ALBANY, NY: Albany County Legislator Merton Simpson spoke about “Fighting Environmental Racial Injustice” at the October 16, 2019 SPB dinner. He began saying, “I see one of my environmental heroes–Ward Stone–here.” [Ward is the legendary and now retired wildlife pathologist (1969-2010) of the NYS Department of Environmental Conservation.]
Merton said, “We live in perilous times, even if we remove Trump and Mitch McConnell.” He said racism in the US goes back to the origins of the US and “our grandchildren, at the rate we’re going, probably won’t have a livable planet.” As we meet, he said 100,000 Kurds are being removed and Trump separates children form their parents at the border. “The number one goal is to remove Trump,” he said.
Merton, who was born in South Carolina and turned 65 in September, said Sheridan Hollow residents learned in 2017 about the now-canceled NYS government proposal to install natural gas-fired turbines and a micro-grid [at the site of the infamous state-owned ANSWERS trash incinerator that spewed poisons over Arbor Hill and Capital Hill from 1982-1994]. The state said in 2017 it had evaluated all alternatives but provided no proof to a FOIA request, “proof” to Merton “they were lying.”
He said “we must remain extremely vigilant, I am skeptical,” and even if we win here, the state may do what they had tried here at other locations. He said, “I question our governor.” Merton said his family members may have died from poisonous exposures from the now closed ANSWERS incinerator. “If the president is a psychopath, the governor is a sociopath.” he said. The governor “throws a brick and hides his hand.” He goes “one step forward and three steps backwards.” He said we must write and pressure Governor Cuomo. He is inspired by Greta Thunberg, and the “future is for our young people.”
Switching to the vaping legislation then-pending at the Albany County Legislature, he said “If your only business is selling tobacco and death, then you need another business.” He said if Albany County passes this law, other counties will do likewise. Vaping devices, he said, are transition devices for youth getting into nicotine and we need to deglamorize vaping products including menthol like we did cigarettes. [The anti-flavors legislation failed to obtain the twenty needed votes for passage at the Nov. 12 meeting of the Albany County legislature.]
“We are losing several species every day,” he said. “I am so disappointed with the Democrats with their wordsmithing. [Attorney General William] Barr and [Secretary of State Mike] Pompeo are crapping on the Constitution every day. We could lock them up.” “All the projections are that things will get worse,” he said, and “the end of our lives may occur with an unsustainable planet.” “We have federal leaders who are among the worst ever.” The Electoral College is the tail wagging the dog. The Democrats could win 4 million more votes in 2020 and Trump could still win the Electoral College. “I can’t imagine Trump’s capacity for carnage,” he said.
A lively Q&A followed. He said 2017 saw multiple severe hurricanes, the Democrats in charge are “feckless and spineless,” we may not be able to make it but we must try everything we have, and changes are occurring at a rapid change, faster than scientists predict.
Speaking about NYS and Albany politics, he said we have to start at home first, and Mayor Kathy Sheehan seems to be in the pocket of the governor regarding the micro-grid project. He said Skidmore College uses geothermal. Mayor Sheehan, he said, is not an independent actor due to Albany’s dependence on state money.
He said cigarettes and nicotine have no redeeming attributes, vaping may be a gateway to high nicotine products, and flavors are clearly directed at a youth market.
Ward Stone said the pollution levels in the Sheridan Hollow neighborhood need to be investigated, especially for lead, and “clean it up. Not just paint, but pipe, flashing, roof tiles; soils below have high lead levels that children play in.” Mr. Simpson responded, saying, “It is absurd that I–I am not a long term energy-environmental activist–must go to premier energy and environmental agencies in NYS and tell them what can be done.” He added some state agencies cannot respond to inquiries. Mr. Stone said, “We–state government–almost never do what we should do.”
To Carol Waterman’s question about why is menthol a racial justice issue, Merton said tobacco products are marketed to blacks to be cool, menthol eases tobacco use, people are being seduced into using dangerous products, menthol makes tobacco and vaping easier to use, to do damage to themselves, get addicted, and harder to quit.
Merton said there were many call-in days to Cuomo regarding Sheridan Hollow with many petitions delivered. The cumulative effort led to the announced changes, some of which will be implemented. He said he would attend a November conference in Newark that features Sheridan Hollow as what can be accomplished.
He said he works with Albany County Executive McCoy, Assemblymembers Fahy and McDonald, and state Senator Breslin, all of whom have been helpful.
Merton said “We have to beat up our Democratic representatives to get them to get a backbone. What we need is for Cuomo to be a leader, not just trying to look like a leader.”
Ward Stone said “We need to protect the Hudson River which we are not doing. We are missing a lot of birds. DEC does not have a set-up to know what the resources are. They are not there.”
Mr. Simpson said the state will not share details of what they claim they are going to do with Sheridan Hollow and “We need to do everything humanely possible to move to sustainable.”
Ward Stone said “clay areas, gardens, where kids play, should be checked” in the Sheridan Hollow neighborhood. Merton concluded the evening saying “I think there is a growing international consensus but we are swimming against the tide.”
Published in December 2019/Jauary 2020
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