by pursuing the objectives outlined in the Climate Leadership and Community Protection Act (CLCPA). That means saying no to another fracked-gas plant.

NRG’s plan for an expensive new gas-burning plant is not just dangerous, but also unnecessary.

Clean and renewable technologies are now proven and available — including solar energy installations, offshore wind farms, newer and better transmission lines, and battery facilities that can store the clean energy and release it to the grid when it’s needed.

Even ConEd has recognized that building more gas-burning peaker plants is not the way to go. The giant utility company recently received state approval to construct new, efficient transmission lines that will help bring energy from offshore wind turbines and upstate solar panel farms into New York City — a project explicitly designed to allow for the retirement of old, dirty and expensive peaker plants like the NRG Astoria gas plant.

Queens and Bronx community members and elected officials have repeatedly asked NRG to retire the current plant and come up with a clean alternative to store and generate renewable energy at the site. Unfortunately, NRG has refused and continues to push for a new plant that’s wrong for our communities, wrong for our environment, and wrong for our future.

We don’t need another report or study to tell us that the climate crisis and environmental racism are affecting our health right here, right now in the South Bronx and other environmental justice communities in NYC. That’s why we’re joining our allies in Queens and thousands of other New Yorkers and calling on the New York State DEC to say no to NRG’s misguided project.

Amanda Septimo represents the 84th District in the New York State Assembly. Dariella Rodriguez is the director of Community Development at The POINT CDC in Hunts Point.

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