Rising Above Adversity: Opposing Pollution Locally

By Jane Zeltner, Nora Lowe, Sebastian Vasquez, and Fatimah Khan

Amid the turbulence of continued coronavirus damage and protests in the name of racial equity, it is clear that there are a multitude of issues that require our attention. Many of these movements have been carried out on a national level, and tend to capture the attention of the media, especially social media platforms. Specifically in Westchester, there are campaigns of significance which less light has been shed upon. These nation-wide movements are extremely important, but it is also essential to create waves of change on a more local level so the impact can ripple outward.

More now than ever, a spotlight has been directed at climate change and issues of environmental justice. Our strong reliance on protective equipment has created drastically increased amounts of waste, drawing attention to the continuing human waste problem, and the enactment of lockdown and quarantine measures have provided a surplus of time for reflecting on our role in perpetuating environmental destruction. Consequently, we must consider how we want to emerge from the COVID-19 situation, because despite the circumstances, our nation and the world have been given a unique opportunity to pause and consider how our society might approach reconstruction in a more sustainable fashion.

The Sunrise Movement is a national organization focusing on youth climate activism and climate justice. It is centered around tackling climate change and global warming through campaigning for a Green New Deal, which is an effort to “mobilize every aspect of American Society to 100% clean and renewable energy by 2030” (Sunrise Movement) while creating jobs in the green energy sector simultaneously. They have headed lobbying and peaceful campaigns endorsed by politicians such as Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez. 

Recently, Westchester high school students Caitlyn Carpenter from Mamaroneck and Sebastian Vasquez from Byram Hills have renewed efforts to organize a Westchester Hub of the Sunrise Movement. A number of Byram Hills students as well as young activists from around Westchester have joined the organization and are currently working on projects intended to better our community. They use environmental advocacy and legislative routes to achieve their goals and encourage green changes, establishing contact with local representatives and experts to discuss unique issues faced by Westchester.

One of their current projects relates to a local unsustainable power plant. The Danskammer fossil fuel power plant, in the town of Newburgh, currently runs less than 5% of the time; however, Danskammer is trying to expand its operations to run almost nonstop. This would force us to take a giant step backward in our fight against climate change, as the amount of pollution including harmful greenhouse gases, nitrogen oxides, and particulate matter produced would increase to more than 10 times the current annual emissions (Scenic Hudson).  Exposure to pollution can cause various types of cancer and other respiratory diseases.  There would also be extreme amounts of pollution in the Hudson River as there is the potential for around 3 million gallons of stored diesel fuel to spill out and contaminate the water, which has the capacity to be detrimental for aquatic life and the river’s ecosystem. Thousands of people living in the Hudson Valley rely on drinking water from the Hudson River (Poughkeepsie Journal), making the expansion of the Danskammer Power Plant a direct threat to our health.  There are numerous other renewable projects that can meet the demand for energy in our area, making the expansion of the Danskammer Power Plant completely unnecessary.  

In order to take action, please consider adding your name to this petition. It is also important to spread awareness about this important issue and share the petition with others.  Every small action helps!

According to ScenicHudson.org, a local news outlet, there are a couple of additional actions that can be completed from home, while still producing effective change. These are impactful ways to help that are not time-consuming, and we encourage readers to pursue these steps:

“1. The state is currently deciding whether or not to approve plans for the new plant. Now is your chance to speak out. Submit an official comment opposing the proposal here.

2. Call your New York State Senator and Assembly member and tell them why we don’t need a new Danskammer.

3. Call your local elected officials and get their support for stopping this project.”

If you would be interested in joining the Westchester Hub of the Sunrise Movement, please contact us at sunrisewestchesterhub@gmail.com, or Hub Co-Coordinator Sebastian Vasquez at (914) 330-5800. New members are always welcome, and no prior experience in environmental advocacy is required. Joining the Westchester Hub is a fulfilling way to become more involved in combating environmental damage, as well as being part of something larger than oneself to fight for change.