Governor Hochul recently sent New York State Department of Environmental Conservation Commissioner Seggos to COP26, the international climate change meeting in Glasgow, Scotland. The Governor proudly made the claim that New York State is a “climate change leader.” However, the shameful reality is that in 2021 the waste-by-rail industry in New York State is still allowed to pollute community air and environment with toxic diesel emissions from 1970’s locomotives and waste blowoff, leachate, and odors from rail cars, containers, and C&D transfer stations. And New York State is doing nothing to stop it 11 years after this new industry started.
However, even this is not enough for Winters Brothers, a Long Island waste hauler that recently purchased its own railroad. Winters has asked the US DOT Surface Transportation Board to usurp local and state powers in order to permit what is reported to be the largest transfer station in New York State. This expected giant waste-by-rail transfer station will have a reported 6,000 ton-per day capacity. This is about the same tonnage as all the transfer stations in Brooklyn, or 150% of all the transfer stations in the Bronx. Winters told Brookhaven residents that most of the waste would be construction and demolition debris, so that means there is no law against shipping it in same polluting open rail cars Tunnel Hill Partners-WIN Waste Innovations uses today. Winters plans to site its mega-ton transfer station in Brookhaven, an Environmental Justice community that already is dealing with severe environmental and health impacts from the Brookhaven Landfill, power plants, a burner, ash dump, and other pollution.
And, as always, waste-by-rail from Winters would have to come into Fresh Pond Yard in Queens Community Board 5. Our neighborhoods would be subjected to increased impacts from still-uncontrolled waste-by-rail, day after day.
Commissioner Seggos and Governor Cuomo never lifted a finger to stop this pollution before Winters made its play to usurp state and local powers. Cuomo and Seggos failed to support passage of NYS Assembly and Senate legislation to cover rail cars. Cuomo didn’t even act to stop locomotive pollution after Assemblyman Andrew Hevesi and Queens civics led a successful $27 million funding initiative for LIRR to purchase modern locomotives to haul the waste and LIRR veered off the tracks, into corrupt procurements and years of delay. Meanwhile, the waste-by-rail industry lobbied successfully to maintain loopholes in regulation that allow them to use this harmful equipment.
As a result of failing to do the work of planning for sustainable waste management and transport, New York State has effectively outsourced solid waste management planning to railroads and haulers, including foreign investors. Haulers and railroads make more money when haulers get local and state permits for new and expanded transfer stations and they ship more tonnage to landfills.
Winters Brothers has initiated an unprecedented usurpation of local and state powers. Will New York State stand by and let this transaction happen, or will Governor Hochul and Commissioner Seggos finally act in the interest of public health, safety, and welfare for the People of New York and push back on the railroads, as California, Washington, and Nevada did for two-person crews in locomotives?
What about the five other haulers in Suffolk County that are vying for the business Winters wants? Why is the federal government playing favorites in this market?
And what about Governor Hochul and Commissioner Seggos championing a law like New Jersey’s new Environmental Justice law, which requires impact studies before more polluting industries are sited in an Environmental Justice community?
In a recent Times-Union article, people from Mechanicville, NY spoke about New York State’s sustainability failings in solid waste and transport in words that will have a familiar ring to people reading this article: ‘”It’s beyond disgusting,” said resident Dana Funaro. “No one seems to care enough to address the issue. Yet we have another train full of garbage parked behind our house today.” Others said the smell stopped them from barbecuing or socializing outside this summer on ‘trash train days.’ “The train sits for hours. On this particular day, last week, it was sitting behind the house when I arrived home from work and I had to go inside our house. It was a beautiful night to work in the yard. But I was unable to, because of the smell,” said resident Antoinette Brady Mansfield. Another resident said, “It smells like death.”
Sending DEC Commissioner Seggos to COP26 is “window dressing” unless NYS proves it is a climate change leader by actually doing the work of creating sustainable waste and transportation solutions that protect the public and the environment. To be climate change leaders Governor Hochul and Commissioner Seggos need to plan, set standards for the waste-by-rail industry, and forcefully push back against unprecedented US DOT Surface Transportation Board’s permitting that sets a terrible national precedent for industries that already have proven they won’t protect community health or the environment, no matter how much money they make.