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April 24, 2008

Congresswoman Velázquez Praises
U.S. House Passage of New
Environmental Study for Newtown Creek


Washington, DC – Congresswoman Nydia M. Velázquez (D-N.Y.) today applauded action by the House of Representatives requiring the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to conduct a full-site characterization of Newtown Creek and determine the true extent of the damage from a decades-old, underground petroleum spill. A measure requiring the study was included in the Coast Guard Reauthorization Act (H.R. 2830), which the House approved this afternoon.

For years, Representative Velázquez has pushed efforts to fully assess the extent of damage to Newtown Creek, a polluted waterway that separates Brooklyn and Queens. Oil has been found across 55 acres, seeping into the Creek and settling under homes and businesses in Greenpoint, Brooklyn. In 2006, she authored legislation requiring the first-ever, independent public health and safety study of Newtown Creek. The results of that study indicated the original estimates of the spill may have been far too low, and suggested that the total oil released into the Creek may be as high as 30 million gallons. This pointed to the need for a full-site characterization.

The following is Congresswoman Velázquez’s statement in the House of Representatives:

“Mr. Chairman, I rise in support of important language in Chairman Oberstar’s managers amendment to H.R. 2830, the Coast Guard Reauthorization Act. This amendment is critical for my constituents who live in the Greenpoint area in Brooklyn. I want to thank Chairman Oberstar and others on the Committee who saw the need for this language, and were willing to act on it.

This important amendment directs the Environmental Protection Agency to conduct a follow-up study on the Newtown Creek oil spill. The new EPA study builds upon my earlier effort with my distinguished colleague, Mr. Weiner, to get the EPA to issue a comprehensive report on the oil spill. That earlier report by the EPA, issued last Fall, was an important step forward but it raised as many questions as it answered.

Mr. Chairman, it is appropriate that we are considering this issue on a Coast Guard bill. It was the Coast Guard, nearly 30 years ago, that discovered the Newtown Creek oil spill in Greenpoint. The spill is massive, and scientists lack accurate measurements of the scope and impact of the whole of the plume. That's why we need a full-site characterization of the Creek, so we know just what is in, around and underneath the Creek bed.

The basic condition of the Creek was not comprehensively addressed in the earlier report. It’s past time for a full-site characterization of Newtown Creek. The goal is not merely oil plume containment, but plume removal. We must help give this important waterway safely back to the community, for its use and enjoyment.

I also am deeply concerned about what threat this material poses to the public. A full site characterization should also allow us to better measure the public health impact of the oil spill. Residents in this part of Brooklyn suffer from asthma, emphysema and bronchitis at a 25 percent higher rate than the rest of the City. Child asthma hospital admissions are especially high. A full site characterization can help public health professionals draw conclusions about the impact of the oil spill on the health of the local community.

In conclusion, Mr. Chairman, I want to thank Mr. Weiner for his long-term partnership and hard work in addressing the serious public policy problem posed by the Newtown Creek Oil Spill. I would urge the EPA to seize upon these clear instructions from Congress, and help New York understand just what it is facing at Newtown Creek. Only a full site characterization can accomplish this worthy goal.”