Trash Depots in Low-Income Sections Capped In New York City Bill (1)

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By John Herzfeld

The amount of trash going to transfer stations in three low-income New York City neighborhoods would be capped under a City Council bill aimed at cutting air pollution from trucks as well as other harmful environmental effects.

But a waste industry association is mulling whether to challenge the measure in court.

The bill (Intro. No. 157-2018), passed 32-13 by the Democrat-controlled council July 18, cuts capacity limits on mostly private solid waste transfer stations in North Brooklyn, the South Bronx, and Southeast Queens. Those three areas have 26 of the city’s 38 transfer stations, and those in North Brooklyn alone take in 38 percent of city’s trash.

Mayor Bill de Blasio (D) is expected to sign the bill, which he endorsed last August.

The bill was first proposed more than 10 years ago. A coalition of community and environmental advocates sought its passage, as well as Joint Council 16 of the International Brotherhood of Teamsters, which has been fighting the growth of non-union labor in the commercial trash carting industry.

Litigation Ahead?

But National Waste & Recycling Association members are weighing a legal challenge, Steve Changaris, the association’s New York Chapter manager, told Bloomberg Environment. They are focusing in particular on the council’s environmental assessment, a “negative declaration” stating that no full-blown environmental impact statement would be required for the bill, he said.

“We’re concerned whether it met the standards for a negative declaration,” said Changaris, whose group testified against the bill in hearings.

The association believes that the law will increase costs and reduce jobs. Its stance should be evaluated as part of the social, economic, and transportation effects that would have to be weighed in a full environmental impact statement, he said.

The Teamsters Union council, however, sees the bill as cutting truck traffic in overburdened neighborhoods and fostering “better wages and conditions for workers in the carting industry,” spokesman Alex Moore told Bloomberg Environment.

While the union is concerned about jobs, “environmental justice is important to us as a policy goal,” he said.

Backers of the bill cast it as a prelude to city plans to introduce a zoned carting system to reduce truck traffic and increase oversight of the commercial trash carting industry. Eddie Bautista, executive director of the New York City Environmental Justice Alliance, called it “truly a watershed moment for environmental justice.”

Prevents Future Increases

The bill cuts permitted capacity by 50 percent in North Brooklyn and by 33 percent in the South Bronx and Southeast Queens. Since most of the stations are below capacity now, only a handful would see waste reductions, Eric A. Goldstein, New York City environment director at the Natural Resources Defense Council, said.

In the future, Goldstein said, it will prevent significant increases “in these already overburdened districts.”

The transfer stations ship trash to landfills and incinerators, mostly onto long-haul trucks. Trash going to rail shipment, recycling, or composting wouldn’t be counted against the caps.

The bill shows that “we can have clean air, environmental justice, and good jobs at the same time,” Teamsters Joint Council 16 President George Miranda said in a statement. He also said it “sets the stage for broader reforms later this summer to protect workers, increase recycling, and cut truck traffic through zoned-collection of commercial waste.”

Competitive bidding for the zone collection will include a review of a carter’s environmental and labor policies, as well as the rates they charge, Moore said.

The zone system, first proposed by the city in 2016, would mean that, “instead of up to 50 haulers operating in a single neighborhood on a nightly basis, there will be just a handful,” city Sanitation Commissioner Kathryn Garcia said in testimony on the bill.

The new approach would cut commercial carting truck traffic by 60 percent or more, she said.

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