Clean Air Calls for Comment Period Extension and Full Environmental Impact Statement for NYS Rt. 33 Project

The Clean Air Coalition builds power by developing grassroots leaders who organize their communities to run and win environmental justice and public health campaigns in Western New York. Campaigns are created at Clean Air when they are brought forward by residents that are directly affected by a public health or environmental justice issue in their neighborhood. Campaigns are approved by our Board of Directors who are themselves voted in by dues paying members in accordance with our bylaws. A campaign consists of a campaign team and a lead staff organizer working together to build enough power to make a decision maker or target to act in a way that will positively impact resident’s health and quality of life. Clean Air does not speak for those who are affected by issues but instead works in partnership with our members to organize and center working class voices to make positive change while developing leaders. These strategies are directly informed by our core values of leadership development, resident knowledge, democratic decision making and race and class equity. 

For the last two decades members of the Restore Our Community Coalition (ROCC)  have been organizing for the restoration of the Humboldt Parkway. The Parkway was destroyed  in the 1970s by the construction of the NY Route 33 Kensington Expressway, a racist urban highway which served neighborhoods and helped facilitate increasing “white flight” to the suburbs while cementing segregation and destabilization of Buffalo’s East Side.  The group has been organizing for so long that some of the original members have passed away over the years unfortunately before their ultimate goal was realized. Clean Air deeply respects and honors  the longevity and persistence of this organizing by individuals who are directly affected by the issue. We also respect the decisions that were reached under the leadership of this group. This project is not an official Clean Air campaign and since we do not speak on behalf of residents without deep organizing with them we will not be making statements on the merits of one alternative or another when it comes to this project. However we will comment on issues that we have concerns with from the project that is being put forward as we do have members that reside in the project area.  Below is the comments we will be submitting:

A. The comment period should be extended. The comment period of 45 days is not sufficient for the highly technical information to be processed, discussed, and disseminated to the community and for the residents to make informed comments. We have a lot of experience in engaging the community in public comments for toxic cleanups such as Tonawanda Coke. The standard comment periods are not sufficient time for meaningful input. Particularly since there was only 30 days since the public hearing on 9/27/23 when many residents found out about the Environmental Assessment. We request the comment period be extended to 90 days. 

B. The NYS DOT should conduct a Full Environmental Impact Statement. A project of this scale within a Disadvantaged Community under the NYS Climate and Community Protection Act needs to have an in-depth environmental review beyond the scope of the Environmental Assessment currently presented. This review should include Air Quality monitoring and analysis (see detail below) as well as modeling and assurances of air quality safety during construction. The presence of asbestos in the retaining walls is of concern and the public safety from this hazardous substance should be further evaluated and more details given to the public. Concentrations of lead in the soil of the highway corridor should be investigated prior to construction. 

C. Air Quality at Tunnel Ends: Clean Air is extremely concerned about the possibility of increased concentrated vehicular emissions at the tunnel ends. We would like to see further air monitoring conducted to better understand the current air quality conditions. NYSDEC is currently conducting mobile air monitoring in NY Disadvantaged Communities which covers that project boundaries. With a full environmental review this data could be used to access current conditions as well for PM 2.5, Black Carbon, NO2, NO, CO, VOC’s and Ozone. 

We acknowledge that the modeling conducted as part of the air quality study shows that the estimated levels of PM 2.5 for Annual and 24 hour average are predicted to be within the National Ambient Air Quality Standards (NAAQS). Erie County as a whole is in attainment of these standards. However when examining data on health disparities and pollution through  USEPAs EJ Screen we find that residents within the project corridor are in the 90th percentile and above for Low Life Expectancy, Asthma, and Heart Disease nationally. Clearly attainment of the 2.5 PM NAAQS standard does not take into account the cumulative effect of many overlapping pollutants on residents’ health. Many public health scientists such as the American Lung Association are calling for USEPA to enact stronger standards more protective of public health.1. According to a study by the Harvard School of Public Health2, Black and low income Americans would benefit the most from stronger policies on air pollution. This is an overburdened community when it comes to pollution and absolute care must be taken that this project does not increase these burdens. We must go above and beyond the minimum standard in this case based on systemic issues which have caused 

  1. Lung Association Responds to Proposed Updates to National Particle Pollution Standards: EPA’s Proposal Falls Far Short and Must Be Strengthened
  2. Black Americans, low-income Americans may benefit most from stronger policies on air pollution


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