Op-Ed | New York must step up to protect our kids from a continued future of environmental injustice

Costa Constantinides. (Photo courtesy of Constantinides’ office)

Astoria is my home, where I live, work, and where I chose to raise my family. A place that I was proud to represent in the City Council and where I now work with the youth of our great community. While many people know Astoria as the birthplace of the movie industry in New York and as the place to get the best food in the city, there is a side of our community that many people don’t know.

Astoria is the power hub of New York City. On any given day, we provide about 55% of the city’s power, almost exclusively from fossil fuels. This has had a major cost in the community. We have an asthma rate significantly higher than the rest of Queens. The children that come into our facility at the Variety Boys and Girls Club of Queens compare inhalers the way children of generations before might have compared baseball cards or Barbie dolls, a heartbreaking thought to any parent. 

That is why we were so excited to hear that Beacon Wind, an offshore wind project being built off of Long Island, had decided to bring their renewable power into Astoria. This decision came after a long campaign by local community activists and our elected officials to fight back against the repowering of a natural gas plant on a site in our neighborhood. Finally, Astoria would be able to supply New York City power without harming our local residents. For a brief time, we could breathe a sigh of relief that the children of Ravenswood and Queensbridge houses could know a future without needing an inhaler to get through the day.

In the few months since Beacon Wind announced their plans to come to Astoria, they have done more than just plan to deliver renewable offshore wind power to our city. They teamed up with the Variety Boys and Girls Club of Queens to invest in building a new technology and media center that will enhance our children’s STEM education for years to come. Projects like these are about delivering more than just power into the grid, they are also about helping to enhance our communities.

This vision is now at risk.

Facing increasing costs due to inflation and supply chain constraints, offshore wind developers filed a petition with the New York State Public Service Commission to institute inflationary help into their contracts. This is not an extraordinary step as the State actually did this in a recent round of bids for new needed offshore wind projects, including a second part of Beacon Wind that is proposed to come into Astoria and a project proposed to come into Ravenswood in Long Island City. Instead of levelling the playing field and making an investment in the health of our state, Governor Hochul and the Public Service Commission are waffling on what to do altogether. Let me be clear, the children of Astoria do not have time to wait and see while Albany plays political games with their health. 

In my community, this is not about profits for energy companies or winning political points, it is about life and death. Simply put, a decision to let the offshore wind industry be delayed or die in New York is sentencing another generation of Astoria residents to face the health challenges that we have faced for generations. We have been promised an energy revolution by the state’s own landmark law, the CLCPA, not a continuation of last century’s environmental racism.

Governor Hochul and members of the Public Service Commission, I do not want to ever have to watch another child of our community gasp for air, begging to be able to breathe again. We have marched, we have yelled, we have screamed, and we have voted to turn Astoria from Asthma Alley into Renewable Row and we will not go back. We will not allow another generation of children to face the environmental hazards and racism that this generation and generations before them have faced. 

That is why I implore Governor Hochul and the Public Service Commission to take action on these petitions and approve them. New York State must lead because it is our children’s lives who are at stake. If these projects are delayed or if the industry dies, then you are sentencing the children of my center, my own children, and upcoming generations to a continued future of environmental injustice, asthma, and pain.  

Costa Constantinides is the Chief Executive Officer at the Variety Boys & Girls Club of Queen and was a Member of the New York City Council from 2014 to 2021.