Earth Day Lasagna
Wasserman Headlines Gathering Of Activists
By Daniel Van Riper
Five prominent and hard-working environmental activists addressed the Earth Day special lasagna dinner on April 24th at 1st Presbyterian Church in Albany. Some 80 attendees packed the room and listened intently to each speaker in turn. Here's the lineup, in order of appearance:
Everyone was curious to see and hear the very serious challenger for the job of congressional representative for the 21st district, which stretches across the Capital District from East Greenbush to Amsterdam and includes the Pine Bush. Mr. Wasserman is facing the moribund incumbent Michael McNulty in the Sept. 10 Democratic Party primary. The winner of this primary race is all but certain to win the congressional seat, as of this writing no other party has suggested that they will field a candidate in the November election.
Explaining why he chose to run, Mr. Wasserman said, "I was in a state of denial after the '94 election. I didn't think the Republicans in Congress would actually do what they proposed to do." After it became all too obvious that the Republicans were maliciously planning to destroy environmental protections, he saw a popular environmental backlash arise. "The environment has roared back as a major issue in this election, locally and nationally," he said. "There has never been a degree of anti-environmentalism in Congress as there is today."
Mr. Wasserman pointed out that the Republicans are desperately trying to hide their shameful environmental record, and so is his opponent. Apparently, McNulty has voted for most of the items in Newt Gingrich's Contract Against America, including every single rollback and prohibition of environmental protections that the radicals have tried to foist on the public. For all intents and purposes, McNulty has been allied with Gingrich, and has received the highest ratings from extreme right-wing organizations.
Mr. Wasserman is a longtime member of Save the Pine Bush, calling himself "a real supporter and admirer of your work." He is currently on leave of absence from his post as director of Environmental Advocates (formerly called Environment Planning Lobby, or EPL). Anyone who would like to work on the Wasserman for Congress campaign, his headquarters are at 227 S. Pearl St. in Albany, 436-5207.
This former muckraking Metroland reporter who now works for Environmental Advocates began by saying, "Thanks to Save the Pine Bush for everything you have accomplished". Mr. Jones then went directly into three current environmental situations that he feels demand attention.
First, the proposed truck bypass through Saratoga Spa State Park. (Bill Engleman brought up this travesty at the March dinner.) Certainly, the leaders of Saratoga must be blubbering idiots to want to sacrifice priceless public greenspace for more roadway. According to Mr. Jones, long distance truckers are in the habit of using Saratoga as a shortcut between interstate highways, the idea is to control them by accommodating them. Various members of the audience pointed out that there must be better solutions to this problem. Most tragically, the bypass is scheduled to pave over and destroy an honest to goodness heron rookery inside the city limits.
Second, the proposed expansion of the Hunter Mountain ski resort in the Catskills. According to Mr. Jones, the owners are dreaming of turning this rather shabby day trip ski run into a ski resort vacation lodge. To do this they would have to steal a lot of land from the adjacent State preserve land. Fortunately, the State can't give the owners this land without a constitutional amendment, but unfortunately the sleazy dilettantes who are currently in charge of the State are more than happy to help in any way that they can. Also at issue is the vast quantities of water needed for making snow, which the owners feel should be pumped out of Schoharie Creek for no charge and without public scrutiny.
Last, the complex issue of restructuring the electric industry, which has been virtually ignored by the media. Apparently, the State is removing regulations for production of electricity, which is called "destructuring." Niagra-Mohawk will no longer make power, it will only distribute it. Supposedly, private power producers will compete with each other and lower prices, but perhaps the addition of a middleman distributor will raise prices. What about the environmental costs of increased competition? Electric production is very hard on the air, land and water. There has been almost no public input on these decisions, most of these far-reaching policies are being decided in secret.
The main force behind the Citizen's Environmental Coalition has devoted her life to environmental issues, working behind the scenes. She talked about one of her main concerns, toxic waste. According to Ms. Rabe, the NYS Superfund for Toxic Dumps is about to go bankrupt, possibly next year. The number of lingering dumps across the state has been grossly underestimated and even more are exempt from State mandates by legal technicalities.
This is good news for toxic waste producers and dumpers. The previous State administration tried to force dumpers to clean up their messes without resorting to the fund whenever possible. The current administration, which is rabidly pro-pollution, has brought about what Ms. Rabe called "a massive decline in enforcement."
As a result, conscientious officials attempting to do their jobs and find ways to clean up these toxic sites are forced to rely more and more on the superfund, thus depleting it. Ms. Rabe estimates that the fund needs an input of 2.5 billion dollars to remain effective. While the original money for the superfund came from a voter approved bond act, she called for new "industry fees" as a source of cash.
Ms. Rabe presented a copy of a recent book, Dying From Dioxin by Lois Marie Gibbs (South End Press, Boston 1995) which is also available as a summary pamphlet. "Dioxin causes a wide range of health problems other than cancer," she said, "and it's in all our bodies, and in everything we eat. This is a book that everyone must read."
The head of NYPIRG (New York Public Interest Research Group) needed no introduction to most of the audience. "My job," said Ms. Enck, "is to give people in the legislature a hard time, and hold Pataki and (DEC commissioner) Zagata responsible for their mistakes. We've been busy lately."
One of NYPIRG's biggest tasks is lobbying politicians to be environmentally responsible. According to Ms. Enck, they are working primarily on various "right to know" bills. The most well known is the Pesticide Registry Bill (Senate bill #5204) which requires manufacturers and largescale users of pesticides to record where and how much pesticides are applied, and submit these records to the State. The costs of this bill to taxpayers is negligible, and would quickly create an enormously valuable pool of data about costs and effects of pesticides.
The main objections to this bill come from manufacturers of pesticides and their political allies, who are nervous about what this data may reveal. Ms. Enck told us that the bill is sitting in limbo on Senate Republican leader Joseph Bruno's desk, and that he is attempting to replace it with another bill of his own manufacture which is effectively worthless. (News reports from several days ago say that Bruno now supports the original bill and has released it, but it has yet to be voted on.)
Of course, NYPIRG is doing an immense public service by fighting the proposed Green Island Incinerator in court. This evil thing is going to be three times the size of the notorious Sheridan Avenue ANSWERS plant that Albany mayor Jerry Jennings shut down 17 days after he took office in 1993. Green Island will have to be fed by imported garbage, most likely by a steady stream of barges from downstate. Every day it will spew toxic substances such as ammonia and sulfuric acid into the Capital District air by the ton. In addition, hundreds of tons of vile toxic ash will be produced every day, which will have to be spilled into a convenient nearby dump, such as in the Pine Bush. Clearly, this is a case of Good vs. Evil.
"The Pataki environmental record is a disaster," said Ms. Enck. She told us that the guy to watch is a shadowy character named Bob King, "the second most powerful person in NY government," she added. His job is to find ways to subvert and hobble regulatory functions throughout the state ("getting government off our backs") and he has enormous power.
Anyone interested in "The Pataki Report Card" can get it from Environmental Advocates, 462-5526. Ms. Enck strongly recommends that we read Our Stolen Future by Dr. Theo Coburn (Dutton Books) which details the effects of syntheto-chemicals on human hormonal systems.
There was still an attentive group left to listen to Mr. Gray, who represents as a lobbyist various groups such as the Sierra Club, both the Mohawk Hudson chapter and the Atlantic Chapter. One of his biggest concerns, he told us, is that the Department of Environmental Conservation (or, as John Wolcott calls it, the Department of Environmental Conversation) allows unused mines and quarries in the State to be filled by their owners with raw industrial waste. This is officially referred to as "reclamation." Although there are regulations about what can be dumped in these holes, there is no effective enforcement. Many of these pits are among the worst toxic hotspots in the State.
He also brought up the gutting of the Environmental Protection Fund by the current irresponsible administration. According to Mr. Gray, $30 million of the fund's $96 million budget has been looted and is being distributed to other agencies to use for "environmental purposes," but really to do as they please to make up for budget shortfalls. (We heard that the figure was $20 million, but we are not surprised at this higher figure.) It is essential that concerned citizens notify elite State politicos and inform them that their monetary flim-flammery with crucial environmental funding is being carefully watched.
You can take action on these issues by writing to your legislators. Here is a partial list of local and environmental legislators whom you can contact by phone or by letter:
In the State Assembly:
Assemblyman John McEneny - 455-4178 (the Pine Bush is in his district). Rm 648 LOB.
Assemblyman Richard Brodsky - 455-3791 (Chair of Environ. Comm.) Rm 625 LOB.
Assemblyman Sheldon Silver - 455-3791 (Speaker of the House) Rm. 932 LOB.
In the State Senate:
Senator Stafford - 455-3411 (Chair Senate Finance Comm.) Rm 310 LOB
Senator Bruno - 455-2892 (Senate majority leader) Rm. 330 LOB
Senator Hugh Farley - 455-2181 ("the leading Senate Repub. on Env.issues" 412 LOB
Address format for letter-writing:
Legislative Office Building, Room ___
Albany, NY 12247
Printed May/June 96