By Albert Samaha
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Lower East Side residents, elected officials, and community leaders gathered last week to express outrage at the possible environmental impact of Consolidated Edison Company of New York's plan to more than double the power output of its East River Generating Station at First Avenue and 14th Street.
Susan Steinberg, president of the East River Environmental Coalition (EREC) and chair of the public meeting, said that in January 2000 she first heard about Con Ed's plan to sell its Waterside Generating Station (located at First Avenue and 40th Street) for a reported $600 million. The company proposes increasing the steam-and electricity-generating capacity of its East 14th Street plant by installing two new generators. However, Steinberg said she wants its two existing generators upgraded or replaced.
Representative Nydia M. Velázquez, Democrat of New York's 12th Congressional District, voiced anger that Con Ed did not inform the community of its plan. "Our community deserves . . . full participation [in the] process of decision making in our own area," she said. She has written to the United States Environmental Protection Agency asking it to suspend approval of Con Ed's plan until the company produces an environmental-impact statement. "If we have to take [Con Ed] to court, we will," she said.
Mathy Stanislaus, legal and technical consultant to EREC, said that "the proposed expansion will result in increased pollution which will be borne disproportionately by communities of color. That would raise the potential for violation of Title VI of the Civil Rights Act [of 1964]."
Other politicians on hand included New York State Assemblymember Steven Sanders of the 63rd Assembly District in Manhattan, who encouraged residents to write letters and to demonstrate against the expansion. City Council member Eva Moskowitz belittled Con Ed's claim that the two new generators will improve the quality of the local environment. Councilmember Margarita Lopez, who spoke via telephone, said that Con Ed revealed its plan only after she investigated rumors about the 14th Street site.
Luz Claudio, assistant professor in the Department of Community Medicine at the Mount Sinai School of Medicine, presented results of an asthma study she coauthored and published in the Journal of Asthma. The citywide study analyzed the relationship between asthma hospitalization rates and socioeconomic factors, and identified neighborhoods with asthma hospitalization rates that exceed the city average.
Claudio displayed maps showing that high asthma hospitalization rates are found mostly in low-income neighborhoods, such as the Lower East Side. But these rates represent only "the most severe cases," said Claudio. "We don't really know the actual rates of asthma in the community."
Dianne Sessions, a 31-year-old resident and mother, said that her six-year-old son suffers from asthma and takes several medications. She suspects that emissions from the 14th Street plant may be a contributing factor to his asthma.
Ed Taylor, a Con Ed engineer, told attendees, "We're not here to make any statements at this time; we're just here to listen to the concerns of the community. We want to work with them."
Rosaura Mendez, Democratic district leader for the Lower East Side, told the audience that community activism is the key to stopping Con Ed's plan. "Everyone say it's a done deal," she said. "Well, this is the Lower East Side and it's not a done deal."