These are Long Island’s “disadvantaged communities” set for climate funding
New York will direct billions of dollars over the next decade to more than 1,700 disadvantaged communities identified in a new map to fight climate change, including 85 on Long Island.
After nearly a dozen public hearings and more than 3,000 comments, the state Climate Justice Working Group's list of disadvantaged communities are expected to receive at least 35% of state funding for clean energy, energy efficiency programs and other ways to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.
Advocates are now reviewing these maps to ensure the money actually reaches low-income communities of color that are disproportionately impacted by climate change.
Brookhaven NAACP president Georgette Grier-Key points out that these disadvantaged communities are mapped according to U.S. census tracts, which have a history of lacking Black, Latino and Indigenous representation.
“I think this is disingenuous,” Grier-Key said. “Again, this is why you need local people, I feel, doing this work — exactly why you need local people involved.”
The Long Island Progressive Coalition and other advocacy groups warn against local governments and private industry using the maps as leverage to be the major beneficiaries of state climate funding.
“Now that the criteria has been finalized, we must ensure funds actually get to people and organizations most impacted by environmental justice,” said Monique Fitzegerald, the coalition’s climate justice organizer. She said local governments on Long Island should not be the focus of state climate funding because of a “history of perpetuating racism and segregation.”
On Long Island, most of the identified areas are home to communities of color in Hempstead, Freeport, Amityville, Huntington Station, Brentwood, Central Islip, Gordon Heights, Riverhead and Flanders. The list also includes the Shinnecock Indian Nation’s territory in Southampton.
The map is based on 45 environmental, social and health indicators, including flooding, poverty rates, racial demographics and asthma emergency room visits. “We have some unanswered questions for how this environmental justice screening process will work for many permits and different things,” Grier-Key said.
Grier-Key is referring to the state NAACP, alongside the local chapter, challenging a bill in the New York State Legislature that would allow the Town of Brookhaven to change local conservation zoning to allow a waste transfer station in Yaphank to move forward. The organization argues the town’s waste management process already disproportionately impacts the health and environment in nearby communities of color.
The town is supportive of contractor Winter Bros.’ plan to haul away thousands of tons of waste from the site, because the Brookhaven Landfill — across the street — is expected to stop accepting construction and demolition debris by the end of 2024 and keep depositing waste that is burned into ash until capacity is reached.
Grier-Key said she is not optimistic the disadvantaged community map will be used in their favor. Worse, she said the map does not identify the community clearly. The census tract for this community is listed as Brookhaven — named for the township — instead of the neighborhoods of North Bellport, immediately bordering the landfill.
She is concerned this will give the town space to discredit the community’s concerns, and allow Winter Bros. and others in the private sector to leverage the map to gain approval.
“East Patchogue is not listed as part of the town. So, why not Bellport, which has the lowest expectancy,” she said. “It’s purposeful, just so you could continue to dump on us.”
Winter Bros. and the Town of Brookhaven did not respond to requests for comment.
Other waste transfer stations are not included in the disadvantaged community, including Kings Park and Medford. Brentwood’s proposed site is included, as well as much of the Long Island’s waste infrastructure — positioned in communities of color.
The New York Communities for Change also criticized the map in a tweet Monday, saying it favored white rural or suburban communities over low-income Black and Latino urban communities.
The 2019 Climate Leadership and Community Protection Act requires the working group to meet annually to review and potentially modify the criteria based on new data and scientific findings.
“I don't understand,” Grier-Key said. “I'm having a hard time trying to really work through what I'm looking at. But I do feel the methodology is flawed on many levels.”
Agricultural and previously industrial lands in Calverton, Hamptons mansions and the Shinnecock Hills Golf Club, and other idyllic downtowns in Patchogue, Westhampton Beach and Greenport are also on the list.
“It is important to note that the criteria will be reviewed annually, allowing the working group to consider evolving knowledge on the extent to which frontline communities across the state are overburdened,” Eddie Bautista, state Climate Justice Working Group member and executive director of the New York City Environmental Justice Alliance, said in a statement.