The DEC and local officials held a news conference Wednesday at the Wyandanch Senior Nutrition Center to kick off Operation ECO-Quality, which DEC regional director Peter Scully described as a "groundbreaking effort" to raise compliance with environmental regulations in low-income and minority communities.
The pollution-prevention program will focus on areas with high concentrations of small to midsized regulated facilities, such as auto body shops, gas stations and dry cleaners, he said.
During "community patrols," DEC officers will point out violations at the establishments and discuss ways to come into compliance, Scully said. Months later, officers will return to see if the businesses are in compliance. As part of the program, DEC officers pulled over diesel trucks in Wyandanch early Wednesday to see whether they met air emission standards and to ensure they were not leaking fluids.
In 2010, the DEC started a pilot phase of the program in Peekskill, Yonkers and Mount Vernon, Scully said. Peekskill's compliance rate rose from 45 percent to 83 percent, Yonkers' compliance rate jumped from 42 percent to 91 percent, and Mount Vernon's rate improved from 36 percent to 86 percent, he said.
Operation ECO-Quality is also starting in Buffalo, Albany and the Bronx. Scully said the program will likely expand into other areas of Long Island later this year. "The goal . . . is not to burden small businesses with fines for their violations but rather to work with them and educate them on how to comply with environmental regulations," he said.
Scully encouraged residents to let the DEC know their concerns. "One beneficial outcome of the program is the strengthening of the relationship between government agencies and other agencies and government agencies and the community," he said.
Legis. DuWayne Gregory (D-Amityville) said: "There's been a concern in the community with pollution and environmental issues," citing high asthma rates in the area. "This is the appropriate approach to improve the quality of health for residents."