Elected officials and environmental activists gathered in Astoria Park on Thursday, Aug. 26, to protest plans for NRG Energy’s fracked gas plant that would replace 50-year-old power generators in the Ditmars-Steinway area.
About 50 people gathered in the park on the second and last day of public hearings for the project, which is currently under review by the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC). The DEC approved draft permits for NRG’s gas-fired power plant in early July.
Activists are hoping that there is a new opportunity to shut down the project with Kathy Hochul taking over as governor.
Assemblyman Zohran Mamdani, who represents Astoria, called on Hochul to stand against fossil fuels in her administration and commit to renewable energy.
“With finally putting Governor [Andrew] Cuomo in our rearview mirror, I think that there comes an opportunity to have a real climate champion or at least not an obstacle to fighting back against the climate crisis, which is what [Cuomo] was,” Mamdani said.
“Every day, I see my neighbors across Astoria suffer from some of the worst air quality in our city and we have the asthma rates to show for it. Enough is enough,” Mamdani said. “We are sick and tired of investments being made in dirty fossil fuels when we can build clean energy today.”
The proposal for this new project has received staunch opposition from high-profile New York leaders including Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, Congresswomen Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and Carolyn Maloney as well as Mayor Bill de Blasio.
“For far too long the residents of western Queens have lived in the shadow of New York City’s power plants, bearing the brunt of the environmental and health consequences as the smokestacks continue to belch pollution – that needs to stop today,” Schumer said at a previous rally against NRG’s proposal.
NRG has operated 15-acre gas turbines in northern Astoria since 1999. They say their proposed plan to upgrade the existing peaker plant is meant to provide backup or standby power if the city’s system fails due to extreme hot or cold temperatures or in the event of a storm.
Tom Atkins, vice president of development at NRG, previously said that the peaker facility would reduce greenhouse gas emissions by nearly 5 million tons. The project would also create 500 new union jobs during construction and $156 million for the state.
However, elected officials have called out NRG for violating and undermining the Climate Leadership and Community Protection Act, which the state passed to cut greenhouse gas emissions to net-zero by 2050.
“A rebuilt NRG plant that will keep a fossil fuel-dependent power plant in Astoria for years to come would directly undermine the urgently needed goals laid out in New York’s groundbreaking climate law, the CLCPA,” Schumer previously said.
However, NRG Spokesperson David Schrader maintains that the proposed project will result in large reductions in statewide gas emissions.
“NRG’s plan to upgrade its Astoria plant with state-of-the-art technology is fully consistent with the CLCPA as it will immediately result in significant reductions in greenhouse gas emissions and supports the expansion of renewable energy resources throughout the state,” Schrader said.
Other local leaders like state Senator Michael Gianaris called on the DEC to reject the permit application, saying he will continue to fight against the project until it is dead.
State Senator Jessica Ramos recognized Astoria as “Asthma Alley,” speaking to the health effects caused by fossil fuel emissions.
“Asthma Alley” refers to the Astoria and Long Island City corridor that is known for abnormally high childhood asthma rates possibly due to the over-concentration of New York City’s power-generating plants.
“My neighbors are literally and figuratively sick of being used as sacrificial lambs for the fossil fuel industry,” Ramos said. “Astorians do not want another fracked gas plant polluting the air that they breathe. As we are currently experiencing the deleterious effects of climate change, it is absolutely ludicrous that this even needs to be debated. Hochul and the DEC must deny these permits to NRG to protect Astorians and our climate.”
During the virtual hearings this week, more than 150 speakers strongly opposed the project. Some were young high school students of the area, who said they were scared for their futures.
“I’m only 17 years old, so I’m in no way a scientist,” said one speaker. “The extent of my scientific credibility is in high school environmental courses, however even in these classes, they tell us the costs of more fracking and fossil fuel emissions. Fossil fuels are destroying my future. I want you to take that into consideration.”