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Commentary & Opinion

Blair Horner: Environmentalists Advance NY’s Earth Day Agenda

 As Albany begins its post-budget agenda, it is remarkable how little the governor and state lawmakers discuss environmental issues.  There are the occasional news releases – lip service really – about green initiatives, but little about policies that seek to reduce the pollution.

There are big environmental issues that need to be addressed – most notably climate change.

According to NASA, last year was tied with 2009 and 2006 for the seventh warmest year since 1880.  And the trend in the average global temperature has been steadily rising.

Despite the distortions put out by the fossil fuel industries, there is agreement that the earth’s rapid warm up is the result of our activities.  Again, according to NASA ninety-seven percent of climate scientists agree that climate-warming trends over the past century are very likely due to human activities and most of the leading scientific organizations worldwide have issued public statements endorsing this position. Here is a partial list of these organizations:

·         The United Nation’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, a group of 1,300 independent scientific experts from countries all over the world, concluded there's a more than 90 percent probability that human activities over the past 250 years have warmed the planet.  In addition, these other groups have arrived at similar conclusions:

·         American Association for the Advancement of Science;

·         American Chemical Society;

·         American Geophysical Union;

·         American Medical Association;

·         American Meteorological Society;

·         American Physical Society;

·         The Geological Society of America;

·         U.S. National Academy of Sciences; and

·         U.S. Global Change Research Program.

So, what can New York do?  First, it can pass the Climate Protection Act.  That legislation establishes a timetable for reducing greenhouse gas emissions in New York by 80% below 1990 levels by 2050, as recommended by international climate experts.   This bill caps climate change pollution from all measurable sources in NY starting in 2016 and then incrementally lowers that cap, starting with a 20% reduction by the year 2020, with an additional 10% reduction every five years.  It also requires the state’s Department of Environmental Conservation to develop a plan to adapt to the environmental threats posed by the world’s changing climate. 

To help New York better adapt to a changing climate, sea level rise projections and climate data should be integrated into state planning and permitting programs.  A second bill – the Community Risk Reduction Act – will make such evaluation a required element for all state-permitted and funded development, not just rebuilding efforts after a catastrophic storm.  This legislation applies such standards to projects proposed through a variety of state funding and permitting programs.

State environmental organizations have organized an Earth Day Lobby Day event this week to push those initiatives – as well other environmental and public health protections – into the legislative debate.

In order to get Albany to act, there needs to be legislative leadership.  And it’s that leadership that poses a special challenge.

While the Assembly typically moves these types of bills, the success of the fossil fuel industries in tarnishing environmental and public health measures as anti-business makes lawmakers wary to action.

A hot, parched planet will hardly be a place to do business.  But facts – or even logic – are not what drives this debate.  What drives it are partisan politics and greed.  Sadly, there is little coming out of the governor’s mansion to combat the lies and deceptions of those seeking to bamboozle the public about the problems and sources of global climate change.

Yet, this November candidates for state office – from governor all the way to state legislative seats—will be running for office.  It will at that time when New Yorkers can hold policymakers accountable for their actions – or lack of actions – to protect our health and the planet.

Hopefully, they will have something good to tell us.

Blair Horner is the Legislative Director of the New York Public Interest Research Group.


The views expressed by commentators are solely those of the authors. They do not necessarily reflect the views of this station or its management.

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