Monday, January 22, 2018

Cleaning up old Brownfields should not just be a developer’s opportunity

In Rochester, NY’s Climate Action Plan (CAP), the importance of cleaning up old Brownfields* as we go further into Climate Change is discussed. One of the four ongoing Brownfields--South Genesee River Corridor BOA (former Vacuum Oil site) Project—needing clean-up is mentioned in the CAP as a Brownfield Opportunity Area (BOA).

New York State Brownfield Opportunity Areas (BOA). This Program is administered and managed through the New Yoneighborhood revitalization and brownfield redevelopment. The BOA program recognizes that brownfields, underutilized properties, and vacant sites can all have negative impacts on neighborhood vitality, property values and quality of life. The program provides a funding source to facilitate community and neighborhood-based planning, while creating strategies to improve overall conditions and opportunities for reinvestment and revitalization. (Page 10, CAP)
rk State Department of State (DOS). The program provides financial and technical assistance to complete area-wide strategies for

Incentivizing Brownfield cleanings is usually viewed as an opportunity, a chance to bring in developers with deep pockets and transform a region with a bleak future to one with a bright future. And, I suppose if you end up losing your legs because of a bad car accident, it can be viewed as an ‘opportunity’ for finally being able to take the time to write that great American novel you continually say you’ll get to. Of course, the use of ‘opportunity’ in this sense is so stretched as to sound absurd and craven.

But I get it: We create Brownfields with almost no effort, it’s finding the public will to get them cleaned up in our present economic system makes their disappearance extremely difficult.
Those neighborhoods who have long endured Brownfields might be forgiven if they find the word ‘opportunity’ unsettling as developers and governments try to find a way to pitch cleaning up a Brownfield in a positive light. Cleaning up a Brownfield smack dab in the center of Rochester near a major university, the Genesee River, and the Genesee Park can make developers almost giddy with the prospects.  

However, Brownfields should be cleaned up because they are contaminated land that is not good for nearby residents, the vitality of the neighborhood, the natural environment, and is not the way we should be thinking about land use under Climate Change. The PLEX neighborhood would like the abandoned Vacuum Oil site cleaned up for the health of it, not necessarily as an economic opportunity for others. They’ve been living with doubt and confusion about the repercussions for their children of growing up and living in the oldest Brownfield in Rochester. They don’t want their plight compounded by the lowest level of cleanup that would continue to leave them vulnerable or the highest level of cleanup that comes with strings so strongly attached to self-serving schemes that might quite likely drive current residents out of their homes.  

PLEX knows what they want. The highest level cleanup along with Safety, Neighborhood Stabilization, Corporate Accountability, Neighborhood Maintenance Teams, a P.L.E.X. Park, a Hardware store, a Supermarket, History of Place, Ongoing Community Engagement with all parties involved in the cleanup, a Nature Preserve, and a Raised Retaining Wall (which is protecting the area’s hundred-year flood plain [see Draft Generic Environmental Impact Statement]). As you know, a hundred-year-old flood plain in a time of increasing floods in our region due to Climate Change ain’t what it used to be.

In an action email by Mother’s Out Front, the urgency to make public comment in support of PLEX is neatly encapsulated:

“Vacuum Oil Refinery, which operated in Rochester in the Plymouth-Exchange area (PLEX) from 1866-1935, left a toxic mess that has lingered in Rochester for decades. The clean-up proposals are on the table, and there is a comment period going on until January 30th. It is imperative that the city hear from as many residents as possible to ensure that this clean-up is done fully, safely, and responsibly, and that the PLEX community who has contended with this area for decades be able to benefit from the improvements to come.”

Find out more about this issue at PLEX’s website here that has lots of visuals and links to important background information. Then, when you are ready to make public comment, go here, where you can find a short list of “The most important community goals” and an easy-to-fill-out-comment form that will go to the City.

Most of all, let’s get this Brownfield cleaned up to the highest standards, just as you would want if your neighborhood contained an industrial waste land.

Time passes.

* Brownfields are abandoned sites, usually in urban locations, that are tainted by either real or perceived contamination, making them undesirable for private redevelopment efforts.

More local articles on this issue:


My previous essays on Brownfields and Climate Change

Tuesday, January 16, 2018

Don’t sacrifice Romulus, NY for trash incineration

On Jan. 7, 2018, I attended the Trash Incinerator Forum in Romulus, NY. (A complete video of the forum is here.) The forum began with an introduction by Judith Enck, former head of the EPA Region 2, for the main speaker: Dr. Paul Connett, Professor Emeritus in Environmental Chemistry at St. Lawrence University in Canton, NY.

BTW: Judith Enck is a hero due to her outspoken criticism of the Pruitt EPA.

What EPA chief Scott Pruitt promised — and what he’s done But Judith Enck, a New York-based regional EPA administrator under former President Barack Obama, said Pruitt’s rhetoric doesn’t match his record. “You can’t have clean air and you can’t have clean water if you’re going to roll back crucial environmental rules and not enforce the rules we have on the book,” said Enck, who recently returned from seeing hurricane damage in the Virgin Islands. “We’ll see the effects very soon.” (11/19/2017, Politico)

There was much in the forum that suggested that installing one of the largest waste incinerators in the USA in a small community between two of the largest of the Finger Lakes (Seneca and Cayuga) was a bad idea. This from the forum’s handout:

“It’s Bad for our Environment: A 260-foot smokestack would emit dangerous air pollutants including: dioxin, lead, mercury, particulates, acid gasses and nitrogen oxides which are a real problem for grape production. To make the same amount of energy, trash incinerations emit 2.5 times as much carbon dioxide than coal power plants. Carbon dioxide is a major cause of climate change. Burning garbage does not eliminate the need for landfills. Just like a wood stove or fire place produces ash after wood burning, burning garbage creates ash that needs to be landfilled. The fly ash is very toxic. Circular energy says they will use the ash to create new products—a bad idea that often does not work. Seneca County is already home to the Seneca Meadows Landfill. Garbage is not a renewable resource and burning garbage is not legally considered a renewable energy source in New York State. Instead, we need companies to invest in real, clear renewable energy projects such as solar, wind, geothermal, small scale hydro and fuel cells and energy efficiency. Clean energy projects create local jobs that do not pollute communities. Rather than burning garbage, we need Zero Waste policies that prioritize was reductions (plastic bag bans, polystyrene bans) recycling, and composting green waste and food waste. These are the strategies that will protect agriculture, tourism and our health. (from Seneca Lake Guardian’s handout “Keep the FLX Beautiful…”)”

As the former chair of the Rochester Sierra Club’s Zero Waste Committee, I’m glad that Dr. Connett took the time to explain critical alternatives to burning waste—Zero Waste. Many regions around the country and the world are gravitating towards eliminating waste altogether by not creating it. Cradle-to-cradle design, where industry takes responsibility for their products from conception to end-of-use, promises to do just that. We need to move towards Zero Waste. We are not going to have a sustainable existence if we encourage the delusion that we can continually buy stuff then throw it in a big hole or burn it.
Communities around the country, desperate for jobs and keen to preserving their healthy environment, are going to be lured into large industry proposals as our economy and the need to accommodate a growing population advances. Despite a push by the Trump administration there are going to be few communities considering large coal operations anymore because they just don’t pay. 
As we go further into Climate Change, communities are going to be asked to support good energy options (like wind and solar), and they’ll be asked to support bad options (like sacrificing their local environment to support landfills, pipelines, Fracking operations, and trash incinerators).  It is increasingly critical that we learn to tell the difference.

The inclination of local leaders concerned about their community’s welfare is to try to strike a balance between a healthy environment and jobs. But this historical attitude doesn’t make any sense as we go deeper into Climate Change. Climate Change, the crisis of our warming planet, is also about the accumulated effects of all our past environmental abuses. Climate Change has taught us that our environment is far more sensitive to pollution and temperature rises than we thought. Climate Change action plans, like Rochester’s Climate Action Plan, highlight the priorities communities must now adopt in order to responsibly address the challenges of energy use, land use, public health, and much more. The notion of a balance between nature and jobs is a historical stance—not science.
We need to go forward in adapting to Climate Change on a scale and time frame that will matter, and avoid backtracking into unsustainable practices (like landfilling and trash incineration) that seemed to get us by in an earlier age.

Check out these wise words by the great science communicator, David Suzuki:

Consumer society no longer serves our needs How did “throw-away”, “disposable” and “planned obsolescence” become part of product design and marketing? It was deliberate. Wars are effective at getting economies moving, and the Second World War pulled America out of the Great Depression. By 1945, the American economy was blazing as victory approached. But how can a war-based economy continue in peacetime? One way is to continue hostilities or their threat. The global costs of armaments and defence still dwarf spending for health care and education. Another way to transform a wartime economy to peacetime is consumption. Adam Smith, the father of modern economics, wrote in 1776, “Consumption is the sole end and purpose of all production.” (January 11, 2018, By David Suzuki Foundation)


Time passes. 

Monday, January 08, 2018

Undermining the public good on Climate Change--online


It’s profoundly disturbing that a bad meme like climate denial still infects the minds of so many people.  The denialists’ objective is to sow doubt on the science of Climate Change and thwart a viable future for all of us. Much is being accomplished by many virtuous people around the world to alter our behavior, so that we can address Climate Change. But many of those efforts are being seriously undermined by the Trump administration and others using insidious online tactics that must be brought to light.

You might have missed this story in the New York Times or avoided it because articles about online search engines seem a little too wonky and ‘special interest’ for the general reader. (Wonderfully, Climate Change articles are now viewed by our mainstream media as quite fitting for general public consumption.) The climate denial aspects of the article below are plain enough, but how the deniers are gaming our internet via search engines might not captivate most readers.

How Climate Change Deniers Rise to the Top in Google Searches Groups that reject established climate science can use the search engine’s advertising business to their advantage, gaming the system to find a mass platform for false or misleading claims. Type the words “climate change” into Google and you could get an unexpected result: advertisements that call global warming a hoax. “Scientists blast climate alarm,” said one that appeared at the top of the search results page during a recent search, pointing to a website, DefyCCC, that asserted: “Nothing has been studied better and found more harmless than anthropogenic CO2 release.” Another ad proclaimed: “The Global Warming Hoax — Why the Science Isn’t Settled,” linking to a video containing unsupported assertions, including that there is no correlation between rising levels of greenhouse gases and higher global temperatures. (December 29, 2018) New York Times [more on Climate Change in our area]  

Back in the early 1990’s, before I started RochesterEnvironment.com, I began a blog, Green Solitaire. My agenda, as the internet was blossoming, was to bring together as much of the increasingly available environmental information, resources, and studies as I could. The media, universities, non-governmental organizations (NGOs), and even branches of government themselves were putting material online free for the public. To my mind, this was a giant leap forward in information/communication about our life support system, unparalleled in history. Suddenly, everyone had access to real-time and comprehensive data about the state of our environment. RochesterEnvironment.com, which I began in 1998, does more of this sort of thing than my first website, but views the now incalculable wealth of environmental information through the lens of one community—Rochester, NY.

One of the most popular things I did on Green Solitaire was to help other environmental websites get noticed by the myriad online search engines. (What good is your information if no one can find it?) It was a lot of work trying to pool as much information about how search engines located and displayed information so that the public could find it. Back then, the internet needed a good Librarian. Those in our loosely knit group would tweak our websites so that our chances of being found were more likely. We’d figure out how to jump through the many hoops the old search engines used in order to get a high ranking.

It was an especially difficult challenge for environmental websites, as we weren’t selling anything. We were not interested in hiring companies to place us prominently on search engines and we were not going to pay for ‘hits.’ We weren’t advocating for a special interest cause, or trying to amuse a growing internet community in thrall to what this new medium could offer. Environmental information, especially before Climate Change, wasn’t an automatic attention grabber. But we tried a lot of things, including listing each other’s site on our sites.   

Then Google arrived in September of 1998. In quick order, environmental sites, any sites really, that continually put up new information and got linked with other sites got noticed. Whether they paid anyone or not. RochesterEnvironment.com did well because when you searched for anything relating to Rochester and environmental issues, my site came up early in your search. Getting environmental resources to folks looking for them became a no brainer.  

Today, things are different. Social media has become what internet visitors attend to, while websites, especially environmental websites, are often stranded by their own inherent inactivity. In other words, social media is important in driving visitors to the websites where all the accumulated information resides. But social media postings are too ephemeral for studying an issue in depth.

So, it is with great dismay that we find that rather than trying to get important information to people, especially environmental information that has always had to struggle for attention, far too many bad players are trying to game the very system meant to bring us incredibly important information. The effort to control what information people get on the internet and how they get it seems as busy an industry as information gathering itself—making it less likely the public will be informed about our environment. Within the timeframe of the rise of the internet, our past environmental concerns have morphed into the mother of all problems under the planetary crisis of Climate Change.

But instead of having a thoughtful discussion in the US on the most important crisis in the world, we are still waging a war over the facts we already know. We could have used the time since Dr. James Hansen informed Congress of the urgency of Climate Change in 1988 to better purpose. Now, decades later, after little progress in addressing Climate Change, it’s more likely there will be a stiff penalty for the procrastination resulting from the corruption of our information systems, when we could have instead been making our information feeds more useful. Killing the messenger is another craven meme humanity is all too good at.

It’s in the public’s best interest to know as much as possible about Climate Change, as this warming phenomenon grows stronger every day. It will impact every aspect of our lives—everywhere you live on Earth. It’s not in the public’s best interest to have their minds poisoned with intentional misinformation from those whose agenda is immediate self-interest.    


Time passes. 

Tuesday, January 02, 2018

Addressing Climate Change via land use issues

One of the great advantages of a community (like Rochester, NY) having a Climate Action Plan (CAP) is that addressing Climate Change is clearly spelled out for its specific region--what is happening, how it’s detailed, and recommended solutions. A CAP also offers the community and the media a precise, public strategy that, by virtue of its existence, holds our leaders accountable. If you know about a catastrophe and work out a plan to deal with it, then you’re morally compelled to act on your plan.

There’s a caveat, of course: If your government, say our federal government, is holding an irrational and irresponsible position on Climate Change, then no matter how specific, how detailed, how thoroughly and expertly a report (say, the National Climate Assessment ((NCA)) is, it will lie fallow unless you the public hold your government’s feet to the fire. (Even if the Trump Administration decides to ‘sit’ on the next NCA (this will be the fourth since the President Reagan era), the media and the public can still shout it from the rooftops.) Once you actually read the NCA, it’s more likely that you’ll be convinced of the science behind Climate Change and how it will affect our nation.  [Read my article Does Climate Change matter to you? (December 4, 2017) where I discuss the next NCA and how the Trump administration is actively ignoring it.]

Addressing Climate Change requires two critical strategies—mitigation and adaptation—that sometimes overlap but must be accomplished simultaneously. Humanity needs to bring down greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions at the same time we must adapt to the GHGs we’ve already bloated into the climate system. [See my article I wrote in anticipation of the NYC People’s Climate March just before the Paris talks: Climate Change mitigation (People’s Climate March ==> Paris 2015) & adaptation: what’s the diff? (August 2014)

In the “Land Use” section of the CAP (pages 58 and 59), the City explains how our local government views both Climate Change mitigation and adaption: 

Mitigation:

“To achieve the goal of reducing GHG emissions, transportation-related reductions can be achieved through coordinated land use policies. In addition, there are multiple co-benefits associated with land use planning, including improved environmental health, public health, and economic vibrancy.” (Page 58, CAP)

Adaptation:

“In the context of adaptation, land use policy is critical to improving the community’s resiliency and ability to adapt to the effects of climate change.” (Page 58, CAP)

The core of the CAP on land use demonstrates how and why our government must lead efforts in this area. Governments can adopt land use policies, design regulations and zoning standards, adopt appropriate parking management and pricing policies, and help identify locations for best implementation.

The areas where land use comes into play in the CAP are: “Coordinated Land Use and Transportation Policies”; “Transit-oriented and Mixed-Use Development (TOD)”; “Redevelopment of brownfields and vacant or underutilized properties”; “Urban Agriculture”; “EcoDistricts”; and “Parks and Open Space Planning” (Pages 58 &59, CAP). Each area offers many opportunities for government to help shape actions that will make our region more likely to adapt to Climate Change and further reduce GHG emissions. 

Local groups and individuals can do much to amplify and accelerate the City’s efforts through neighborhood associations, environmental groups, and advocacy groups. Businesses, like the recent bike-share program and the recent rise of ridesharing apps, by their own successes and failures, also alter these land use components.

We cannot ignore the important role of government in addressing Climate Change, nor can we assume they’re going to do it without our constant vigilance. We must combine our own efforts and make sure our governments act on a scale and timeframe that will matter.  


Time passes.