Thursday, April 24, 2008
Can Trenton Go Green?
More than 600 Earth Day volunteers got together over the weekend and pulled about 5 tons of garbage from the nearby Raritan River. Once a relaxing recreational site in Central New Jersey, the Raritan is currently the 14th most polluted waterway in the nation, with 11 federal Superfund and 200 state-registered toxic sites along its banks, and the banks of its tributaries.
The clean-up efforts are proof that with a bit of organization and elbow grease, so much can be accomplished. Of course, much more needs to be done, especially in New Jersey, the most polluted state in the nation. New Jersey didn't get dirty overnight, but one day of hard work can make a dent. And if we keep up the good work, and strive to change behaviors, we'll continue to see improvements.
This is, of course, the reality for plenty of places all over our country, but unfortunately for us, they're just words. At least for now.
Five months prior to Earth Day 2008, our mayor Douglas Palmer gave his annual State of the City address in which he promised to bring a number of green initiatives to Trenton. The following week, in early November 2007, Palmer attended one of the biggest gatherings of US mayors ever. The draw: the Global Climate Protection Summit; mayors of a large number of US cities got together in Seattle to specifically announce plans to ask congressional leaders for more national work on environmental measures. Palmer is, by the way, the president of the National Conference of Mayors, and based on the video of the Summit (link provided below), does indeed have a keen understanding of the work that needs to be done, and acts, at least in front of his fellow mayors and the federal-level officials present, as if he is committed to the cause.
Since then, New York mayor Michael Bloomberg has vowed a 30 percent reduction in greenhouse gas emissions by 2030. San Francisco proposed a subsidy program to encourage solar panel installation. Seattle retrofitted nearly all of that city's fleet of heavy-duty diesel trucks with emission control devices, cutting toxic emissions and particulates by approximately 50%. Minneapolis reached a settlement agreement with their airports, creating the largest program in the country addressing airport noise impacts beyond the level approved by the Federal Aviation Administration; this should decrease noise levels for 9,500 homes in the Minneapolis area. Austin, Texas boasts an impressive resume of sustainable locations, locations using solar panels, local materials, reuse of old buildings, the use of trees and light pavers to reduce heat gain, and so forth. And it's not just the big, "blue" metropolises that are pushing for change: Jackson Hole, Wyoming residents and politicians, concerned about how their melting snow-covered mountains are changing their ecosystem and their tourism have instituted carpooling, bicycling, and education initiatives.
Sure, some of the measures around the country may be too little too late, or may not ever work, or may even be attacked by critics as hot air. But they might really make a difference; and I only skimmed the surface. I mention the above to show that at least in some municipalities, there are real initiatives, real dialog, real changes. Palmer should have returned home from that environmental summit inspired and ready to inspire, full of ideas and plans to help Trenton become greener. However, around that time, former mayoral candidate, civic activist, and businessman Frank Weeden, officially questioned city's administration as to the location of (now ousted) Police Director Joe Santiago's residence. Santiago, per city ordinance, must live in the city of Trenton, but has been living in Stirling, Morris County, about 50 miles away. A few days later, Trentonian reporter Jack Knarr wrote a story about the possibility of withheld/downgraded/sanitized crime statistics, providing more bad publicity for Palmer crony, Santiago.
Palmer had a choice of throwing himself whole hog into a short-sighted, egotistical battle for one man's job — a man who said that he'd leave before moving to Trenton — or he could have done the right thing by the environment and the citizens of Trenton and fired the guy or allowed him to quit. Failing that, Palmer still could have focused on some long-term, high-minded goals of reshaping Trenton's future, like his Conference of Mayor colleagues were doing in their hometowns, but instead vowed to protect his buddy, and drag the residency issue out in the courts, if need be. Palmer could have helped reduce Trenton's carbon footprint by insisting Santiago's chum Irv Bradley (Director of Communications), move to the city, per our law and as part of our Green Initiative. Palmer, himself, could have done the right thing and moved his family back into his Hiltonia home, since mayors are supposed to live where they serve (it's the whole point). While his Conference of Mayors colleagues rose to the challenge of making sweeping reforms on the municipal level, our mayor posted a short list of helpful consumer-grade environmental hints on the city's website. I'm not implying that we residents shouldn't try to make a difference; but our government is far more wasteful than we can ever be, and politicians need to start setting an example. Plus, I wonder what percentage of city residents even own computers anyway?
Federal and state grant money exists to help cities who may otherwise have a tough time getting green programs running. There are a number of inner city politicians and activists along the east coast who are working diligently to make environmental issues relevant to underprivileged people, often using grant money in the process for green training programs; many of those activists are willing to travel to other urban centers to impart their wisdom.
Instead of making even the smallest of environmental changes, or looking toward other nearby cities for help, Palmer continues to play his petty game of short-sighted politics, and boasts about our Annual Litter March, the same-old same-old one day where Trenton school kids are forced to clean up litter. Litter is a total drag, and is one of those small, quality of life issues that does indeed irk me, and does need to be addressed, but is far from the worst of our concerns. We need the Litter March, in addition to broader educational programs for kids; enforcement of dumping/littering ordinances; enforcement of noise ordinances; remediation; training programs; politicians who lead by example; we need volunteers to clean the years of refuse out of our waterways — the Assunpink might be a good place to start.
There is forward-thinking in government, but not in Trenton: there are too many roadblocks thrown in the way by Palmer. Instead of tapping into council members' and residents' experience and knowledge to get the ball rolling for a greener Trenton, Palmer does everything he can to keep us down, disgusted, disenfranchised, and bickering. For instance, here are just some of the latest items on our table getting in the way of bonafide work: the Palmer administration has requested City Council hear a redundant proposal from E-Path, the folks unable to deliver wireless internet anywhere. Instead of giving us any details about Trenton's "Green Initiatives," the mayor was scheduled to appear on NBC last night to discuss the mortgage crisis, which is important, but how on earth is Palmer an expert on that, and more importantly, why isn't it clear to everyone in the world that Palmer doesn't really care about what's going on in his community anyway? Further delaying progress is the fact that we're all at a stalemate in the residency lawsuit, the lawsuit Palmer vowed — ever so thoughtfully — to drag on "for a long, long time."
Thanks to Mayor Palmer, Trenton continues to fall behind the rest of the nation.
But wait, there's more!
The Raritan Clean up
LOTS of video of Palmer from the US Conference of Mayors Summit on Climate Protection, back in November
A list of New Jersey's Superfund sites
A list of toxic waste sites in Trenton City