NYSDEC Brings Environmental Justice Program to Long Island

Environmental Law

 

After conducting a successful pilot program in Westchester County, the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation (NYSDEC) recently expanded its Operation ECO-Quality program to four additional communities across the state, including the Long Island community of Wyandanch. Operation ECO-Quality is a program that uses a community-centered approach to reduce pollution and promote environmental justice in Potential Environmental Justice Areas (PEJAs).  Environmental justice refers to efforts to improve the environment in certain locations, often low-income and minority communities, which experience disproportionate rates of negative health and quality of life consequences as a result of poor environmental conditions.

The Operation ECO-Quality Pilot Program, conducted in Peekskill, Yonkers, and Mt. Vernon, NY, met with a great deal of success.  In addition to other factors, the communities were chosen based on public health data related to asthma rates, since the program focuses on reducing pollution that is believed to contribute to the disproportionate rates of respiratory disease in these communities. Designed to educate and encourage members of environmental justice communities to become more involved in their own improvement, the program took a three-pronged approach to increase compliance and thereby reduce pollution in the targeted areas.  First, the NYSDEC consulted with community leaders to explain the program and its goals, as well as identify key concerns of those within the community.  It then educated community leaders and owners of regulated businesses in order to improve awareness and understanding of the applicable laws and regulations.  Lastly, the NYSDEC’s Environmental Conservation Officers (ECOs) toured regulated businesses to determine whether they were in compliance with environmental laws, and issued warnings or formal violations to those businesses not in compliance.  On follow-up visits conducted several weeks later, ECOs found that more than 80% of businesses that had received warnings had come into compliance by the follow-up visits.

One peripheral and important benefit of the program’s structure was that, through the course of community consultations, community members had the opportunity to bring to the NYSDEC’s attention additional environmental concerns that were outside the immediate focus of Operation ECO-Quality.  This allowed the NYSDEC to address concerns that it may not have been previously aware of and take further steps to improve conditions within the communities, even beyond the concerns that the program was designed to address.

Now that the program has been expanded to four additional communities, including the Long Island community of Wyandanch, Long Island residents will have the opportunity to work with the NYSDEC to reduce pollution and improve the quality of life in their own communities.  If the success of the pilot program is any indication, this program will have very positive implications for those in Wyandanch, and hopefully, other Long Island communities as the program expands further.  

For more information on environmental law, Operation Eco-Quality, or environmental justice, please contact Miriam Villani or Jason Kaplan.

This post was written by Amanda Lewis, Alumni Fellow, St. Johns Law School Graduate 2012.

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