Earth Day Update from NYPIRG and EA

by Tom Ellis

ALBANY, NY: Laura Haight of NYPIRG and Katherine Nadeau of Environmental Advocates shared the podium at the April 16 SPB dinner.  They discussed the 2014 agenda they are lobbying at the state Capitol and the state energy plan.

Laura said the annual statewide Earth Day Lobby Day will be on May 5 because the Legislature decided to take most of April off.  She said five issues have been identified as most compelling. 

The first is fracking.  Ms. Nadeau said NYS is in a holding pattern at present with the state Health Dep’t “conducting a top-secret review” likely to continue until after the November election.  She said Governor Cuomo will be “hammered” if he makes a decision before then, either by the gas industry and its supporters if he opposes it, or by environmental-health activists if he approves it.  The current bill seeks a one-year moratorium.

Climate change is the second issue, said Laura, and will remain a high priority for the rest of our lives.  She said one bill would require an 80 percent reduction in greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions from 1990 levels by 2050 with interim benchmarks that must be achieved.  She said climate change is happening now and discussed an Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) report released a few days earlier that concluded an intensive push within 15 years is a must to avert serious negative impacts, and renewable energy is becoming more economical, thus is a partial solution.  Katherine said a different bill — the climate resiliency act — would stimulate climate change avoidance and mitigation work at the municipal level and make funds available.

John Wolcott interjected saying do not make the error of overemphasizing distant goals; we need shorter term goals, and “we tend to be lazy, let things slide.”

The child safe products act would require companies to disclose to DEC what chemicals they use in their products and require DEC to develop a list of chemicals DEC could then ban from children’s products, said Katherine.  She said the bill has passed the Assembly and has 34 Senate sponsors (the Senate has 62 members).  This bill “has legs” and may be enacted this year.  She said that at present chemicals are banned by legislation one at a time, a “horrible method.”

Lynne Jackson urged the lobbyists to advocate legislation to make it easier for individuals and groups to obtain “standing” or the right to bring law suits.  She said, “SPB loves to sue.”

Katherine Nadeau had another appointment and exited.  Laura began discussing toxic waste clean-ups.  She said “Cuomo is so heavy-handed.  Everything gets put into the budget.  Much of it does not belong there and much of it does not get resolved.”   Regarding brownfields, she said the governor is proposing many revisions to the existing law which has proven to be a boondoggle with much money spent and few cleanups to show for it.  Some of what he is proposing is good, she said.  The existing law allows two types of tax credits and the proposed legislation would tighten the criteria.

The fifth issue — GMO labeling of foods — is a new issue for the lobbyists but not a new issue.  A bill is now in the consumer protection committees of the legislature.  Much of the food industry, she said, opposes our right to know what is in the food we purchase.  Among the many problems with the current paradigm are heavy and dangerous use of pesticides, lack of independent testing, secrecy requirements agribusiness companies sometimes impose on their customers, Right to Know, health impacts, suppression of research, insect resistance to pesticides, and weeds resistant to herbicides.  The lobbying coalition is working with the Northeast Organic Farmers Association of NY, Food and Water Watch, and other technically competent groups.  She said NYPIRG students have a considerable interest in the issue.

Switching gears, Ms. Haight discussed the ongoing state energy plan.  She said a draft energy plan was due out in September 2012 but  not released until January 2014.  The only climate action goal is a carbon dioxide reduction target for 2030; no methane emission reduction goals are identified.  The draft plan envisions considerable natural gas and its infrastructure growth.  She said the “plan has no teeth.”

Laura said the plan is very difficult to print due to the vast amount of color graphics, and NYSERDA has not made an easy-to-print version available.

I said the energy plan and process are a disgrace.  The draft energy plan said a (1) greenhouse gas inventory and (2) a NYSERDA study on energy efficiency and renewable energy potential are both described as being “forthcoming,” yet at the first public hearing [Feb. 18] on the draft, NYSERDA Chairman John Rhodes said the two reports are contained in the draft.  This contradiction has not been resolved nor reported in the main-stream press.  The greenhouse gas inventory is critical because without an accurate accounting of current emissions, there will be no way to determine if future reductions are occurring.  NYSERDA is refusing to post on its website the transcripts of the six public statement hearings, nor is it posting the comments being received on the draft.  Thus there is no way for one participant to learn from or build on what earlier responders said or wrote, or read the considerable criticisms of  NYSERDA, the draft plan, and the planning process voiced by speakers at the public hearings.  The Citizens’ Environmental Coalition has requested an extension of the comment period that ends April 30.  Almost nothing about the plan or the process is being reported on in the press.

Laura discussed nuclear power saying NYPIRG strongly opposes the technology, the state is over-reliant on it now.  Because natural gas prices are so low now, individual nuclear stations may be soon shut down permanently because they can not compete in the electricity market.

Mark Schaeffer said with climate change, prevention is far less costly than mitigation.  He said is a good website.  He said impacts on agriculture are occurring now.

Laura concluded urging everyone to get involved saying, ”The environment is too important to leave to the environmentalists.”  John Wolcott said is another good site.  Lou Ismay concluded the evening saying Anatomy of the Deep State is a good essay to read.  

Update:  On April 25 NYSERDA extended until May 30 the deadline for comments on the energy plan and also released the (1) greenhouse gas inventory and (2) the NYSERDA study on energy efficiency and renewable energy potential.




Published in May/June, 2014 Save the Pine Bush Newsletter