“ Moving from an extractive to a regenerative economy ”
Editor’s Note: Often lost in our desire to protect and preserve our natural environment is that certain segments of our society have not been treated equally, and their communities, have in fact, been made the repositories of the toxic industries that power our economy and dump sites where our waste ends up. New York State recognized the disadvantages these communities, mostly low-income and/or people of color, face and has provided support through grants and educational outreach by creating under the umbrella of the NYS DEC the Office of Environmental Justice (Environmental Justice – NYS Dept. of Environmental Conservation).
As quoted from their website: “Environmental Justice is the fair and meaningful treatment of all people, regardless of race, income, national origin or color, with respect to the development, implementation, and enforcement of environmental laws, regulations and policies. Environmental Justice allows for disproportionately impacted residents to access the tools to address environmental concerns across all of DEC’s operations. The Office of Environmental Justice (OEJ) works to address environmental issues and concerns that affect primarily low income and minority communities through grant opportunities, enforcement of environmental laws and regulations, consultation, guidance, and enhance public participation.” Finding Native American lands: https://native-land.ca/
Here are links to some more information on Environmental Justice:
- New York Renews, a coalition of 200+ environmental groups committed to Environmental Justice: https://www.weact.org/
- Pace Law School Environmental Law Institute: https://law.pace.edu/centers-institutes/global-center-environmental-legal-studies
- PEJA’s: How to Locate PEJAs in NYS: https://www.dec.ny.gov/public/911.html
NYSACC examines Environmental Justice in New York State from three perspectives:
- Urban – City of Yonkers
- Suburban – Village/Town of Mt Kisco
- Rural – Tuscarora Nation
Heat Island Initiative Expanded by Groundwork Hudson Valley During Sultry Summer
By Brigitte Griswold, Executive Director
Groundwork Hudson Valley (https://www.groundworkhv.org/) is grateful to the New York State Association of Conservation Advisory Councils for the invitation to share information about our newest project linking climate risks to racial justice in Yonkers. Thanks to the Kresge Foundation, the NY State Office of Environmental Justice, The JPB Foundation, and Groundwork USA, Groundworkwas awarded $165,000 in funds this year to complete an intensive study of heat-related risks across the City of Yonkers related to climate change.
Our study examined areas of high heat intensity, known as heat islands, throughout the city of 200,000+ people through the use of current satellite imagery and cross-referenced data on historic redlining, income, race, health issues, flooding and sea level rise. The results will guide the development of new mitigation efforts and educational campaigns in areas of Yonkers highlighted by the study as most at risk to this issue. Data collected to date indicates that the most vulnerable neighborhoods overlap with the city’s historically redlined communities. The research is being carried out in partnership with Groundwork USA under its national Climate Safe Neighborhoods Partnership.
The need to get the best possible, site specific data on this topic is especially urgent for our community, given that temperatures are accelerating across the country and historically redlined neighborhoods are most vulnerable to heat and climate-related risks. Already, extreme heat causes more deaths in the U.S. than all other weather-related causes combined, according to National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), with the effects more pronounced in urban areas. Reducing urban heat exposure is an equity issue, as low-income communities and people of color are more likely to live in neighborhoods with older buildings, low tree cover, more heat-retaining surfaces, and limited access to coping mechanisms such as air conditioning. These neighborhoods are also especially vulnerable to wind and flooding that destroy properties and power outages that disrupt cooling efforts. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reported last month that 10,527 deaths can be attributed to high heat from 2004-2018, with 90% of the fatalities occurring between May–September. Like Covid-19, certain populations are at much higher risk for the direct and indirect consequences of heat, including those with cardiovascular, hypertension, and pulmonary diseases. The elderly have the highest death rate from heat, and heat waves are especially dangerous to pets, outdoor workers, and the uniformed services. NOAA predicts that the New York metro area will see a dramatic rise in 90 degree+ days in the next fifty years. And the region is also expected to see a significant increase in heavy rainfall leading to flooding, a process that is already clear in the meteorological data.
Earlier this year, Groundwork completed the initial phase of the project and compiled, mapped and organized all available data related to heat intensity across Yonkers, while adding GIS layers related to demographics, health, and environmental risks, which will be compared to other cities in the partnership. Technical support is being provided by the New School Urban Systems Lab, the City of Yonkers, Sarah Lawrence College Department of Economics, Groundwork USA, Westchester County, CAPA Strategies, and NASA DEVELOP. The data will now be used to engage community, business, and government stakeholders in a shared effort to identify and prioritize mitigation efforts to abate the worst impacts of extreme heat and flooding.
As we continue to make Yonkers more resilient to our changing climate, this initiative is playing an important role in identifying areas of our city most susceptible to extreme heat exposure and helping further develop preventative measures to safeguard communities from the impacts of more frequent and severe weather events.
The heat issue is of great concern to the Municipal Housing Authority of the City of Yonkers, which houses thousands of low- and moderate-income families in areas initially identified by Groundwork as most vulnerable to heat hazards and other climate risks. It is especially challenging now, given that more residents are staying in their homes due to the pandemic. The agency, along with other key business, government, and community stakeholders, is beginning to work with Groundwork to evaluate its properties so that longer term solutions can be addressed through additional tree cover, shade structures, reflective paint, and hydration stations. To read more about the results of this environmental justice study, please check out recent press on this initiative published in July: https://www.lohud.com/story/news/local/westchester/yonkers/2020/07/29/redlining-yonkers-higher-temperature-climate-study/5487904002/. To read more about the connections between redlining and climate change risks across the U.S., check out the recent New York Times article released in August: https://www.nytimes.com/interactive/2020/08/24/climate/racism-redlining-cities-global-warming.html?searchResultPosition=1
I would welcome the opportunity to share more details and key findings from our study with interested Conservation Advisory Councils across the state.
As Executive Director of Groundwork, Brigitte oversees the organization’s efforts to create sustainable environmental change in Yonkers through community-based partnerships that promote equity, youth leadership, and economic opportunity. Her work has been recognized by The Environmental Protection Agency, The National Park Service, Westchester County, and The City of Yonkers, and she has also received notable awards from The Conservation Fund, The Disney Worldwide Conservation Fund, The Edison Award Honoring Innovation and Innovators, The US2020 STEM Mentoring Award for Excellence in Public-Private Partnerships, and the Nature Conservancy’s Conservation Achievement Award for individuals who demonstrate creative strategies, courage in execution and leadership in achieving results.
About Groundwork Hudson Valley: Groundwork Hudson Valley creates sustainable environmental change in urban neighborhoods through community-based partnerships that promote equity, youth leadership and economic opportunity. For twenty years, Groundwork has made neighborhoods more livable and sustainable through an array of on-the-ground environmental projects that directly involve local residents. We restore rivers and build trails, parks, and playgrounds. We engage community members in all of our work – with a particular focus on educating and employing young people.
Environmental Justice in My Home Town
by John Rhodes, Mt Kisco CAC
Almost everyone is familiar with the most obvious violations of Environmental Justice laws and principals, such as polluting power plants or waste treatment facilities built adjacent to poor and minority neighborhoods. What may be less familiar are the more subtle aspects of Environmental Injustice—those hidden behind zoning revisions, re-development plans, and Green-Washing rhetoric.
Though these “genteel” forms of environmental injustice are less obvious, they are widespread, and no less harmful to our people and society.
The EPA defines Environmental Justice as “the fair treatment and meaningful involvement of all people regardless of race, color, national origin, or income, with respect to the development, implementation, and enforcement of environmental laws, regulations, and policies. According to NYS DEC, Environmental Justice regulations enable disproportionately impacted residents to access the tools to address their environmental concerns. To identify and assist communities that might need special environmental protection and assistance, both agencies have defined Potential Environmental Justice Areas (PEJA), as neighborhoods where:
* At least 33.8% of the population in a rural area reported themselves to be members of minority groups; or 51% in an urban area.
* At least 23.59% of the population in an urban or rural area had household incomes below the federal poverty level. PEJA
Flavors of Injustice
The issue of Environmental Justice goes far beyond the purview of NYCDEC, and beyond the borders of New York State or even the USA. It is had been a fact of life for millions of poor, minority, or marginalized people around the world and throughout history. In the Hudson Valley it reaches from the displacement of the Lene Lenape First Peoples from their traditional lands by Dutch and English settlers, to the building of incinerators and sewage plants in “marginal” neighborhoods in Yonkers, Peekskill, and other towns.
The “classic” form of environmental injustice involves locating sources of pollution in poorer neighborhoods, or the construction of highways or even baseball stadiums on land occupied by “undesirable” communities.
More modern, less obvious forms of environmental injustice include gentrification and redlining, which displace minority and poor residents or unfairly restrict the resources available to improve living conditions in poorer neighborhoods. While some of these practices are the result of overt prejudice or short-term economic planning, others are related to an implicit, often unconscious, systematic devaluation of the lives of poor and minority populations. Sometimes the forms of environmental injustice overlap, as in the riverfront areas north of NYC where a waste incinerators and factories are being decommissioned, and condos are springing up like mushrooms after a storm passes—putting gentrifying development pressure on surrounding lower income neighborhoods.
Location of Neighbor’s Link (on the right) whose mission statement is: “To strengthen the whole community by actively enhancing the healthy integration of immigrants”. This neighborhood is a mixed residential, commercial, and industrial one, with an on-ground solar power generating facility located on a former landfill site (at the end of the road on the left).
Several years ago, during the development of our Town’s new Comprehensive Plan, the Plan Steering Committee (of which I was a member) was considering rezoning poorer areas downtown (including parts of the PEJA) to allow for townhouses, condominiums, and upscale, mixed-use development. When I mentioned that this would almost surely gentrify the neighborhoods in question, one “liberal” member of the committee responded, “…this town could use a little gentrification.” When I asked if we should include low-income housing in the Plan for families who might be displaced by this proposed policy, another committee member responded, “Those people will find somewhere to live.” Unfortunately, that “somewhere” would almost surely be a place with inferior schools, recreation, transportation, water, air, and work opportunities. Among the initial goals of the Plan were to increase the number of people who both live and work in town – in part to reduce transportation-related greenhouse gas and help preserve neighborhoods. But what the Village eventually did was create policies and enact zoning that could favor the construction of upscale residences in poor and minority neighborhoods.
Though the town has a large and thriving Hispanic community, it may be worth noting that there are no members of this community represented on the Village Board, Planning Board, or Comprehensive Plan Steering Committee. A real effort was made by the Mayor and others to increase minority involvement in the Comprehensive Plan process; even so, less than 3% of respondents to the Comprehensive Plan Survey identified themselves as Hispanic.
These developments highlighted for me two common problems that effect ostensibly liberal, humanitarian people. First – they sometimes don’t fully appreciate the social consequences of civic actions and, second – their humanitarian principles may not be as strong as their love of economic growth or their unconscious racism.
While a lot of Environmental Justice activity in our region is focused on the more obvious problems – such as the location of major pollution sources in minority neighborhoods—the more subtle impactors, such as gentrification, lack of green space and recreational facilities, and minority exclusion from decision making processes – often fly under the radar.
To compound these challenges, suburban local governments often shy away from openly addressing Environmental Justice—possibly because such discussions might sully the reputation of the town, adversely impact real estate values, or discourage business investment. Rather than seeing EJ as an opportunity for leadership, positive change, and even grant funding, they prefer to deny the existence or importance of the problem.
Additionally, when PEJA’s occupy a desirable location, say near beautiful woods, a picturesque stream, or even access to good public transportation (as is the case in my town), municipal officials might decide that these locations could produce more tax revenue, or attract a more desirable population with more disposable income to spend in local stores. In some cases, the rhetoric verges on being openly racist. In the course of researching the history of racism and land use in our area, I encountered virtually identical negative language
applied to Italian laborers imported to work on the Croton reservoir in the late 19th century and immigrant Hispanic residents in the late 20th.
Though an early draft of our Comprehensive Plan included recognition of the Village’s PEJA and a commitment to ensure that we address EJ in planning, development, and services—this statement was removed before the Village Board could vote on it. When I asked, during the plan’s Public Hearings, why these had been removed, I was told that PEJA’s were obsolete and no longer relevant, that EJ did not apply to our area, and that such regulations were no longer enforced by the State.
These statements were ill informed at best, and also ignored the benefits of recognizing the existence of a PEJA, including very substantial grant funding. In addition to millions in grants already available each year from the State, the formal policy of the new Environmental and Climate Leadership and Protection Act is that more than a third of all funds allocated under the Act must go to help disadvantaged communities.
Despite these advantages, some area municipal leaders (both government and business) apparently believe that the SEQRA process is already burdensome enough, even without the need to factor in negative impacts of actions on the residents of local PEJA.
One of the key lessons from the Black Lives Matter awakening in 2020 was that racism and injustice are sometimes implicit, and hidden behind denial or seemingly innocuous regulations and policies. I believe we need to look much more closely at the social implications of all actions that impact environmental quality and land use. For example, programs promoting rooftop or community solar have often been effectively “redlined” by implicitly prejudiced credit or screening policies.
John Rhodes is the Chairman of the Mount Kisco Conservation Advisory Council. He also is a member of the town’s Tree Preservation Board and Trail Team, and is a member of the Board of NYSACC and the H2H Steering Committee. Mr. Rhodes worked for several decades in video systems Product Management for Sony and Panasonic, and through his experience, sees partnerships with a broad spectrum of groups as a key factor in achieving rapid, sustainable results. Mr. Rhodes believes that Conservation Boards and Commissions can play a critical role in the preservation of our local and global environment through education, advocacy, and tenacious attention to local land use, waste reduction, biodiversity, and GHG pollution.
Tuscarora: Drawing on Traditional Teaching to Confront a Changing Climate
Taken from an article published by the Northern Arizona University’s Institute for Tribal Environmental Professionals. In 2009, they established its Tribes & Climate Change program. For more information, go to: Tribes & Climate Change – Tribes & Climate Change (nau.edu)
Traditional teachings of the Haudenosaunee tribes have long warned of unsettling changes to the environment. The traditional “instructions,” says the Tuscarora Nation’s past Environmental Program Director, Neil Patterson, “are very specific. They include predictions that we won’t be able to drink the water–which is already true; that strawberry plants won’t produce strawberries; and that there will be a change in the direction of the winds, the way storms move in. Those are things to watch out for. Unfortunately, some of them have already happened. The instructions say these things are coming, but they also say, ‘Don’t let it happen on your time. Here’s what needs to happen so it doesn’t occur on your watch.'”
The Tuscarora Nation is one of Six Nations of the Haudenosaunee Confederacy all based in New York state. (Editor’s note: The other three recognized sovereign Nations in NYS are the Saint Regis Mohawk tribe in northern NYS and the Shinnecock Nation and the Unkechaug Nation, both located on Long Island.) Tuscarora, with a population of some 1200 citizens on its 6250-acre reservation, came to what is now Niagara County in the early 1700s, after they were driven from their North Carolina home–one of the first recorded land grabs by Euro-American settlers. Since their arrival to the Great Lakes region–what their culture calls “the western door of the Seneca”–they’ve seen a multitude of changes to their adopted land and ancient culture. In recent years the Haudenosaunee people have chosen to mount an aggressive program to restore their patch of the planet based on traditional teachings.
“One thing we have to understand is the concept of cultural survival,” Patterson says, “making sure we continue to engage in cultural practices that not only ensure our physical survival but the continuity of the culture. So, we’re very interested not only in the ‘bio-physical world’ but the ‘bio-cultural world.’ We’ve taken a bio-cultural approach to restoration and to addressing climate change whenever we can.”
As climate change increases its impacts, Patterson believes, such awareness will grow increasingly important to the Nation’s physical and cultural health–factors that really can’t be separated.
Each Nation in the confederacy has taken steps to address climate change impacts and promote cultural solidity by tapping their traditional knowledge base. The Tuscarora began an environmental program through the help of the Haudenosaunee Environmental Task Force (HETF), a committee of delegates working on resolving environmental problems. The HETF was established by the Grand Council of the Haudenosaunee in 1992. A staff of five comprise the 14-year-old Tuscarora program that has addressed an array of “bio-cultural” concerns through innovative programs that draw on traditional teachings. Although each response addresses a separate component of ecological sustainability, Patterson points out that these components intertwine and are part of a consistent way of being in the world.
Haudenosaunee White Corn and “Heirloom” Food Plants
Protecting the community’s traditional food base, says Patterson, is a fundamental way of preserving the culture. For Tuscarora, this has translated into both a seed-banking program and community-supported agriculture. Seeds that include Tuscarora White Corn as well as “heirloom” varieties of beans and squash–the traditional triad of foods that have sustained Tuscarora people long before Europeans arrived in North America–have been preserved, stored, and disseminated within the community. Maintaining a community garden complements seed preservation; through their shared growing space, the tribe both encourages the use of traditional foods and teaches students about traditional growing techniques.
Tuscarora traditional agriculture is based on a triad of plants that have sustained tribes across North America for millennia. Beans grow up the stalks of native corn, reinvigorate the soil with nitrogen, while squash occupies the soil between the plants, providing moisture-holding ground cover and making efficient use of garden space. Their approach extends to storage techniques, which includes canning workshops.
Along with active garden subscribers, the tribe’s cultural understanding has always included the notion of food management. Although there is no tribal-wide program in place to stockpile foods in response to climate-change threats, he says, “Putting things away for the future has always been a part of our culture. Lots of people have gotten into local food products; it’s just something most families have already been doing.”
Tuscarora Word List: PLACES
Here are a few words to help you talk about the places here at Tuscarora. Developing that sense of place and home while in our environment will help build your love for Tuscarora:
Uhnę:weh – lake bed uhêØneh – meadow uwíhreh – young, lightly wooded forest kahehnahwaßáhsthę – narrow field kì:nęØ – creek karhaØnê:tih – orchard yučtêhreh – cliff yuhtawêØę – waterfall unê:Øneh – hill y unęØnáharę – cavern uhnà:weh – swamp učá:takwt – edge of the water úrhaØneh – woods ukahrę:weh – opening unęhéhkye – at the place of the corn Uyę:weh – treeless plot in the woods yunęØnyê:tiØ – ridge
BTW: Here is the pronunciation key to help you with the letters. A good suggestion is to say letters and words out loud to help your ear become accustomed to the Tuscarora sounds. Tuscarora Pronunciation Key:* /a/ law; /e/ hat; /i/ pizza; /u/ tune; /ę/ hint; /č/juice; / čh/cheese; /h/ hoe; /m/ mother; /s/ same; /t/ do; /th/ too; /k/ gale; /kh/ kale; /n/ inhale; /r/ hiss (before a consonant or word final), run (trilled elsewhere); / w/ cuff (before a consonant other than y or wordfinal), way (elsewhere); /y/ you ; /sy/ fish; /θ/ thing; /Ø/ uh-oh; /:/ long vowel, /ˊ/high pitch; /`/low pitch.
*Adapted from Blair A. Rudes, TuscaroraEnglish
To ensure that the tribe maintains adequate agricultural land on the ten square mile reservation, the tribe is conducting comprehensive GIS analysis. “We’re mapping out the Nation’s resources,” Patterson says, “to better understand soils, land use, land cover, to assess how self-sufficient we could be in terms of food, energy, timber, water, and other basic needs. Our interest is in using these cultural principles and instructions to measure what we can provide for ourselves, while protecting the sustainability of the resource. We look out, in theory, seven generations. So, we’re talking 100 years or more.”
Protecting the farmland, they have or could develop is high on their list of priorities. So far Tuscarora has restored about 80 acres of grassland, removing mostly invasive cool-season grasses with warm-season grasses. Patterson explains: “The cool-season grasses don’t store a lot of carbon compared to the native warm-season prairie types. The restoration not only stores carbon more efficiently but helps regenerate our soils, building up organic matter, so that in the future we actually have places to produce food.”
Tuscarora’s land-restoration efforts will soon include reviving a degraded swamp on Gill Creek, which runs through the Nation. The swamp once served as a nursery for migratory fish such as pike and suckers, providing the basis for what Patterson believes was once a major food base for the tribe.
The stream itself was rerouted for the construction of a “pump-storage reservoir,” which, unlike traditional reservoirs, involves underground conduits coupled with a reservoir storage system to run Niagara River water off a nearby escarpment. A catastrophic fire in the 1920s struck a vicious blow to the one-time forested wetland. Small dams and barriers put in place since construction of the reservoir further impeded fish migration. Now, invasive plants and trees seek to make their home there. These changes have all but decimated the watercourse’s few remaining fish.
“Our research indicates a restoration ‘replacement’ at the swamp,” says Patterson. “We want to create some open-water habitat that could potentially maintain a year-round fishery on the reservation.”
Passing the Torch
In line with Tuscarora’s seven-generations consciousness, the tribe has established a program to pass cultural knowledge and wisdom down to younger citizens. The HETF Youth Corps program maintains a training effort in which young people travel into surrounding wildlands. “They learn basic skills,” Patterson says, “survival skills, the ability to identify plants and animals in local ecosystems not only in a bio-physical sense but in a bio-cultural sense. So, we talk about plant names, the actual Haudenosaunee names for different species. Often those words contain a lot of information about the species and its relationship to other species in the forest, the water, and the air.
“For example, our word for sturgeon is actually the same word used for ‘dandelion.’ The sturgeon is native to North America, but the dandelion is not. When the dandelion came over with the Mayflower, Tuscarora people noticed these flowers were blooming at the time sturgeon were running and it was time to fish for them. So ,the dandelion became known as the ‘sturgeon flower.’ One of our interests has been in looking at questions like, ‘Are the sturgeon still running when the dandelion bloom, or has climate change affected them so much that these relationships, recorded in our language, no longer apply?'”
Sadly, he says, the sturgeon question has been obscured by other impacts that include overfishing, stream degradation, and migration obstacles. “They’re having a tough time running, or even getting to reproductive age. So again, this brings up other important factors we should know and account for in the environment.” The desire to extend that kind of awareness to the Haudenosaunee community, and to Western culture at large, will soon lead to a youth wilderness journey that combines a historical celebration with environmental outreach. The year 2013 marks three centuries since the Tuscarora people began their 80-year migration from the Carolinas to their present home in New York. Their plan is to organize a hike that mirrors that migration path while also demonstrating ecological principles, including effects of climate change on the regional ecosystem. “One of the specific examples we talk about: in a lot of IPCC [Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change] models are predictions of plants and animals migrating northward, so that the North Carolina climate will actually be in the Great Lakes due to warming. So ,we’re expecting to see these species that are now endemic in the south moving northward, and the species we have here moving northward to Ontario and Quebec. The trip we’re planning is itself a sort of metaphor, not only to celebrate the Tuscarora migration and survival but to reflect on impacts of climate change.”
The tribe is still raising funds and studying the trip’s logistics, which includes an analysis of river basins and various species found along the route. The plan includes publicizing the event through a variety of social media, “so people will be able to follow us as we move along.”
Sustainable Living: An Integrated Approach
In line with the tribe’s focus on traditional teachings and the realities of a changing climate, their sustainability efforts extend to energy use and sourcing as well. “A hydropower project was built that took a lot our land in the 1950s,” Patterson says. “We got involved with the dam relicensing, and as a result we were able to get a low-cost power allocation from this huge hydro-electric project. That has really created a focus in our program of looking at our energy supply and distribution. It really has jump-started us—it’s a catalyst to look at our internal energy demands. We’re looking at how much electricity we could replace in the Nation through sources such as solar, wind, and biomass.”
Patterson recently facilitated a weatherization program on the reservation, seeking to increase the efficiency of citizens’ individual energy use. The tribe is constantly looking for new opportunities to enhance their push toward sustainable living. Through an agreement with the Indian Health Service, for example, Tuscarora citizens are also receiving upgraded septic systems and wells, which should help improve the quality of both groundwater they rely on and surface water in and around the reservation.
In the face of increasing pressures and demands of a convenience-oriented society, regaining the ancient balance is a big challenge in the 21st century. By constantly looking for new ways to further communication and collaboration among Tuscarora citizens (their long-running newsletter, for example, has moved to the web and includes a Facebook page), Tuscarora is taking responsibility for their own place in the world and demonstrating an ability to adapt that has sustained them since time immemorial.
Tuscarora Environment Program: http://tuscaroraenvironment.com/default.aspx
Haudenosaunee Environmental Task Force: http://hetf.org/ Photos in this profile are courtesy of the Tuscarora Environment Program.
René Rickard serves as the Tuscarora Director for the Haudenosaunee Environmental Task Force (HETF). She is responsible for contributing to a culturally-based environmental protection process that is consistent with traditional Haudenosaunee values. Her expertise lies in the areas of water quality and solid waste. René is known for her innovative and creative skills in planning, developing and addressing the environmental concerns of the Tuscarora Nation, and for her excellent communication and interpersonal skills, including her ability to build consensus.
René can be reached by e-mail at email@example.com