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Defining 'disadvantaged communities,' a big need as New York pushes forward to deal with climate change and go green

Adriana Espinoza, New York State Department on Environmental Conservation deputy commissioner, of Equity & Justice, speaks at a hearing June 23, 2022 in Buffalo.
Mike Desmond
Adriana Espinoza, New York State Department on Environmental Conservation deputy commissioner, of Equity & Justice, speaks at a hearing June 23, 2022 in Buffalo.

New York State is committed to turning 100% green by 2050, part of the struggle over climate change. As part of that quest, the state is also trying to play special attention to what the Climate Act calls “disadvantaged communities.”

State DEC is holding a series of live and virtual public meetings to work on a definition of disadvantaged communities, using 45 criteria to figure out which of New York’s Census tracts are disadvantaged. The draft criteria found 32% of the tracts in Western New York are disadvantaged.

DEC Deputy Commissioner, of Equity & Justice Adriana Espinoza is in charge of the criteria. She was in town for a live hearing in PUSH Buffalo on Plymouth, with a small crowd in attendance.

“We have a requirement in the Climate Act that a minimum of 35%, with a goal of 40%, of investment in alternate energy spending and energy efficiency spending by the state must accrue in what's termed disadvantaged communities," she said. "So, defining what is a disadvantaged community. What are those disadvantages and where are they.”

The few speakers in the Ujima Theatre were concerned with what this might do for the communities bearing the brunt of past discrimination, next to scrap yards or power plants or environmental cleanup sites.

Sarah Frasier from PUSH Buffalo told the hearing there is need for face-to-face effort, not just data.

“Actually consider those people and stand within those communities and allocate where the need is for those who have asthma, those who are working through some things and you can't just go with these numbers, without a page," she said. "You have to actually talk to the people.”

Niagara Falls activist Shirley Hamilton said the effort to remedy the past requires private and public action.

“To ensure that African-American communities be protected against private companies, against contractors and especially New York State authorities and agencies that have historically denied employment, promotion and provide reliable transportation, assuring that emerging green jobs be awarded to the most negatively-impacted communities," Hamilton said.

Hamilton told the hearing problems might be getting worse, saying in Niagara County you can’t take a Metro Bus directly from Niagara Falls to the county seat in Lockport.

Mike Desmond is one of Western New York’s most experienced reporters, having spent nearly a half-century covering the region for newspapers, television stations and public radio. He has been with WBFO and its predecessor, WNED-AM, since 1988. As a reporter for WBFO, he has covered literally thousands of stories involving education, science, business, the environment and many other issues. Mike has been a long-time theater reviewer for a variety of publications and was formerly a part-time reporter for The New York Times.