New York Lawyers for the Public Interest, a civil rights advocacy group, issued two waste transfer companies located in Jamaica notices of intent to sue on July 19 for allegedly violating the Clean Water Act.
The Clean Water Act outlines the basic structure for regulating the discharge of pollutants into U.S. waters and controls the quality standards for surface waters, according to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.
The EPA, the independent executive body responsible for handling ecological matters, works under the CWA to implement pollution control, including managing the discharge of any pollutant from one area into navigable waters via permits, otherwise the release of any contaminant is considered unlawful.
The EPA’s permit program that oversees such discharges is called the National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System. The NPDES is permitted under the CWA and state governments by the EPA to perform permitting, administrative and enforcement aspects of the program, according to the EPA.
NYLPI, the Super Law Group, a firm dedicated to environmental protection, and environmental groups like the NY/NJ Baykeeper and Riverkeeper allege that the two waste transfer companies, American Recycling Management LLC and Regal Recycling Co., both in Jamaica, are discharging pollutants via stormwater into Jamaica Bay without obtaining or meeting the federal requirements for the NPDES permits.
In 2018, the state’s Department of Environmental Conservation designated Jamaica Bay’s water as “impaired,” meaning the 18,000-acre wetland estuary, mostly surrounded by Queens in the east, does not meet the standards to support fish habitats or is of the quality for recreational water contact, according to NYLPI.
The DEC list, which was updated in 2020, still includes Jamaica Bay and says the state must develop a “strategy to reduce the input of the ... pollutant(s) that restrict waterbody uses, in order to restore and protect such uses.”
NYLPI is not waiting for support from the federal government to act.
“Given that regulators for years allowed these facilities to operate without even the requisite permits — much less required pollution control — we are not necessarily optimistic about government involvement in this lawsuit,” said Melissa Iachan, senior counsel at NYLPI. However, NYLPI welcomes any support to get the allegedly “harmful facilities in compliance.”
Community leaders in Southeast Queens and Eastern Queens and other environmental groups are in full support of the lawsuit. The residents in communities surrounding the facilities in Jamaica say that they have been subjected to putrid odors, loud truck traffic noise and excessive dust from construction and demolition materials, according to NYLPI.
“Our members live in close proximity to these waste transfer stations, and I am not surprised that the two waste facilities are in violation of the ‘Clean Water Act,’” said Walter Dogan, president of the Brinkerhoff Action Association in Jamaica. Noting that he is a member of both Riverkeeper and Baykeeper, he added that he is concerned about the water supply and the health of people who live near the facilities.
Oster Bryan, president of the St. Albans Civic Improvement Association, shared Dogan’s sentiments.
“The members of our community seem to always have to fight tooth and nail for things that should be basic human rights,” Bryan said in a prepared statement, noting the community is primarily Black. “Now, we must sound the alarm for clean water (and clean air!) in the year 2021 in New York City, USA. Could you imagine? We call for the enforcement of the ‘Clean Water Act’ and the ‘Waste Equity Law.’”
The two operators have been asking the City Council to waive the capacity limitations placed by the Waste Equity bill of 2018, which puts caps on the amount of waste that could be distributed in certain community districts, including Southeast Queens, according to the bill.
Dominic Susino, the controller of American Recycling, located at 172-33 Douglas Ave., did not see the purpose of the lawsuit.
“We have never received a violation for stormwater issues and we are not near Jamaica Bay,” said Susino. “There is no direct runoff from us. We don’t know what these environmental groups are looking at in making this claim.”
The Queens Chronicle was not able to reach executives at Regal, located at 170-21 Douglas Ave., for comment about the notice to sue at the time of this publication.
The New York City Environmental Justice Alliance, a nonprofit grassroots organization fighting for low-income neighborhoods and communities of color, also supports the lawsuit.
“We have long known that our Black and Brown communities have served as sacrifice zones for our whole city’s garbage, literally,” said Eddie Bautista, the executive director of NYC-EJA. “Today’s Notice of the intent to file a lawsuit against two of these waste facilities who have taken their Black neighbors for granted for decades is the latest step in a long fight for justice.”
CEO Greg Remaud of NY/NJ Baykeeper agrees.
“Everyone has a right to clean water and healthy communities,” he said. “However, the reality has been that if you live in an urban neighborhood of color, compliance with, and the enforcement of, environmental laws designed to safeguard people has been lax.”