Brooklyn Borough President, Antonio Reynoso, spoke with NYIHA TV’s Dr. Steeve Coupeau in an exclusive interview.
NYIHA TV: Can you talk about the journey that led you to engage in climate justice work?
BOROUGH PRESIDENT REYNOSO: “Growing up in Williamsburg, it was hard not to be involved in environmental justice. North Brooklyn is a waste transfer hub, a superfund site with two underground toxic plumes, and home to both the BQE and a large IBZ. This area, especially Williamsburg, has some of the highest asthma rates because of all this air pollution. But because these neighborhoods are primarily Black and Brown, low-income communities, they don’t see the justice they deserve for these public health crises. That’s really how I got started in politics — growing up in an environmental justice community, there was no other option.”
NYIHA TV: What policies has your borough administration advanced to help rectify disproportionate harms of climate change to Black, Latino, and other disadvantaged communities that are overburdened by pollution and historic underinvestment?
BOROUGH PRESIDENT REYNOSO: “We’re working closely with our colleagues over at City Hall and across different agencies on a few major policies. This includes efforts to regulate last mile facilities and the trucking emissions that pollute areas like Red Hook, making sure neighborhoods to the north and the south of the BQE that have dealt with pollution issues for years are included in any proposal to redesign the corridor, and keeping the pressure on DSNY to implement commercial waste zones — which would drastically reduce heavy-duty trucking emissions in Brooklyn and citywide.
Every night, 90 different private carters drive back and forth through the boroughs to collect trash and recycling from commercial businesses — adding tons of air pollution and taking us further and further away from our city’s zero waste goals as more recyclable and organic commercial waste is unnecessarily sent to landfills. Back in 2019, Mayor de Blasio signed into law my bill to change that by dividing the city into 20 commercial waste zones, each served by three carters max. This would get rid of millions of unnecessary truck miles. In fact, DSNY estimated this will reduce truck traffic associated with commercial waste collection by 50 percent. That would make a huge dent in air pollution, but here we are, years later and this program has yet to be implemented — so we’re putting on the pressure.
In March of this year — after over two years of disappointing delays — Chair Nurse and I, along with Comptroller Lander, Manhattan BP Levine, and 30 councilmembers delivered a letter to DSNY expressing our desire to see this program implemented as soon as possible. I’m also talking to Commissioner Tisch, giving testimony at NYC Council Committee on Sanitation’s Oversight Hearing, and doing whatever I can to get this program going.
We’re advocating for some other solutions — air quality monitoring, congestion pricing, and electric buses — so definitely stay tuned.”
NYIHA TV: Toxic air pollutants cause heart disease, respiratory infection, lung cancer, and other chronic illnesses. What strategies to minimize emissions have you adopted?
BOROUGH PRESIDENT REYNOSO: “Well, if you’re asking me personally — I bike EVERYWHERE. Press conference in Canarsie? I bike. Meeting in Sunset Park? I bike. And when I’m not on a bike, I’m walking or taking public transit whenever possible.
And, as a Borough President, I’m trying to implement the changes that will allow others to do the same. Something I’m really excited our office is working on is a comprehensive plan for Brooklyn.
By recognizing that all urban policy, budget, and land use decisions are inherently interrelated and therefore need a shared vision to guide them, comprehensive plans help us ensure every neighborhood can grow and thrive equitably. Most large cities across the world, including those in the U.S., have created these long-term comprehensive plans to guide their growth and development, yet despite being the most populous city in the country, New York City is noticeably lacking one. So, my administration has decided to take matters into our own hands and launch our very own comprehensive planning effort for the great borough of Brooklyn. The key to comprehensive planning is to have a clear objective, and amid a housing crisis, our focus is set squarely on the intersection of housing and public health.
Because of decades of racist city planning and a long legacy of segregation, our Black and Brown communities and communities of color are clustered in the areas with the poorest housing conditions, the least access to resources, and the worst health outcomes. Our comprehensive plan aims to answer for this injustice, guiding future development to prioritize the underlying housing conditions that promote health, well-being, and a sense of community as we build more affordable and accessible housing across our borough.
The environment comes into play in this plan in many ways. First of all, we need to assess which communities are experiencing the worst environmental impacts and plan appropriately in order to mitigate them. But second of all, we have to make sure all new housing has easy access to solid public transit. This comprehensive planning effort is one of my biggest priorities and can transform the effect of emissions on our at-risk neighbors.”
NYIHA TV: Do you support renewable installations (wind turbines and solar panels) to reduce CO2 emissions in the borough of Brooklyn?
BOROUGH PRESIDENT REYNOSO: “Definitely. We need to do everything we can to make Brooklyn green, and I’m adamantly against any fossil fuel infrastructure being sited in the borough. I’m excited to see that efforts to transition to renewable energy are growing. Just last month, Equinor launched a $5 million offshore wind ecosystem fund to open up green careers to new generations and empower small businesses owned by minorities, women, and service-disabled veterans to participate in the offshore wind industry. I want to see more initiatives like this.”
NYIHA TV: There are some interesting developments in Brooklyn in terms of reducing and diverting waste, and increasing recycling and composting. How does your administration support these initiatives?
BOROUGH PRESIDENT REYNOSO: “As the former Chair of the City Council Committee on Sanitation and Solid Waste, efforts to reduce waste and increase recycling and composting are important to me. On top of getting commercial waste zones finally implemented, I want to see the City pursue a mandatory citywide organics recycling program, and I want the City Council to pass legislation that cracks down on unnecessary plastic waste as well.
Right now, NYC businesses are spending thousands of dollars each year on single-use plastics like plastic forks and knives only for New Yorkers to throw them out at home — often unused — and create tons and tons of unnecessary waste. This is incredibly bad for our environment. One study from last year showed that the production and disposal of plastics is set to outpace coal in its contribution to climate change in the U.S. by 2030.
So, I am supporting Intro 559, a bill in the City Council that would make it the default to “skip the stuff” and not include single-use plastics unless the person ordering opts in. Not only will this save our small businesses money, but it’ll save taxpayer money and advance our zero waste goals too.”