A view earlier this year of Magnolia and Railroad avenues...

A view earlier this year of Magnolia and Railroad avenues in New Cassel, one of the communities the state has designated as "disadvantaged." Credit: Newsday/J. Conrad Williams Jr.

State environmental officials have designated 87 predominantly minority neighborhoods in more than 40 Long Island communities as disproportionately affected by pollution and climate change, making them eligible for funds toward the introduction of clean-energy projects.

The eligible neighborhoods are in "disadvantaged" Long Island communities that include New Cassel, Hempstead, Uniondale, Freeport, East Patchogue, Brentwood, Huntington Station, Wyandanch, Central Islip, Brookhaven, Riverhead and Flanders.

Last week, the Department of Environmental Conservation named 1,736 disadvantaged communities statewide that will be prioritized for the state funding and efforts to introduce green energy and reduce pollution.

New York State's "unprecedented clean energy investments" include more than $35 billion in 120 large-scale renewable and transmission projects across the state, $6.8 billion to reduce building emissions, $1.8 billion to scale up solar, and more than $1 billion for clean transportation initiatives, according to the DEC website.

What to know

  • More than 40 Long Island communities are among the communities in New York that have been designated by state environmental officials as "disadvantaged."
  • The predominantly minority communities are disproportionately affected by pollution and waste transfer stations in those regions, state officials and local leaders say.
  • Disadvantaged communities receive at least 35% of state funding for investments in clean energy or projects for housing, workforce development, pollution reduction, low- and moderate-income energy assistance, energy, transportation, and economic development.

Disproportionately affected

The predominantly minority communities on Long Island are disproportionately affected by pollution from garbage transfer stations in those regions, state officials and local leaders have said. The communities were identified by 45 indicators, including population characteristics and health vulnerabilities under the state Climate Leadership and Community Protection Act.

“When we look at the higher burden of gas emissions, air burden and pollution, there’s a direct correlation between lower-income communities and communities of color with higher pollution burdens,” said Alanah Keddell-Tuckey, director of the DEC's Office of Environmental Justice. “It’s important these communities are finally being recognized. They are being targeted for large-scale industrial projects, landfills and heavy traffic, and have been bearing a higher burden of environmental pollution.”

DEC officials noticed high air pollution in affected Long Island communities that had transfer stations or active landfills, Keddell-Tuckey said. Several sites have been designated for environmental cleanups and include facilities permitted to emit certain levels of emissions measured by the Environmental Protection Agency.

“There have been various petroleum and chemical storage facilities on Long Island that have contributed to environmental issues like soil pollution on the Island," Keddell-Tuckey said. "Coupled with climate change and sea level rise and storm events, we’re seeing a lot of storage elements and pollutants come to the surface.”

Some Long Island organizations said the state overlooked some communities or census tracts of Black or Latino communities affected by pollution and socioeconomic hardship.

The Long Beach Latino Civic Association and former state Sen. Todd Kaminsky had pushed to include Island Park and Barnum Island due to the communities' proximity to power plants and other utilities along Reynolds Channel. 

"Many Hispanic families came to Island Park after Superstorm Sandy and skyrocketing prices in Long Beach," said Helen Dorado Alessi, director of the civic association and a resident of Island Park.

"We’re right across from Reynolds Channel," she said. "How could the state not consider the industrial effects here?" 

Mandated funding

The Climate Leadership and Justice Act was passed by the state to identify "segregated" communities that have been historically overburdened by the effects of environmental pollution, Keddell-Tuckey said. The act mandates disadvantaged communities receive at least 35% of state funding for investments in clean energy or projects for housing, workforce development, pollution reduction, low- and moderate-income energy assistance, energy, transportation and economic development.

The disadvantaged minority communities listed on Long Island have long suffered from high-pollution projects, said Assemb. Phil Ramos (D-Brentwood). He said past pollutants, including from illegal dumping in Roberto Clemente Park in Brentwood, were the result of contracts approved by local political leaders.

“This is no surprise to me. We’ve been suffering from a lot of environmental issues for a long time. This map just verifies there’s a disproportionate impact in our community,” Ramos said.

“If you look at that map, there’s one thing many communities have in common — they are communities of color. It’s not a coincidence. Local municipalities say they don’t want to lose local control, but this is the very thing municipalities use to site undesirable environmental hazards in communities of color,” he said.

Ramos said those communities are “the path of least resistance” for local governments to approve undesirable projects. He said his district is the only one on Long Island with three power plants in a five-mile radius, in addition to a gravel pit and several Superfund sites.

The Long Island Progressive Coalition argued to also include Gordon Heights and Mastic Beach, which were given designations. But other census tracts in Freeport, Elmont, Mastic Beach, Huntington Station and Valley Stream were left out, said Monique Fitzgerald, the coalition's climate justice organizer.

"It's something embedded in the way communities were formed on Long Island," Fitzgerald said. "A lot of what’s happening is, there's a lot of money in small communities with Black, indigenous and Latin populations growing. As folks are forced out of Long island, there is less of a voice here but it doesn’t mean they aren't suffering, and they need this opportunity to be included."

Hope for improvements

Ramos said he hopes the state’s designation leads to more state and federal funding for environmental improvements.

The state is continuing a yearlong analysis of air quality in disadvantaged communities, including in Hempstead, Westbury and New Cassel.

Mark Kaufman, president of Leonard Industrial Supply Corp., which sells industrial equipment on Magnolia Avenue in New Cassel, said he has to wash his car every other day and change air filters in his building due to dust from gravel pits and other industrial businesses nearby.

He said he worries about future warehouse development planned in the area, which could lead to more truck pollution and traffic in the area.

“People are finally aware of what we’re dealing with in this area. It’s so polluted; it’s all over the cars every day, with dust and dirt," he said. “The smells here are outrageous and it’s horrible. The streets here are filthy.”

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