Environment
Internet resources for what you need to know on NYC Environment
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The Topic
"Environment" refers to the places where New Yorkers live; our surroundings; the air, water and land that make our existence possible.
The Context
With more than 22,000 people per square mile, NYC must take considerable measures to protect the environment from the effects of such population density. Problems like asthma, PCBs, lead poisoning and waste disposal compromise the quality of the City's natural resources and threaten the health of its residents. The policy implications for solving environmental problems are complex: Should commercial activity take priority over environmental protection? To what extent can we require changes in lifestyle and consumption through legislation? How far does our responsibility extend to those in other places and future generations?
The Reporter
Eric Goldstein is co-director of the urban program at the Natural Resources Defense Council.
The Archives
See past monthly updates for Environment.

by Eric Goldstein

The Elections and New York's Environment

While the 2002 elections are empowering anti-environmental leadership in the United States Senate, they also represent a high water mark for New York's environment, at least in terms of political rhetoric. All three major statewide officials -- Governor George E. Pataki, Comptroller Alan Hevesi and Attorney General Eliot Spitzer -- campaigned as friends of New York's natural resources and actively touted their support from environmental groups.

Of course, there will be tough battles ahead. But here in New York (and in contrast to Washington D.C.), our top elected officials have all demonstrated their interests in conservation and/or environmental health issues. And all three owe a debt to their environmental friends and supporters.

GOVERNOR GEORGE PATAKI

The governor, who has developed a reputation as an avid outdoorsman and strong conservationist, highlighted his environmental support, perhaps to a greater degree than any of his predecessors. He publicized his endorsements from the Sierra Club and the New York League of Conservation Voters. One of his high-visibility campaign ads included comments from the League of Conservation Voters' chairman, Paul Elson, who identified "cleaner air, cleaner water and more open space" as among the governor's environmental accomplishments.

H. Carl McCall, Pataki's opponent, also embraced environmental issues in the campaign. He criticized the governor for failure to advance refinancing of the State Superfund program (for clean-up of toxic waste sites) and for lack of progress on efforts to remediate and redevelop urban "brownfield" properties.

A thoughtful New York Times analysis of Governor Pataki's record on key issues, written by Richard Perez-Pena, credited the governor with keeping hundreds of thousands of acres of upstate lands protected, advancing urban parks, and helping to persuade the Bush Administration to order the clean-up of toxic PCBs from the Hudson River. But the assessment also noted that he reduced monitoring compliance and fines against polluters and sought to ease clean-up standards at toxic waste sites. The Times report concluded that "Mr. Pataki's oratory on environmental issues has exceeded his performance in all areas but conservation, partly because he has promised so much."

COMPTROLLER-ELECT ALAN HEVESI

New York State Comptroller-elect Alan Hevesi also publicized his environmental support in his successful and hotly contested race against Assemblyman John Faso. As City Comptroller until last year, Hevesi proved himself to be a dedicated protector of the New York City water supply. Among other things, he skillfully defeated an ill-advised proposal to sell off the city's reservoirs and water assets for quick cash. And he played a crucial role in strengthening the 1997 city-state watershed agreement.

One ad that the Hevesi team ran frequently in the final weeks before Election Day highlighted his Sierra Club and New York League of Conservation Voters support. And on the campaign trail, Hevesi attacked his opponent for, among other things, his "votes against the environment."

A comparison prepared by the Albany-based group Environmental Advocates of the voting records of Hevesi and Faso covering the six year period (1988-1993) during which they both served in the State Assembly found that Hevesi's overall average score was 85 percent pro-environment, while Faso's was 69 percent. Not surprisingly, Faso did not focus on environmental issues in his losing effort.

ATTORNEY GENERAL ELIOT SPITZER

The third statewide candidate, Attorney General Eliot Spitzer, who had the easiest contest on Election Day, also featured his unassailable environmental track-record in his low-key campaign. During his first term in office, the Attorney General was a steadfast environmental advocate from the outset. After hiring the respected lawyer Peter Lehner ( a former colleague of mine at the Natural Resources Defense Council) to head his Environmental Protection Bureau, Spitzer and his staff took on polluters big and small.

In campaign appearances, Spitzer frequently mentioned his lawsuits to curb air pollution from mid-west power plants, to force the clean-up of PCBs in the Hudson River and to rescue hundreds of New York City's endangered community gardens.

Spitzer's opponent, Judge Dora Irizarry, shared an interest in environmental issues, although her underfunded campaign was unable to get her message out.

OTHER CONTESTS

The prominence of environmental protection as a campaign issue extended beyond these three statewide contests. In several other races throughout the region, environmental themes played critical roles for winning candidates.

In what was one of the most incendiary Congressional campaigns in the region, Southhampton College provost Tim Bishop squeaked by one term Congressman Felix Grucci in the contest for eastern Long Island's House seat. Bishop was helped over the top by an intensive ad campaign in the closing weeks that focused largely on Grucci's weak positions on toxic waste clean-up and other environmental issues.

And in the U.S. Senate race in New Jersey, former Senator Frank Lautenberg defeated businessman Doug Forrester. Lautenberg's campaign, and ads from the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee, filled the airways with environmental messages (e.g. Forrester "wants taxpayers to foot the bill for cleaning up SUPERFUND toxic waste sites").

WHAT IT ALL MEANS

The increasingly visible use of the environment as a 2002 campaign theme in the New York region tells us something about the candidates who sponsored these messages and the voters who responded to them. First, it suggests that New York State's three statewide officials all have at least some track record on and commitment to improving environmental quality. Second, it reflects a growing recognition of the importance of environmental issues to New York voters. And third, it is evidence that New York has in fact become something of a "green state" -- a place where environmental health and natural resource protection have become cornerstone values that are widely shared by the electorate.

To be sure, there are many other issues on the minds of New Yorkers, none of the three state-wide office holders were elected primarily for their environmental accomplishments. In addition, it is unrealistic to expect that the governor, the comptroller and the attorney general will always (or even often) be able to act in concert on environmental issues. And the expressed views of these three officials on environmental issues do nothing to resolve the extraordinary problems that continue to plague the legislative process in Albany.

Nevertheless, New York's highest elected officials have all appealed to the voters to support them in their campaigns based in part upon the candidate's environmental interests and sympathies. It is now up to New York's voters to hold their elected officials accountable for insuring cleaner air, cleaner water and more open space.


Sites For Beginners:

  • U.S. Environmental Protection Agency - The official website of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency contains a special section "response to Sept. 11." It provides helpful information and a direct link where Lower Manhattan residents can sign up for no-cost residential clean-ups or indoor air testing.
  • New York Committee for Occupational Safety and Health - The website of the non-profit New York Committee for Occupational Safety and Health includes an excellent, in-depth section -- "9/11 related occupational safety and health." It provides links to newspapers and magazines, as well as specialzed journals, covering WTC-related issues.
  • New York City Government - New York City's official website includes a "9/11 NYC Services Center," which contains health and safety information and resources for city residents.
  • New York Environmental Law and Justice Project - The webiste of the small, non-profit New York Environmental Law and Justice Project -- the group that first raised questio ns about World Trade Center-related air quality -- offers links to data, government agencies, elected officials and its own testing data.
  • NYC Department of Environmental Protection - The people who watch over NYC's water supply, wastewater treatment, environmental planning and other environmental issues. Especially recommended: air quality monitoring in Lower Manhattan.
  • New York State Department of Environmental Conservation - State agency's website includes information on environmental regulations and natural resources for businesses and individuals.
  • U.S. Environment Protection Agency, Region 2 - Federal agency with broad mandate and enormous scope The site hosts a universe of government-certified information on matters from toxic waste cleanup to clean air.
  • New York Public Interest Group - NYPIRG performs some heavy lifting in unglamorous environmental topics.
  • Environmental Advocates - An aggressive, Albany-based advocacy group for environmental concerns throughout the state. Reports on many different issues (some NYC-specific), voters' guides and volunteer opportunities, as well a useful list of links.
  • Natural Resources Defense Council - One of the Country's most prominent environmental advocacy groups, NRDC initiates precedent-setting litigation and pushes public policy's conceptual envelope. Appropriately "green" headquarters are in the Flatiron District.


Other Recommendations:

  • Wind Power New York (WPNY) - A project of the American Wind Energy Association, was formed to promote the development of wind-powered electricity generation in New York State. For more information about the PG&E project in Madison, follow their link to The windmills of Madison County, a feature of Syracuse Online.
  • Cornell Cooperative Extension - Entomologists from Cornell University tell you everything you want to know about the Asian Longhorn Beetle, from how to identify it to how it can be destroyed.
  • Audubon Society - Founded in 1905 and named for famed ornithologist, explorer, and wildlife artist John James Audubon (1785-1851), the National Audubon Society's mission is to conserve and restore natural ecosystems, focusing on birds and other wildlife for the benefit of humanity and the earth's biological diversity. Learn why birds are an "ecological litmus paper".
  • www.moregardens.org - This pro-garden web site provides background on Esperanza Garden and efforts to preserve the city's other community gardens. Log on to learn about the Samson Bill, which would make all New York City community gardens permanent State parkland, and SLR 61, a complimentary bill that the City Council must endorse before the State can act.
  • Center for Bioenvironmental Research at Tulane and Xavier Universities - Environmental concepts made easy. A great little Web site that provides comprehensive information about lead, environmental estrogens and, in case you were wondering, environmental astrobiology.
  • The Environmental Defense Fund - In conjunction with several other prominent environmental groups, presents a comprehensive explanation and analysis of global warming. Contents range from a simple explanation of how global warming works, to a discussion of its likely impact in the coming century. Be sure to check out the map of early warming signs.
  • Environmental Health Center's Asthma page - The Environmental Health Center, a division of the National Safety Council, provides voluminous, easy-to-understand background information on a comprehensive array of environmental and safety issues. If you live in New York City, this is a good place to start learning about asthma risks and prevention.
  • The Fire Island Ecology Coalition - Fans of Fire Island who can't bear the long winter separation may visit this comprehensive site, but they won't get the languorous summer feeling associated with their traditional summer visits. Instead, it offers a vigorous examination of threats to the island that demand serious attention÷from the proliferation of jet skis and deer to global warming.
  • The New York City Environmental Justice Alliance - This page belongs to a coalition of grassroots organizations concerned with providing a clean and safe environment to communities of color and low-income communities, with topics such as "What's Transportation got to do with Environmental Justice?" This site connects you with such groups and shows you what they're doing . . .and how you can help.

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