“What we’re doing is taking what was a disaster and turning the proceeds of the punishment for that disaster into a creative good use that’s going to create a whole new generation of activists to enable us to address the issues of climate change,” said Attorney General Eric Schneiderman, who was working with now Gov. Andrew Cuomo when the lawsuit was first announced against Exxon.
The Environmental Protection Agency estimates that 30 million gallons of oil leaked into Newtown Creek since the turn of the 20th century, or three times as much oil as was spilled in the Exxon Valdez wreck in Alaska and six times as much as the recent BP spill in the Gulf of Mexico.
After a lawsuit brought by the state and citizens, a judge declared that Exxon had to pay a settlement of $25 million and clean up Newtown Creek.
Most of the settlement money – all which has not been dispersed – is going towards green space and environmental projects in Norht Brooklyn, including the $1.75 million for the new environmental education programs in schools.
The Greenpoint-Eco program, created by the National Wildlife Federation, will provide schools with a comprehensive environmental education in conjunction with full-time sustainability coaches.
“We are so proud of the partnership here because it’s going to provide a unique opportunity for each of these students and hopefully create something we can replicate in every school across all of New York,” said Collin O’Mara, president and chief executive officer of the National Wildlife Federation.
“I want to be able to go to every other part of the country when I’m in Alabama or Minnesota or Oregon or down in New Mexico, and be able to say ‘there’s a place in this country that is doing STEM education better than everyplace else,’” he added. “I want to tell them that I was in Brooklyn, I was in Greenpoint to launch something big.”
The direct impact of the project was on display from students from four schools – P.S. 31, P.S. 34, P.S. 110 and M.S. 126 – as students showed the various projects they were working on. The projects included a bike that composts leaves, a study on buoyancy, a contest to design a green space, and learning about recycling.
“It’s very important, because when you get older then you can really do more effective things than when you’re a kid to the environment,” said Nicole, a fourth-grader at P.S. 34.
The one project in particular that about a dozen students from P.S. 34 were happy to show off was the contest to see who could design the best green space. The winner’s project gets to come to fruition.
“Teaching our teachers and students about the environment and the impact of conservation, waste, pollution, sustainability and energy in their community is an important part of our vision for STEM education in our schools,” said Chancellor Carmen Fariña. “Programs like this will help our students use their critical thinking skills to develop a sense of responsibility about the environment and help them to become citizens who will support a healthy and safe city and country.”
Environmental watchdog RiverKeeper, a co-plaintiff in the fight against Exxon and the group that first discovered the massive underground spill, was happy to see some of the money going towards environmental education.
"We're glad we had the chance to stop an oil spill and glad to see good things come out of a bleak situation,” said staff attorney Sean Dixon in a statement. “Community, environmental, and economic growth go hand in hand, and pollution has no place in the picture."