Two years ago, lawmakers passed local legislation requiring power plants to phase out Number 6 oil by 2020 and Number 4 oil by 2030. But Councilman Costa Constantinides, chair of the Environmental Protection Committee, said they need to do better than that.
“Thirteen years is just too long to wait,” he said.
The new bill, which is also sponsored by Bronx Councilman Ritchie Torres, will give power plants two options. Under the first option, they can stop using Number 4 oil by 2025, while still adhering to phasing out Number 6 oil by 2020.
Under the second option, they can keep using Number 6 oil until December 31, 2021. But on the first day of 2022, they must immediately transition to Number 2 oil or another type of fuel.
According to Constantinides, Number 2 oil has half the nitrous oxide and a fraction of sulfur oxide as Number 4 oil. The earlier reduction will result in reductions of 125,000 tons of carbon dioxide, 2,600 tons of sulfur oxide, 1,000 tons of particulate matter and 3,500 tons of nitrous oxide, the councilman said.
“Now more than ever, we have to hold our power plants accountable to be better neighbors,” he said, “to not burn cheap and dirty fuels in our community.”
Last year, Constantinides was among several local legislators to demand an earlier phase-out of the dirty fuels.
Lawmakers said then that five out of 25 power plants, including the Astoria Generating Station, Ravenswood Generating Station and the East River Generating Station, were still burning Number 6 oil.
Over a two-year period, they’ve used 27 million gallons of the dirty oil, Constantinides said. The councilman said these hazardous emissions result in worse air quality and greater risk of respiratory illnesses, like asthma, in local communities.
In the zip codes 11101, 11102 and 11106 alone, which are home to public housing developments in western Queens, residents have higher rates of emergency room admissions and hospitalization for asthma than the rest of the borough. Constantinides called it an environmental justice issue because more power plants are concentrated in low-income communities of color.
“We already know the havoc that asthma can causet,” he said. “Children can miss school because of it, and they sometimes take a very stringent daily regimen of medication.”
Advocates from the New York League of Conservation Voters and the Asthma Coalition of Queens were among those who celebrated the legislation on Monday.
Bishop Mitchell Taylor, founder of Urban Upbound, said as a western Queens resident he still suffers from asthma and shortness of breath today.
“It’s a challenge living in these communities when you know there are depositories coming from power plants like this that refuse to burn the same fuel oil residents have to burn,” Taylor said. “Our power plants, located right here in Astoria, are terrorizing neighbors with dirty bombs.”
Claudia Coger, president of the Astoria Houses Residents Association, said in the six decades she has lived in the area, she has seen too many power plants come to the community. In her household alone, she has a granddaughter and two great-grandchildren who suffer from asthma.
“There are too many in northwestern Queens around public housing,” she said. “Our children can hardly breathe.”
Constantinides said the bill was a compromise after hearing the concerns of power plant operators. He said both options will protect local communities in the long-term.
“We’re going to continue to push forward and push the envelope on cleaner power generation,” he said.