Opinion: All Princetonians are equally deserving to be safe from known harms and nuisance

2020 has been a hard year for everyone. I lost my best friend, Dr. Stephanie Chorney, a local artist, grassroots activist, member of the New Jersey Environmental Lobby and former co-chair of the Princeton Environmental Commission.

When I am struggling, my mother reminds me that “God will send a messenger.” Stephanie was that messenger for 8 years for me. We were the same age, both mothers to young boys, and we shared December birthdays.

Our dedication to social and environmental justice, however, is what created our deep and unshakeable bond.

My passion to make Princeton and New Jersey greener, cleaner, and more equitable are now joined with the desire to make sure that Dr. Stephanie Chorney’s “memory is a blessing.”

I am losing my patience with our local elected officials, who have the power, privilege and responsibility to act, and refuse to do so.

I do not believe Princeton elected officials are “climate deniers,” but their inaction over decades on public health issues and their refusal to consider proven solutions make them complicit in what they claim to be fighting. We promote ourselves as “sustainable and welcoming,” we don’t walk the talk.

Princeton leadership undermined the good work of Dr. Stephanie Chorney, Daniel Harris and myself. We started the movement to pass plastic pollution in Princeton in 2011. Trenton, Pennington and Hopewell all passed ordinances over the past decade. Princeton leaders failed to act despite the fact that Princeton residents passed the 2014 Mercer County referendum – overwhelmingly.

A few weeks ago, Gov. Phil Murphy signed S864, the Plastic Pollution Act, now the strictest in our nation. I started testifying for state action in 2013. My bill, “Regenerate Princeton – ByoBag”- the first and arguably the best – advocated for a fee charge of 10 cents on paper bags. It otherwise mirrors the state bill, which I fully support.

Another issue that has recently gathered incredible energy is the problem of gas-powered leaf blowers. Grace Sinden, former Princeton Environmental Commission chair, began the fight for an ordinance over two decades ago. Eunice Wong, a 14-year Princeton resident, started a petition last week, calling for a leaf blower ordinance in 2021. I have written an excellent draft ordinance.

You can sign the petition at www.change.org/Leaf_Blower_Ordinance_2021

Together we, along with Quiet Princeton, and at the time of writing over 320 Princeton residents, as well as 1,673 supporters from around the globe, want an ordinance in 2021 to address the inequity towards landscape workers, noise and air pollution.

The petition will be presented at the virtual council meeting on Dec. 21. Please sign it and attend the council meeting if you can. Visit www.change.org/Leaf_Blower_Ordinance_2021

Then, please send your email to LBOrdinance2021@gmail.com or to me so you can receive updates, and, most importantly, so Eunice can reach out with future petitions on the issue.

Gas-powered leaf blowers, like plastic pollution, are a public health issue. Landscape workers are forced to use machinery that causes irreparable harms: hearing loss, respiratory and cardiovascular disease, hypertension, asthma, cancer and dementia.

We, the privileged in Princeton, must be the voice for the voiceless in Princeton, the poor, the undernourished, those with bad water, and low paid workers, many of whom don’t speak English. Environmental activism is about equity and justice. Let’s live by our values, let’s listen to our Environmental Commission. We are after all, all Princetonians, equally deserving to be safe from known harms and nuisance.

Bainy Suri, Esq.
Executive Director, New Jersey Environmental Lobby
Princeton resident