PHOTO: Inspectors conducted the safety check on Rockaway and Baisley boulevards. Courtesy of DEC
By Michael V. Cusenza
The State Department of Environmental Conservation last week launched its Operation ECO-Quality initiative in south Queens by conducting a diesel truck pollution prevention pullover, during which Environmental Conservation Officers inspected trucks for compliance with clean air regulations and applicable vehicle and traffic laws.
Organized by the DEC Office of Environmental Justice, Operation ECO-Quality targeted trucks on Rockaway Boulevard and Baisley Boulevard, focusing on preventing pollution and encouraging compliance with environmental laws to help protect environmental health and improve quality of life in low-income and minority communities.
ECO-Quality features a three-pronged approach: outreach, consultation, and compliance.
During this one-time truck pullover in Jamaica, officers issue tickets for violations such as emitting smoke with an opacity that exceeds standards, not having functioning emission control apparatus, or not having an up-to- date emissions inspection.
The next phase of the operation, according to DEC, will focus on dry cleaning, auto body, auto salvage, auto repair, and cement manufacturing businesses in the Jamaica area. Agency staff visiting these facilities will work to promote greater compliance with a range of applicable environmental laws and regulations that govern the storage and handling of petroleum and other hazardous chemicals, air pollution, battery and used oil recycling and water pollution. During these assessment visits, staff will point out existing violations to facility managers, business owners and employees, and determine an appropriate course of action to ensure compliance.
DEC representatives return for an unannounced, follow-up visit to ensure that facilities have fixed any outstanding problems. If concerns still exist, written warnings or formal violations may be issued, paying particular attention to facilities within 500 feet of sensitive land use areas such as schools, playgrounds or hospitals.
According to the agency, Operation ECO-Quality builds upon the success of the 2008 Stop Smoking Trucks and Idling Vehicles Program DEC launched in New York City as a response to high asthma rates. DEC characterized it as an expansion of a proactive response to an existing public health problem. Operation ECO-Quality began in September 2010 as a pilot program in three Westchester County communities: Peekskill, Yonkers and Mt. Vernon – all areas having potential environmental justice communities. In 2012, DEC expanded the program to four additional areas: Long Island, New York City, Albany, and Buffalo.
DEC created an environmental justice program in October 1999 after representatives, including residents from minority and low-income communities, were concerned about actual and potential adverse environmental impacts in their communities and looked to DEC for a transformation in its permit process to include them in a more meaningful way.
In addition to Operation ECO-Quality, the DEC Office of Environmental Justice offers Community Impact Grants to provide community-based organizations with funding for projects that address various environmental and public health concerns. The program has a particular focus on low-income and minority communities that have historically been burdened by environmental problems. Those environmental problems include a large number of regulated facilities; contaminated sites; noise, air and water pollution; health problems and lack of green space and waterfront access.