Tree Planting Program Begins In Nyc Neighborhoods

Attorney General Spitzer and local officials today began a tree planting project in the South Bronx and Central Harlem that will improve air quality, provide noise barriers and enhance the quality of life in neighborhoods.

The project was part of an agreement between the state and six truck and bus fleet operators that were accused of violating of the state's vehicle idling law.

"This project shows how aggressive enforcement of environmental laws can help improve the quality of life in communities," said Spitzer.

In Hunts Point, Attorney General Spitzer was joined by Assemblyman Ruben Diaz Jr., Councilman Jose M. Serrano and Councilman Rev. Ruben Diaz, Sr., and representatives of Sustainable South Bronx.

In Harlem, Spitzer was joined by Congressman Charles Rangel, Assemblyman Keith Wright, State Senator David Paterson, along with representatives of Community Board 10.

Congressman Rangel said: "It's not a secret that minority communities suffer a higher incidence of asthma and other respiratory conditions than any other community. It's imperative that we find creative initiatives to improve the air quality, which in turn will reduce the rates of public health problems in our areas. I am pleased to join the Attorney General today. The trees planted will be beneficial to Central Harlem for many years to come."

As part of a settlement with the state announced in June, the tree plantings were paid for by Frito-Lay, Inc., Greyhound Lines, Inc., Community Coach, Inc., Gray Line New York Tours, Inc., Leisure Lines, Inc., and Suburban Trails, Inc. The six companies agreed to take steps to comply with the law in regard to idling by trucks and buses. While agreeing to adopt new operations policies, training procedures and monitoring plans, the companies also agreed to pay $103,000 for the tree planting projects in the New York City neighborhoods where there is the greatest need for street trees.

The investigation by Spitzer's office found that truck and bus fleets operated by the companies repeatedly violated New York State and New York City idling laws that limit the amount of time vehicles may idle when not in traffic. Together, these fleets operate approximately 1,500 trucks, buses and vans.

Assemblyman Ruben Diaz, Jr. said: "I applaud Attorney General Spitzer for his continued efforts on behalf of the people of New York City and, in particular, the Bronx. The Attorney General's action has resulted in turning dangerous truck pollution into healthy environment affirming tree planting. Surely our neighborhoods will be better off due to his diligent efforts to enforce existing environmental policy in the State of New York."

Adrian Benepe, Parks Commissioner of New York City, said: "I can think of no better Halloween treat for New York City than the 130 new street trees that will be planted through funds collected from settlements by the Office of Attorney General Spitzer. Parks & Recreation is the principal steward of New York City's urban forest, which includes over 500,000 street trees and 2 million trees in parks. Trees not only provide beauty and shade, but also increase property values and improve air quality by producing oxygen and removing pollutants such as carbon monoxide, sulfur dioxide and ozone."

A total of 130 trees will be planted as part of the agreements. Three nonprofit organizations, the Environmental Action Coalition, Sustainable South Bronx and Greening for Breathing, identified suitable locations for planting in the South Bronx and Central Harlem. Assemblyman Wright praised the initiative and cooperation of the local community advocates to bring the new trees to his district.

In the coming months, the organizations will also identify locations for tree plantings in Fort Greene, Red Hook, and the Rockaways. The actual tree planting and maintenance work will be overseen by the Tree Trust of the New York City Department of Parks and Recreation.

"I'm happy to see this effort put forth by the Attorney General," said Neal Clark, Chairman of Community Board 10. "In this city, any type of green space is priceless. Those street trees will help to beautify Harlem, protect our environment and add to the overall quality of life."

"The Attorney General is taking the right step in forcing polluters to fund the things that make life better," said Majora Carter, Executive Director of Sustainable South Bronx. "While planting a tree doesn't put an end to the daily production of air pollution in the South Bronx, it does make it a little easier to breathe around here."

Diesel emissions from trucks and buses contain pollutants that have been linked to cancer, respiratory diseases and other serious health effects. These pollutants include microscopic particles of soot that can lodge deep in people's lungs, plus smog-forming nitrogen oxides and carbon monoxide.

Spitzer noted that his office is continuing other additional idling investigations, as well as other cases to reduce harmful air pollution.

The settlement administration and tree planting program are being coordinated by Judith Enck and Tom Congdon of the Attorney General's Environmental Protection Bureau.