Queens climate activists protest outside the White House against proposed Astoria power plant

In Washington, D.C., on Oct. 13, climate justice activists led by Indigenous leaders were marching outside the White House for the third day on a row to protest against the continued use of fossil fuels. Protesters have two main demands of the Biden administration: to cease approvals of projects for fossil fuel infrastructure and lead a renewable energy transformation. (Photo by Eman Mohammed | Survival Media Agency)

New York activists are traveling to Washington, D.C., to protest outside the White House against NRG Energy’s proposed fracked-gas power plant in Astoria. 

Hundreds of activists have been protesting in D.C. for the weeklong rally that started Monday, Oct. 11, and some have been arrested. Organizers are coming together to call on President Joe Biden to halt all new fossil fuel developments in America.

The proposal for the Astoria plant would replace NRG’s 50-year-old power generators in the Ditmars-Steinway area. The project would convert the current peaking facility with quick-start capability in order to enhance reliable electricity for New York City, according to NRG.

The New York State Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) held a public hearing period over the summer and is expected to announce a decision to approve or deny the proposal later this month.

Laura Shindell, a New York organizer with the environmental activist group Food & Water Watch, lives just half a block away from the proposed Astoria fracked-gas plant at 31-01 20th Ave.

New York activists board the bus in Manhattan to travel down to Washington, D.C., for People vs. Fossil Fuels protests. (Alex Beauchamp, Food & Water Watch)

“We are already in a climate crisis, and we cannot afford to build new fossil fuel infrastructure. We needed to move to renewable energy yesterday,” Shindell said.

Shindell mentioned Astoria’s nickname, “Asthma Alley,” referring to the disproportionate health effects in northwestern Queens caused by over-concentrated power-generating plants. She said that the switch to renewable energy is necessary to avoid more health and climate threats. 

“The U.S. needs to move to renewable energy,” Shindell said. “Everyone expects New York to lead the way on that. We’re a progressive state that has a good, strong economy. If we’re not moving to renewable energy, how can we expect anyone else to?”

People and elected officials who oppose the NRG power plant have said it violates the Climate Leadership and Community Protection Act (CLCPA), which the state passed to cut greenhouse gas emissions to net-zero by 2050. 

“Building a new power plant essentially locks New York into decades more of fossil fuels, making those goals impossible to meet,” Shindell said. 

Shindell and other activists are hoping Biden will stop fossil fuel extraction around the country and use his executive authority to address the climate emergency.

Queens leaders and elected officials organized in Astoria Park in August to call on Governor Kathy Hochul to deny the proposed power plant. Many activists were hopeful that the new state leadership would signal a shift toward the direction of progressive climate policies.

Assemblyman Zohran Mamdani, who represents Astoria, called on Hochul over the summer to stand against fossil fuels. 

“With finally putting Gov. [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.

NRG’s proposal 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.

NRG has operated 15-acre gas turbines in northern Astoria since 1999. 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 generate $156 million for the state.

Shindell said she is still hopeful Hochul will “make the right decision.”

“The culmination of all of our organizing is coming to a head and we’re working hard to make sure that Hochul makes the right call and puts public health and our climate ahead of private profit,” Shindell said. “We’re hopeful Hochul will walk the talk, but she has not been tested yet. This is going to be a big first test to see if she will be the climate hero that New York needs.”