Congressman Serrano believes clearing the air and improving the environment is a top priority in the South Bronx. Actively supporting a new, healthy vision for his District, the Congressman has worked for decades on environmental justice issues such as quality parks, breathable air and clean waterways. His view that poor environmental conditions affect the socio-economic conditions of a community have led him to champion environmental justice campaigns that have made the Bronx a better place to live and work.
To those familiar with New York’s landscape, the Bronx is known to have some of the most polluted air in the City. Whether it’s the noose of highways that chokes more than half of the Congressman’s district, comprised of the deadly Major Deegan (I-87), the clogged Cross Bronx Expressway (I-95), and controversial Sheridan Expressway (I-895), or the disproportionate burden of waste transfer stations, air quality is the number one environmental justice crisis faced by his constituents. Compounded by the odors generated by waste handling, including the largest sewage-to-fertilizer plant in an urban area, noxious and often nauseating air has been directly associated to the alarming rates of respiratory problems present in the Bronx, particularly among young children.
Beginning in 1997, the Congressman brought national attention to the disproportionate burden of waste and its associated diesel truck traffic shouldered by the South Bronx when he filed a Title 6 environmental justice complaint with the Environmental Protection Agency. To further the complaint with research and data the Congressman also secured funding for the South Bronx Environmental Health and Policy Study. Structured as a partnership between the NYU’s School of Medicine and the Wagner School of Public Service and undertaken in cooperation with the impacted community, the Study analyzed the environmental and public health effects associated with living near pollution sources, including waste transfer stations and major expressways. Among its findings is the direct relationship between asthma symptoms and fine particle soot, a toxin most commonly associated with diesel truck traffic.
In response to these findings Congressman Serrano has introduced legislation which provides tax credits to businesses that use clean-fuel vehicles in areas with high pollution. Promoting fleet conversions through business outreach and technical assistance in collaboration with Bronx Community College, the Congressman considers cleaner fuels and “green” technology as not only essential for improving our immediate crisis in air quality but also as a budding, job rich industry that Bronx students and institutions should lead. Seeding the creation and on-going programs of the Center for Sustainable Energy at Bronx Community College, alternative fuel technology development helps to create jobs from innovative, environmentally friendly companies that provide economic growth and cleaner products. One of the great myths of our day holds that environmental protection and economic growth are incongruous. The Center for Sustainable Energy at Bronx Community College works to dispel that myth, showing the connection between growth and protection through education, training, and community engagement. Complementing this job training and technical expertise in alternative fuel technology, the Congressman has also secured the initial funding for the first public alternative fuels fueling station in New York City.
The Congressman’s work for environmental justice in the South Bronx is also about identifying ways to mitigate historically poor planning and more recent environmental racism with regards to the citing of polluting infrastructure and facilities. Promoting projects that redefine the ways communities relate to each other, such as the restoration of High Bridge over the Harlem River – which connects the West Bronx to Upper Manhattan through the City’s oldest and only pedestrian bridge – as well as a street-level bridge connecting the South Bronx to Randall’s Island, the Congressman’s vision is community-focused in connecting people to local resources. The Congressman has also sought to address zoning and geographic barriers within park-starved communities by supporting visions such as the South Bronx Greenway – a belt of parks and paths that cuts through industrial areas to connect several neighborhoods to their immediate waterfront – and preserving and making public the lost ecological and historical wonders of North and South Brother Islands.
Perhaps the best example of the Congressman’s vision for reclaiming the South Bronx is his commitment to restoring the Bronx River, New York City’s only true freshwater river. In less than two decades this once highly contaminated waterway known for illegal dumping has been transformed into a healthy eco-system now capable of sustaining migrating herring and the first beaver in New York City in over 200 years. The Congressman’s leadership in bringing together federal agencies, local institutions, and community-based organizations has made the Bronx River’s success story resonate in urban communities around the country. Now lined with beautiful parks and paths and visited by students, birders, and boaters, the Congressman’s consistent advocacy and resourceful earmarks have created a highly celebrated local resource for the communities lining the banks of this channel.
Congressman Serrano’s work on environmental issues goes beyond signaling out polluters and public health problems in his District. Working collaboratively and bringing diverse partners to the table, the Congressman has highlighted environmental justice disparities while working to understand and change environmental conditions that lead to a poor and sick community. Understanding these challenges the Congressman has been incredibly effective in promoting and supporting alternative visions and creating precedents that make sense for those living, working, and raising families in the South Bronx.
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