Wednesday, January 11, 2006

David Miller Says He'd Rather Have the Cleanup Done Right and Late than Done Wrong. That's Fair but I'm Skeptical About How Well the Cleanup is Going

The Times and Newsday both carried brief stories about yesterday’s agreement by New York City to finish its part of the Long Island Sound cleanup in 2017. Neither story was anything other than a pared down version of the press releases that went out yesterday, and in neither case did the reporter appear to even be aware that the agreement means the cleanup will be delayed by at least three years.

Yesterday afternoon, David Miller, the head of Audubon New York, wrote to me and the Long Island Sound Watershed Alliance email group, in response I suppose to my request for an explanation of why he and Adrienne Esposito of Citizens Campaign for the Environment were so ecstatic about the decision to give the city three extra years.

Here’s what Dave wrote:

In the context of a program that began in 1987 and was scheduled to be completed in 2014, to extend the finalization of the clean-up improvements for NYC from 2014 to 2017 is a good thing. The agreement ensures it will be done right and the Sound will benefit. The bulk of the reductions and capital improvements will be made by NYC by 2014, but with the investment, capital improvements and new technologies of this scale, in the billion dollar range, I would rather see it done right than wrong. The agreement provides the flexibility to fine tune that last 10% of reductions and test the system. I would rather have it done right with allowances for some extra time which in the end prevents us all from being in the courts a few more years, and then being delayed for many more years to come. ...this marks a historic day with the City now taking ownership of the clean-up plan for Long Island Sound, something we have tried to accomplish since the CCMP was signed in 1994. Now, all the major players on the Sound have ownership of its restoration.

I told Dave that I thought he explanation made sense but that it should have been part of the original press release.

I also responded:

I think it's also overstating it to use 1987 as the benchmark. The 58.5 percent agreement wasn't reached, if I remember correctly, until February of 1997 [it was actually 1998]. Regardless, if the Sound is in good shape in 2017 instead of in 2014, I'll agree that the three-year difference was inconsequential.

The problem is, I'm not sure I believe any longer that it will be. Add the three-year delay to what's been going on in Connecticut … and it's easy to conclude that the cleanup isn't going all that well, particularly considering the sad condition the Sound has been in for the last three or four years.

Connecticut is slowing down it’s part of the cleanup. New York City negotiated a three-year delay that thrilled the environmental establishment. And we don’t even know yet how a couple of other places are going to do nitrogen removal or how much it’s going to cost.

The situation is not exactly analogous but it’s starting to remind me of the Chesapeake Bay cleanup. Back in 1987, EPA and the states bordering the bay agreed to a 40 percent nitrogen reduction by the end of 2001. But when 2000 arrived, the actual reduction was only 17 percent. And Chesapeake Bay is still in terrible shape.


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