The Brookhaven Town landfill and recycling facility. Credit: Newsday/Steve Pfost

Growing up in the Town of Brookhaven, Monique Fitzgerald said environmental disinvestment was felt in "the hardest" ways in her North Bellport community. 

The hamlet has areas with higher-than-average state levels of emergency department visits for asthma — a life-threatening respiratory disease that researchers have long linked to air pollution, according to the state and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. Residents have alleged a nearby landfill that is slated for closure releases toxic emissions and odors. (Town officials say the facility is being transitioned into an energy park, powered by solar and other clean energy technologies.) 

Portions of the Town of Brookhaven are among about 90 neighborhoods of color in more than 40 Long Island communities and among 1,736 census tracts statewide that have been identified as disadvantaged communities. The designation seeks to ensure those zones receive benefits as the state works to offset climate change while moving toward greener and cleaner energy sources, officials say.

The effects of climate change in New York are becoming more evident, particularly for communities already feeling pollution's effects, state climate officials said. Across the state, all regions have seen an increase in annual average temperatures and dangerous heat events, a state report from 2021 said. Extreme precipitation events have also grown more pronounced in the Northeast.

Providing investment and remediating past environmental concerns in disadvantaged communities, officials said, will be critical for the state to reach its climate goals.

Advocates like Fitzgerald, the co-founder of the Brookhaven Landfill Action and Remediation Group, agree.

"Regardless of all the investments that we make, we have to ensure that we start with the communities that are impacted the most [and] see what it is that is affecting their environment," she said.

She wants to see a zero-waste plan in Brookhaven that involves widespread composting and other goals to reduce waste and pollution.

Disadvantaged communities will be required to get at least 35%, with the goal of 40%, of the benefits from clean energy and energy efficiency investments such as solar power under the state's Climate Leadership and Community Protection Act, similar to federal efforts by the Biden administration.

State clean energy investments include more than $35 billion in 120 large-scale renewable and transmission projects across the state and more than $1 billion for clean transportation initiatives, officials said.

The disadvantaged communities were identified using census tract-level data and 45 indicators, including race, income, environmental burdens and climate change risks, according to the state Department of Environmental Conservation.

The funding for communities that received the designation will come from various state agencies, so it will look different based on the agency. For instance, DEC officials say the funding can come in the form of residents applying for rebate programs from the New York State Energy Research and Development Authority. Communities can also apply for competitive grants.

Another opportunity for communities listed as disadvantaged is Climate Smart Communities, a state program that helps local communities “reduce greenhouse gas emissions and adapt to a changing climate,” officials said.

Before the finalized disadvantaged communities list was created, some programs within state agencies were using an interim disadvantaged community list to steer funding to those areas. Last year, the state announced grand prize winners for a program that seeks to improve clean transportation and mobility in underserved communities.

"The goal will be to make sure that we are tracking the funding streams that already exist, and making sure that if we're not getting funding to these communities for these renewable energy and energy efficiency-related programming, that it is now being steered there," said Alanah Keddell-Tuckey, director of the DEC’s Office of Environmental Justice.

The DEC said it is in the process of developing the tracking method so that different agencies can hit the goal of getting more funding for these communities.

Before the passage of the state's Climate Leadership and Community Protection Act, low-income communities of color that were burdened by environmental injustices were not getting the funding streams for climate change mitigation and renewable energy, according to some communities.

"It wasn't being fairly distributed," said Keddell-Tuckey, recalling concerns expressed about the allocation of the funding.

She noted, "It's nearly impossible to imagine that New York state could really reach its overall goals while still allowing there to be communities that are suffering the extreme burden of our climate-related actions."

The areas labeled as disadvantaged include various parts of Long Island. In Nassau, many are in the Town of Hempstead, but also in other areas, such as Glen Cove. In Suffolk, the disadvantaged communities are clustered in and around  towns such as Riverhead, Islip and Brookhaven.

Officials in several Long Island communities that had portions of the neighborhoods labeled as disadvantaged said they are seeking to explore solar technology, reduce reliance on gas-powered vehicles by making areas more pedestrian-friendly, and purchase electric vehicles.

Officials in disadvantaged communities are trying to determine whether their climate and environmental concerns will fit the funding criteria.

Portions of Huntington Station are listed as disadvantaged. Officials said the community has a high rate of energy poverty — difficulties in affording energy costs. Areas of the community also lack sewers.

Huntington Town Supervisor Ed Smyth hopes the state money will allow for the area to start infrastructure projects. Specifically, he wants to make the community more walkable and less reliant on gas-powered vehicles. Town officials are also working with the county to install rapid bus transportation.

"As we're planning out this area of town, we're doing everything we can to … use low-impact lighting, increase pedestrian traffic as much as possible, [and] promote mass transit as much as possible," he said.

, [object Object], said it was awarded about $48,000 through a municipal zero-emissions vehicle grant program to install a dual-port electric vehicle charging station in a downtown municipal public parking garage, , , [object Object], officials said in a statement that they look "forward to exploring state funding opportunities to create a cleaner and greener village and to enhance economic opportunities here in Westbury and statewide," , , [object Object], community development agency commissioner, Danielle Oglesby, said officials there are working with an outside company to finalize a report that will identify opportunities regarding solar and renewable energy, .

Town of Islip Councilman Jorge Guadrón's district includes Brentwood, North Bay Shore and part of Central Islip. All three hamlets have at least one census tract that was designated as a disadvantaged community.

Guadrón said a waste facility in the Latino-majority area of Brentwood has drawn residents' concerns about air pollution from the trucks and garbage decomposition.

He hopes that the disadvantaged criteria will allow his community to tap into funding to offset pollution and help fund solar panels for households that may be unable to afford them.

"The quality of life obviously will be improved in these areas," he said. "And that's what we're really looking for."

The Town of Brookhaven did not immediately comment.

Even with the designation, some advocates are concerned that some communities might not get the funds because of a lack of knowledge about the designation and initiatives, as well as other barriers.

"The word has to get out to the communities that they are identified as disadvantaged, and right now, the state is not doing a good job of letting the communities know," Fitzgerald said.

Obstacles to participation in certain clean energy initiatives can take various forms, including cultural, financial, language and ownership patterns, according to a 2021 study by the state that identifies possible barriers for disadvantaged communities in accessing clean energy resources. 

For example, the report found electric vehicles might not be a local priority, and that there was a need for more straightforward communication with interested communities. 

Keddell-Tuckey, of the state DEC, said the agency is working to make the funding process as transparent as possible. Because there is "no overarching funding stream," she said, communities will have to navigate different agencies to get funding.

Still, Suffolk County Legislature Minority Leader Jason Richberg said the designation is an opportunity to address climate change and its disproportionate burden on communities of color while ideally involving them in the changing landscape.

"I hope that some of this funding is able to help local governments to make changes and be involved in the changes that need to happen in our communities," said Richberg (D-West Babylon).

"We've left communities behind," he added. "We can't afford to do that."

Growing up in the Town of Brookhaven, Monique Fitzgerald said environmental disinvestment was felt in "the hardest" ways in her North Bellport community. 

The hamlet has areas with higher-than-average state levels of emergency department visits for asthma — a life-threatening respiratory disease that researchers have long linked to air pollution, according to the state and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. Residents have alleged a nearby landfill that is slated for closure releases toxic emissions and odors. (Town officials say the facility is being transitioned into an energy park, powered by solar and other clean energy technologies.) 

Portions of the Town of Brookhaven are among about 90 neighborhoods of color in more than 40 Long Island communities and among 1,736 census tracts statewide that have been identified as disadvantaged communities. The designation seeks to ensure those zones receive benefits as the state works to offset climate change while moving toward greener and cleaner energy sources, officials say.

The effects of climate change in New York are becoming more evident, particularly for communities already feeling pollution's effects, state climate officials said. Across the state, all regions have seen an increase in annual average temperatures and dangerous heat events, a state report from 2021 said. Extreme precipitation events have also grown more pronounced in the Northeast.

WHAT TO KNOW

  • Roughly 90 neighborhoods of color in more than 40 Long Island communities are among 1,736 areas statewide identified as disadvantaged communities, a designation aimed to help these areas receive benefits to offset climate change.
  • Disadvantaged communities will be required to get at least 35%, with the goal of 40%, of clean energy investment and energy efficiency programs under the Climate Leadership and Community Protection Act.
  • Several of the Long Island communities said they are seeking to explore solar technology and reduce reliance on gas-powered vehicles.

Providing investment and remediating past environmental concerns in disadvantaged communities, officials said, will be critical for the state to reach its climate goals.

Advocates like Fitzgerald, the co-founder of the Brookhaven Landfill Action and Remediation Group, agree.

"Regardless of all the investments that we make, we have to ensure that we start with the communities that are impacted the most [and] see what it is that is affecting their environment," she said.

The Brookhaven Landfill Action and Remediation Group holds a rally on...

The Brookhaven Landfill Action and Remediation Group holds a rally on Montauk Highway in Bellport on April 22. Credit: Daniel Goodrich

She wants to see a zero-waste plan in Brookhaven that involves widespread composting and other goals to reduce waste and pollution.

Disadvantaged communities will be required to get at least 35%, with the goal of 40%, of the benefits from clean energy and energy efficiency investments such as solar power under the state's Climate Leadership and Community Protection Act, similar to federal efforts by the Biden administration.

State clean energy investments include more than $35 billion in 120 large-scale renewable and transmission projects across the state and more than $1 billion for clean transportation initiatives, officials said.

How the state selected the communities

The disadvantaged communities were identified using census tract-level data and 45 indicators, including race, income, environmental burdens and climate change risks, according to the state Department of Environmental Conservation.

The community of North Bellport, with the Brookhaven Town landfill...

The community of North Bellport, with the Brookhaven Town landfill in the background. Credit: Newsday/Steve Pfost

The funding for communities that received the designation will come from various state agencies, so it will look different based on the agency. For instance, DEC officials say the funding can come in the form of residents applying for rebate programs from the New York State Energy Research and Development Authority. Communities can also apply for competitive grants.

Another opportunity for communities listed as disadvantaged is Climate Smart Communities, a state program that helps local communities “reduce greenhouse gas emissions and adapt to a changing climate,” officials said.

Before the finalized disadvantaged communities list was created, some programs within state agencies were using an interim disadvantaged community list to steer funding to those areas. Last year, the state announced grand prize winners for a program that seeks to improve clean transportation and mobility in underserved communities.

"The goal will be to make sure that we are tracking the funding streams that already exist, and making sure that if we're not getting funding to these communities for these renewable energy and energy efficiency-related programming, that it is now being steered there," said Alanah Keddell-Tuckey, director of the DEC’s Office of Environmental Justice.

The DEC said it is in the process of developing the tracking method so that different agencies can hit the goal of getting more funding for these communities.

Before the passage of the state's Climate Leadership and Community Protection Act, low-income communities of color that were burdened by environmental injustices were not getting the funding streams for climate change mitigation and renewable energy, according to some communities.

"It wasn't being fairly distributed," said Keddell-Tuckey, recalling concerns expressed about the allocation of the funding.

She noted, "It's nearly impossible to imagine that New York state could really reach its overall goals while still allowing there to be communities that are suffering the extreme burden of our climate-related actions."

Officials exploring solar power, electric vehicles

The areas labeled as disadvantaged include various parts of Long Island. In Nassau, many are in the Town of Hempstead, but also in other areas, such as Glen Cove. In Suffolk, the disadvantaged communities are clustered in and around  towns such as Riverhead, Islip and Brookhaven.

Officials in several Long Island communities that had portions of the neighborhoods labeled as disadvantaged said they are seeking to explore solar technology, reduce reliance on gas-powered vehicles by making areas more pedestrian-friendly, and purchase electric vehicles.

Officials in disadvantaged communities are trying to determine whether their climate and environmental concerns will fit the funding criteria.

Portions of Huntington Station are listed as disadvantaged. Officials said the community has a high rate of energy poverty — difficulties in affording energy costs. Areas of the community also lack sewers.

Huntington Town Supervisor Ed Smyth hopes the state money will allow for the area to start infrastructure projects. Specifically, he wants to make the community more walkable and less reliant on gas-powered vehicles. Town officials are also working with the county to install rapid bus transportation.

"As we're planning out this area of town, we're doing everything we can to … use low-impact lighting, increase pedestrian traffic as much as possible, [and] promote mass transit as much as possible," he said.

  • Glen Cove said it was awarded about $48,000 through a municipal zero-emissions vehicle grant program to install a dual-port electric vehicle charging station in a downtown municipal public parking garage.
  • Village of Westbury officials said in a statement that they look "forward to exploring state funding opportunities to create a cleaner and greener village and to enhance economic opportunities here in Westbury and statewide."
  • The Village of Hempstead's community development agency commissioner, Danielle Oglesby, said officials there are working with an outside company to finalize a report that will identify opportunities regarding solar and renewable energy.

Town of Islip Councilman Jorge Guadrón's district includes Brentwood, North Bay Shore and part of Central Islip. All three hamlets have at least one census tract that was designated as a disadvantaged community.

Guadrón said a waste facility in the Latino-majority area of Brentwood has drawn residents' concerns about air pollution from the trucks and garbage decomposition.

He hopes that the disadvantaged criteria will allow his community to tap into funding to offset pollution and help fund solar panels for households that may be unable to afford them.

"The quality of life obviously will be improved in these areas," he said. "And that's what we're really looking for."

The Town of Brookhaven did not immediately comment.

Barriers to getting the money

Even with the designation, some advocates are concerned that some communities might not get the funds because of a lack of knowledge about the designation and initiatives, as well as other barriers.

Magnolia and Railroad avenues in New Cassel in the Town of...

Magnolia and Railroad avenues in New Cassel in the Town of Hempstead earlier this year. Credit: Newsday/J. Conrad Williams Jr.

"The word has to get out to the communities that they are identified as disadvantaged, and right now, the state is not doing a good job of letting the communities know," Fitzgerald said.

Obstacles to participation in certain clean energy initiatives can take various forms, including cultural, financial, language and ownership patterns, according to a 2021 study by the state that identifies possible barriers for disadvantaged communities in accessing clean energy resources. 

For example, the report found electric vehicles might not be a local priority, and that there was a need for more straightforward communication with interested communities. 

Keddell-Tuckey, of the state DEC, said the agency is working to make the funding process as transparent as possible. Because there is "no overarching funding stream," she said, communities will have to navigate different agencies to get funding.

Still, Suffolk County Legislature Minority Leader Jason Richberg said the designation is an opportunity to address climate change and its disproportionate burden on communities of color while ideally involving them in the changing landscape.

"I hope that some of this funding is able to help local governments to make changes and be involved in the changes that need to happen in our communities," said Richberg (D-West Babylon).

"We've left communities behind," he added. "We can't afford to do that."

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