On Friday, February 25, elected officials, activists, and locals gathered at the rooftop of Broadway Stages to celebrate the procurement of $3.5 billion in funding dedicated to Superfund sites. The funding comes as a result of the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law that passed Congress last fall. An expansive piece of legislation, the bill allocates $65 billion to projects such as high-speed Internet access and repairing roads and bridges.
The $3.5 billion will be dispersed among Superfund sites across the country, which North Brooklyn locals hope will then reinvigorate the fight to clean up Greenpoint’s own Newtown Creek, one of the most toxic bodies of water in the country.
Congress established the Superfund program in 1980, allowing the EPA to clean up contaminated sites. The responsibility of cleaning up sites is divided between EPA and the party who polluted the site. Though the EPA designated Newtown Creek as a Superfund site in 2010, negligible progress has been made on its remediation.
“After ten years, we don’t have a cleanup plan in place, we don’t have a timeline, and it’s been sort of a long-drawn-out process,” said Willis Elkins, director of Newtown Creek Alliance.
Elkins points out that the lack of expediency can be due to several factors. Studies determining exactly which chemicals and pollutants are present can take a while. Responsible parties like ExxonMobil and National Grid often exert a heavy influence on the process, as they work to lessen their obligations.
While improvements won’t happen overnight, the mood at Friday’s press conference was celebratory, as the hope is this new funding will light a fire under the EPA to take more action.
“The good news about the new funding is it frees the EPA. There are two types of sites. One is called orphan sites — that means the polluters are gone. So we need federal dollars to clean those up — can’t let the pollution stay,” Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer told Greenpointers at the event on Friday.
“But this site’s not an orphan site. The people who polluted have a lot of money — ExxonMobil, Texaco, National Grid, Phelps Dodge. We want them to pay up to clean. And now that EPA has all this money for the orphan sites, they’re gonna have resources available to use their power to make these people pay. That’s the good news!”
Council Member Lincoln Restler was similarly optimistic. “Newtown Creek is one of the most contaminated sites in the whole country. Greenpoint activists fought tirelessly to secure the Superfund designation 12 years ago, but the EPA has made no progress to clean it up,” he said in an emailed statement to Greenpointers.
“That’s why I was thrilled to join Senator Schumer to celebrate the $3.5B he helped secure for superfund cleanups nationwide. These funds will ensure the EPA is able to hold polluters, like Exxon & National Grid, accountable to clean up our creek!”