Power Mad

The Anti-Pollution Fight Heats Up in Williamsburg

Eddie Bautista, director of Community Planning at New York Lawyers for the Public Interest, whose attorneys are representing the community groups in their court cases, thinks the entire system needs an overhaul. "Groups have fought for years for environmental justice, against environmental racism. However you want to characterize it, it's not enough to do a project-by-project environmental statement if you don't determine cumulative impact."

Though local news sources have characterized opposition to the turbines as just another NIMBY—Not in My Backyard—debate, Bautista vehemently disagrees."It's NIMBY when communities that are not overloaded environmentally don't want a facility that's polluting in their community because of property values. I'm not judging that, but there's a clear difference between that and areas where there is worse air quality and higher asthma rates. This is the case with all of the neighborhoods in this suit." In other words, it's not NIMBYism if your backyard is already a Superfund site.

Ashok Gupta, a senior energy economist at the Natural Resources Defense Council, manages to remain both an optimist and a realist. "There's a failure somewhere in the system. It's always been easier for elected officials to get behind a building project than to get lots of people to change their behavior. We used to have a phrase: 'Real men build power plants, real men don't do energy efficiency.' "

Waste land: Williamsburg’s overburdened waterfront
Photo by Hiroyuki Ito
Waste land: Williamsburg’s overburdened waterfront

Gupta agrees with activists in Williamsburg and across the city who say that additional electricity can be accessed without building new power plants. In response to power authority claims that the city is 380 megawatts short of anticipated power needs for summer 2001, he says, "To the extent that the state can say, 'Let's build turbines,' and get it done, the state could choose to say, 'We can look at all the state and city buildings in New York City and change the cooling systems and lighting and refrigerators and save 200 megawatts just like that.' It can be done, it needs to be done, it has to be done. That's part of what the fight is about."

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