More than 100 people gathered at Astoria Park to celebrate Earth Day and the re-introduction of the Green New Deal with Queens/Bronx Congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez — while calling for a full stop to the proposed Astoria power plant — on Saturday, April 24.
The sunny spring day brought out community members and their pets to the event, which featured arts and crafts for kids, snacks, as well as speeches from Ocasio-Cortez, State Senator Jessica Ramos, Assemblyman Zohran Mamdani, a representative from State Senator Michael Gianaris’ office and several climate justice groups.
Ocasio-Cortez, who was welcomed by cheers from the crowd, spoke about the Green New Deal resolution — a comprehensive and bold plan to dramatically reduce the United State’s greenhouse gas emissions within the next 10 years by creating high-paying jobs and addressing systemic inequality and racism.
“When we hear about our conversations around climate, and say ‘climate change is human-made it’s human-caused,’ it’s more than that — it’s societally caused. The way we have structured our society is unsustainable,” Ocasio-Cortez said. “It’s showing up in the climate crisis, but it’s also showing up in our healthcare crisis, in our housing crisis, in our crisis of wages. And what you all represent, what this gathering here represents, is the solution.”
While the Green New Deal was the day’s overall theme, at the center was the Astoria power plant, an existing peaker plant fueled by fracked gas that its owner, NRG Energy, wants to rebuild. They’re currently seeking permits from the state to start construction, 10 years after they were approved to pursue another plan for the plant.
Tom Atkins, vice president of Development at NRG, said the new plant will create hundreds of jobs, reduce greenhouse gas emissions statewide making it compliant with the CLCPA and could be converted to carbon-free hydrogen in the future.
“As New York transitions to renewable energy, New Yorkers deserve an opportunity to have cleaner air now. New Yorkers don’t need to choose between modern backup electricity plants like our Astoria Replacement Project and renewable energy. New York needs both,” Atkins said.
Ocasio-Cortez and other climate advocates emphasized the harmful environmental and individual health impacts caused by fracked-gas plants, including how low-income and often communities made up of Black, Indigenous, people of color (BIPOC) suffer the brunt of pollution.
Fracking often leads to leaks of methane, a greenhouse gas which research shows is 80 times more potent than carbon dioxide at driving global warming.
“We’re not going to let that happen, we can’t let that happen,” Ocasio-Cortez said. “We’re not going to allow our water to be compromised, we’re not going to allow our air to be compromised.”
Ocasio-Cortez said they will push for solar and off-shore wind projects with jobs directed to residents, instead.
Ramos and Mamdani spoke about the steps they’re taking to stop the plant, including the introduction a new bill called the Clean Futures Act that would ban any new fracked-gas power plant from being built in New York.
“What we’re trying to do is really make sure our kids and future generations are able to continue enjoying this planet. We’ve destroyed it as human beings with our bad behavior,” Ramos said. “We can do better, we can rectify what past generations have done. We are the generation that saves our planet. We have to do that today.”
Mamdani said there is a false choice between “our planet or our economy” and “our ideals or our reality.”
“And as I grew up in Uganda saying, ‘por que no los dos?’ Why can we not have all of these things? Frankly, they’re the false choices of capitalism,” Mamdani said. “They’re the false choices that we’re told every day, that we must pick between these things when in reality the future that we are fighting for, the future that our congresswoman has been fighting day and night for in Washington D.C. and across the country, is a future that makes very clear the Green New Deal encompasses all of what we need and all of what we want — and it’s not pie in the sky, it’s practical.”
Long Island City Councilman Jimmy Van Bramer and Tiffany Cabán, a candidate for City Council District 22, were also in attendance. Members of grassroots groups, such as Democratic Socialists of America, Sunrise Movement, Food and Water Watch, Sane Energy, New York Public Interest Research Group (NYPIRG) and Queens Climate Project, participated in the event.
DSA organizer Stylianos Karolidis spoke about their Public Power campaign advocating for publicly-owned utilities. NYPIRG member Tousif Ahsan spoke about the need for public banking so that the city will actually invest in projects for communities.
Cesar Yoc, a public housing tenant and advocate in the Bronx with the Sunrise Movement, believes the Green New Deal will help NYCHA and public housing across the country begin to address its issues, namely its infrastructure with renewable energy and green infrastructure.
“Sometimes a lot of these renovations are very short-term, they’re not meant to last 100 years,” Yoc said. “I say why waste billions of dollars for short-term retrofitting, you might as well be innovative.”
Unlike some conservatives who believe the Green New Deal is too far-fetched, Meredith Faltin, a member of local climate advocacy group Queens Climate Project, believes it “doesn’t go far enough” when it comes to its timeline.
“It’s a good first step to get the ball rolling and the conversation started,” Faltin said. “The time limits on it, I think, needs to be quicker. But I’m all for the most drastic options.”
The group has been advocating for several different issues locally, such as mandatory composting, and are part of the coalition that’s against NRG’s Astoria power plant.
Siblings Anand and Umed Maru, both seventh graders at Baccalaureate School for Global Education in Astoria, are part of Queens Climate Project’s youth group, Veggie Nuggets.
Umed, who excitedly waved a piece of paper with Ocasio-Cortez’s signature, said they’ve participated in a bike rally and called Gov. Andrew Cuomo to stop the Astoria plant from moving forward.
Anand said the event was a great way to “bring more fresh recruits” to the climate advocacy scene and support the Green New Deal.
“I think it’s one of the only good solutions that includes every problem that America and the world is facing, including a lot of different inequities and injustices that are being dealt to people around the U.S. and around the world,” Anand said. “A lot of the solutions to climate change can also help solve these other problems. I feel like they’re all interrelated.”
Astoria residents and siblings Madison and Jackson Roche were there with their mom and friends, and said they wish they learned more about the planet and how to treat it in school.
“I really like Earth Day because the earth gives us a lot of stuff and we usually take advantage of it, so I like that we have a day to appreciate everything,” Madison, 10, said.
Jackson, 12, said he liked hearing about the Green New Deal, which he didn’t know about until the event. When asked what he looks forward to about it the most, Jackson said “the outcome.”
The afternoon event culminated with attendees forming a long line to take a photo with Ocasio-Cortez, including Anthony Lucero, 25, and Bryan Cuartas, 25.
Lucero said he’s excited to see the fundamental shifts in society that Ocasio-Cortez promotes.
“A lot of the problems that we face today, not only in climate, but just the way society runs itself is due to the fact that we prioritize profits and companies over the value of people and the communities they live in,” he said. “I think restructuring that in a way that benefits people will not only solve all the issues with climate, with affordable housing, with raising the minimum wage — but at the end of the line, that does trickle down back to people.”
The Astoria residents are represented by Congresswoman Carolyn Maloney, but Cuartas said he appreciates how Ocasio-Cortez has shifted their representation in Congress toward the left.
“The pandemic has shown that the way we were previously living, there were so many issues that [make] you think, well this is an opportunity to transform and to really try something new, to live more sustainably,” Cuartas said. “I think the Green New Deal will help resolve so many things. If we take those values across the country, we could really improve our standing globally, and show people that this is possible and sustainable.”
This story was updated on April 27 at 12 p.m.