Op-ed: Queens coming together to fight COVID and fossil fuels

Jonathan Forgash, co-founder and executive director of Queens Together. (Photo courtesy of Forgash)

COVID-19 tested our resolve in Queens. We were at the epicenter of the pandemic in New York and our community banded together. My organization Queens Together was born in March of 2020 linking neighbors, friends and volunteers to empower our restaurant community and a “Plate It Forward” program to feed frontline workers and people facing food and economic insecurity.

It is two years later and we are still dealing with another crisis that has been with us far longer than COVID-19. NYC’s fossil fuel addiction. It is killing us and our future but now there is a real opportunity for change.

As a resident of western Queens, I am familiar with “asthma alley” and the blight of the Ravenswood generation plant spewing clouds of toxic pollution endangering our health and the health of our children. It’s been with us so long we take it for granted. We need to wake up to the fact that 90% of our electricity comes from fossil fuels. Their price spikes, damaging health issues and environmental destruction have a real impact on the health and wealth of our residents and businesses. I knew there had to be another way and then I discovered the Champlain Hudson Power Express (CHPE), a permitted and contracted clean energy project that can be up and running in 2025. This project will deliver enough continuous and fixed cost renewable energy to power over a million homes and reduce by 25% the fossil fuel stranglehold on our lives. 

I once again felt the spirit of the Queens community come together around a common cause and was invigorated to join other community-based organizations, business owners, residents and environmental leaders like Costa Constantinides to rally around CHPE.  

The only remaining obstacle in our way is an approval of CHPE by the seven New York State Public Commissioners whose mission is to ensure affordable, safe, secure, and reliable access to electric, gas, steam, telecommunications, and water services for New York State’s residential and business consumers while protecting the natural environment.  

On April 14 these individuals in Albany will hold the fate of our community in their hands. I want them to know how critical CHPE is to improve our air quality, health, and local economy. We are informed as a community and engaged in the project. We know that bringing more clean energy onto the market will lower overall costs and improve the health of our community.  We know that any alternative project would be years in the making and therefore continue destructive effects of a fossil fuel economy. 

As the fight against COVID has shown to be in our public interest, so is the fight against destructive fossil fuels. We can’t let politics and industry players stop us from this viable solution. I call on the Public Service Commissioners to do the right thing and approve the CHPE contract without delay. 

Jonathan Forgash, co-founder and executive director of Queens Together