EELC and NRDC File Federal Lawsuit on Behalf of Coalition for Healthy Ports Against the Raising of the Bayonne Bridge

Citing repeated failures to assess evidence about the enormous hazards to public health of the plan to raise the Bayonne Bridge—elevated levels of heart disease, lung cancer and asthma in New Jersey and exposure to arsenic, lead, asbestos and PCBs in Staten Island–a coalition of organizations representing communities in Newark and Staten Island surrounding the Port of New York and New Jersey filed suit in Federal District Court in Manhattan yesterday against top U.S. Coast Guard administrators and all members of the board of the Port Authority of New York/New Jersey.

The suit asks the court to stop the Port Authority from moving forward with the project until the U.S. Coast Guard completes a full study of its likely harmful public health and environmental consequences.

 The suit makes the following points:

1)    The U.S. Coast Guard and Port Authority played a deceptive game: While the Port Authority promoted the project, to President Obama and the U.S. Department of Transportation, as necessary to generate increased business for the port to be competitive, the Coast Guard claimed there would be little or no increase in cargo, therefore no significant health or environmental impact, and therefore no need for an Environmental Impact Study.

2)    The U.S. Coast Guard conducted a much less rigorous Environmental Assessment upon which it based its conclusion but failed to make its methods available for public scrutiny. The Coast Guard’s finding of little or no increased volume of cargo, therefore insignificant increase in truck, train and ship traffic emitting deadly diesel fumes, was contradicted by an analysis commissioned by the coalition which found that cargo volume would be forty-four percent higher if the bridge level were raised, with an accompanying increase in premature deaths from toxic diesel exhausts in residential neighborhoods Newark surrounding the port.

3)    Residents of the north shore of Staten Island, already exposed to deadly chemicals by previous industrial uses in the area, face exposure to additional hazardous contaminants during the construction required to raise the bridge. The area has already been designated by U.S. EPA as one of ten “Environmental Justice Showcase Communities” because of the large number of children with elevated lead levels in their blood.

4)    By issuing a permit to the Port Authority to begin raising the level of the Bayonne Bridge without conducting a full Environmental Impact Study, the U.S. Coast Guard violated the National Environmental Protection Act which requires such an investigation whenever a project could generate high levels of air pollution, in this case caused by diesel truck emissions, and exposure to hazardous contaminants including lead, arsenic, asbestos and PCBs (polychlorinated biphenyls), particularly when those disproportionately affected are members of low income communities or communities of color.

Plaintiffs in the suit include Coalition for Health Ports, Amy Goldsmith, North Shore Water Conservancy of Staten Island, Elm Park Civic Association, Natural Resources Defense Council. Defendants include U.S. Coast Guard Admiral Robert Papp, Jr. and Gary Kassof, and members of the board of commissioners of the Port Authority of NY and NJ, all in their official capacities.