What was it and what you missed: The hearing is a step along the process of bringing Resolution 549 to a floor vote with the entire City Council. The reso asks Governor Cuomo to veto Port Ambrose, and will be an important signal from his downstate colleagues and voters. The hearing was jointly held by the Committee on Waterfronts, chaired by Deborah Rose from Staten Island, and the Committee on Environmental Protection, chaired by Rockaway Councilman Donovan Richards. We hope it will come to a full-council vote next month (we’ll alert you when the date is confirmed) but right now we still need to get 12 more signers (here’s who to call).
Representatives from both sides of the issue were invited to testify, but only two pro-Port Ambrose speakers were brave enough to show up: a gentleman from from Rockaway who touted gas as cleaner than oil, and Richard Thomas, Mount Vernon councilman and head of NY Area Alliance, an odd-duck pro-gas/pro-Indian Point/pro-renewables group created in partnership with lobbyist/macher, Jerry Kremer. The speakers were treated with respect by both the Chairs and the audience, but were let off the hook not at all, as when Chair Richards asked Thomas, “Have you contacted Liberty Natural Gas and requested them to move Port Ambrose closer to your community?” (Answer: no.)
The balance of speakers were in support of the resolution, highly informed, and covered a range of topics from economic to environmental. Bruce Ferguson from Catskill Citizens explained the economic unfeasibility of the project, pointing out that LNG imports are down 90%; Jose Soegaard of Metropolitan Waterfront Alliance noted the issue of “entrainment” (vast amounts of sea water being sucked up by the ships, which kills millions of marine larvae and eggs); and Cindy Zipf of Clean Ocean Action discussed the invaluable ecosystem that is the NY/NJ “Bight,” with 5 of the only 7 species of sea turtles in the world making our area their home. The League of Women Voters, a non-partisan group that held a forum that included a Liberty rep, spoke of the terrorist risks of Port Ambrose. Anthony Rogers-Wright noted the skewed Rockaway census data used in the dEIS, which failed to count Hispanics as minorities, thereby avoiding a more stringent assessment required for Environmental Justice communities.
NRDC, Surfrider, Sane Energy Project and several others focused on the case for offshore wind over LNG. (Our power point presentation can be viewed here.)
Many of these issues were detailed in an open letter to Bronx council members (none have yet signed on to Reso 549) written by Bronx Climate Justice North and published in today’s Riverdale Press.
Many others spoke eloquently (see photos below) and then there was a song performed in lieu of spoken testimony (a first, as far as we know, in Council Chambers) which caused everyone in the room (including at the dais) to whip out their cell phones. We’ll post the video of the full proceedings as soon as it’s available.
We’ve been to quite a few public hearings at this point, but this may be the first time we would describe the experience as “fun.” The New York City Council, at this point in time, just might be the most progressive elected body in the country, especially the Committee on Environmental Protection, chaired by Councilman Richards. Compared to the dictatorial and top-down manner of the prior administration, this Council is out to change things up, operating in a way that is radically different, astonishingly open, even downright joyful. It’s not quite an OWS meeting, but the committee does encourage use of Occupy-style “twinkle-up” approval signals at hearings, rather than disruptive applause. And when Councilman Corey Johnson spoke, he mentioned his arrest at the Spectra Pipeline (along with a few Occupiers).
This ain’t your grandpa’s Council. The open and engaging style of this committee at first came as a bit of a shock to anyone used to the old guard, beginning with Councilman Richards inviting advocates to a roundtable meeting at the start of his term, asking what was on their minds, and reviewing suggested initiatives. Combined with participatory budgeting, this is a rare opportunity for the public to get involved in our own democracy.
Port Ambrose is just one issue but we are impressed with the responsiveness this council has shown thus far. The resolution is one of the initiatives we asked for at the roundtable; now it’s making its way through the City Council! Every time we encounter council members, they are calling for renewables and an end to fossil fuel addiction. They seem to want the future we want.