Environment

Local Governments Pushed To Switch Fossil Fuel Cars To Electric

A coalition of environmental groups on Monday released a plan meant to aid local governments in switching out fossil fuel fleet vehicles to electric cars in the coming years.

The push began on Long Island, with county and town governments embracing the effort, which supporters say helps fight climate change by making the transition to an electric vehicle fleet.

“Throughout Suffolk County, towns and villages, from Smithtown to Greenport, have been installing electric vehicle charging stations,” said Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone. “The Town of East Hampton will be adding five EVs to their fleet over the winter. Suffolk County Shared Services plan will be evaluating opportunities to facilitate these efforts.”

The coalition, which includes Environmental Advocates of New York and Long Island Progressive Coalition, released a toolkit designed to usher in the transition.

“I am proud to embrace environmentally friendly initiatives that benefit Nassau County and its residents,” said Nassau County Executive Laura Curran. “I thank ElectrifyNY for releasing this electric vehicle municipal toolkit which will help Nassau County as well as towns, villages and cities throughout the county transition away from fossil fuels.”

Enviros Want Faster Siting Process For Renewable Projects

From the Morning Memo:

A coalition of environmental groups this week released a letter to the Public Service Commission urging New York officials to hasten the siting process to build solar, wind and other renewable energy projects around the state.

“The climate challenges we face demand immediate action,” the groups wrote in the letter. “New York’s clean energy goals are laudable, but if the regulatory process is too lengthy and arduous, it will be difficult if not impossible to meet them.”

Signing on to the letter are groups that represent a range of environmental interests around the state, including Audubon New York, Catskill Mountainkeeper, the New York League of Conservation Voters, among others.

Gov. Andrew Cuomo is backing an effort that would transition the state to 100 percent carbon-neutral energy sources by 2040. Much that goal would be achieved through the construction of major wind and solar energy projects, but environmental groups as well as some for-profit businesses have raised concerns over the red taped involved in getting those efforts off the ground.

In the letter, the coalition writes that speeding up the regulatory process for approving the projects can be done in a way that would both minimize environmental hazards and allowing a siting process to go forward.

siting letter 4-22-2019_ (1) by Nick Reisman on Scribd

Digital Ad Boosts Land & Water Fund

A digital ad campaign launched Tuesday by the New York League of Conservation Fund is pushing members of the House of Representatives to vote for legislation supporting the Land & Water Conservation Fund.

The advocacy campaign comes after the previous Congress allowed the program to expire in September 2018.

The fund has provided support for conservation efforts, recreational access and other outdoor activities. New York alone has received $326.6 million in funding over the last five decades.

“Everyone deserves a chance to enjoy the outdoors and have access to clean, healthy water and air,” said New York League of Conservation Voters President Julie Tighe.

“Many families throughout our state rely on public lands for access to recreational space and to be closer to nature. Parks and greenspaces are not only areas for children to play in, but they also help improve air and water quality and reduce pollution. That’s why conserving our parks, playgrounds, and beaches is one of our top priorities. The LWCF helps protect these vital areas. We are grateful for our partners in elected office who helped champion the program and we thank all our members who took action.”

The video includes New York elected officials like Comptroller Scott Stringer, Nassau County Executive Laura Curran, Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone and Westchester County Executive George Latimer.

Cuomo Admin Touts Solar Growth

From the Morning Memo:

The Buffalo Public Schools has partnered with Buffalo’s Montante Solar to install more than 10,000 solar panels on 19 of its schools, which, according to the company, is largest project of its kind in the state.

School officials said roughly 20 percent of the electricity needs for those buildings will come from the project.

“The beauty of it is there is absolutely no up front cost for the district,” BPS Director of Facilities Paul McDonnell said. “How it is paid for is by the power that the panels produce.”

The district will pay Montante for the electricity, but the company installs, operates and maintains the panels for two decades. McDonnell said this agreement gives the district a level of certainty hat its power costs will remain the same during that period, which helps from a budgeting predictability standpoint.

The initiative stems from the state’s push for 50 percent of New York’s power to come from renewable energy sources by 2030. The governor’s office announced this week the state’s solar power has grown by 1,000 percent since December 2011.

The administration said it has invested $1 billion worth of public money toward this effort, which has, in turn, leveraged $2.8 billion in private investment and created 12,000 jobs.

“Solar is a vital part of this state’s clean energy future and we have experienced unprecedented growth in this new sector,” Cuomo said. “We will continue to support the development of solar, helping to spur economic growth, creating new jobs and helping to build a cleaner, greener and more sustainable New York for all.”

Despite the large BPS project, the Western New York region’s 887 percent megawatt increase actually falls near the bottom of the pack according to a chart provided by the administration. The Mohawk Valley tops the list with a more than 2,500 percent increase.

The data only includes projects supported by the New York State Energy Research and Development Authority.

EPA Responds To Schumer On Radioactive Sites

From the Morning Memo:

The EPA is responding to questions raised by U.S. Senate Democratic Leader Chuck Schumer during a visit to Niagara County earlier this week about why the agency’s staff appeared to have stopped plans for remediation of three sites with radioactive waste.

The senator Monday said lack of funding should not be a reason behind the stoppage, and he vowed to restore any cuts to the EPA budget pushed forward by the Trump administration.

However, according to an EPA regional spokesperson, the work has merely been temporarily suspended -not ceased completely – until there is enough funding to finish the job.

“Since it is best to have all that we need to finish the job, combined with the fact that these sites must be weighed against other cleanup projects that post greater risks, we have suspended work until we can return in 2018,” Region 2 Press Officer Tayler Covington said.

The EPA said the first phase of the projects has been finished, and the material still on the sites doesn’t represent an immediate threat because exposure pathways have been contained with deterrents like fences, pavement and driveways.

“As long as the shielding (asphalt or concrete) is not broken and the fencing remains in place, exposures will be minimized to below that of concern,” Covington said.

Homeowners, meanwhile, maintain it’s virtually impossible to sell their homes until the clean-up is 100 percent complete. They also said the town of Lewiston so far has refused to reassess their homes for property tax purposes, which would ostensibly lower their annual bills.

At a press conference yesterday, the town supervisor said reassessment delay was due to the fact that remediation was still in progress. He promised the town would take another look at the situation once it has more answers from the federal government.

Cuomo: Climate Alliance On Track

The U.S. Climate Alliance, a coalition of 14 states and Puerto Rico, announced Wednesday its members are on track to meet their targets under the Paris Climate Accord. This comes despite the fact, President Donald Trump pulled the country out of the international agreement earlier this summer.

According to the alliance’s progress report, states are on track to reach a 25-29 percent reduction from 2005 greenhouse gas emission levels by 2025. Between 2005 and 2015, members reduced emissions by 5 percent more than states that aren’t part of the coalition, the study also claimed.

Gov. Andrew Cuomo, D-NY, is a co-chair of the coalition.

“While the federal government abdicates its responsibility on climate change, governors do not have the luxury of denying a scientific reality, and it is more important than ever for states to take collective, common sense action,” Cuomo said. “Today, New York State is picking up the mantle of leadership and raising the bar in the global fight against climate change.”

The alliance also announced the addition of North Carolina as its newest member. Altogether, the membership said it represents 36 percent of the U.S. population.

Meanwhile, Cuomo announced he is expanding NY Green Bank, a state-sponsored financial entity that helps support private sector investment into New York’s clean energy sector. The expansion will include raising new funds and assisting other states in establishing Green Bank offices.

 

Enviros Cheer DEC’s Permit Denial For Millennium Pipeline (Updated)

Environmental groups and advocates are cheering the decision by state environmental officials to deny permits for the Millennium Pipeline to connect to a Hudson Valley power plant that is playing a supporting role in the corruption case against former gubernatorial aide Joe Percoco.

“I wholeheartedly applaud the DEC for denying a key permit needed to connect the Millennium Pipeline to the CPV power plant,” said Assemblyman James Skoufis, a Democrat who represents the area. “With a pending criminal case alleging corruption at CPV, the DEC made the right decision to put the safety of the community before politics.”

Percoco, who’s case goes to trial early next year, is accused of soliciting bribes from Competitive Power Ventures that also paid his wife $90,000.

Opponents of the pipeline had seized on the connection, protesting Percoco’s court appearances.

The permit decision was cheered by Mark Ruffalo, the actor and environmental advocate, who specifically thanked Gov. Andrew Cuomo.

“Thanks to Governor Cuomo and the Department of Environmental Conservation for carefully reviewing the impacts of the Millennium Pipeline and rightfully denying it,” Ruffalo said. “This dangerous pipeline would have harmed the environment, local residents, and exacerbated climate change.”

Updated: Gary Lambert, the CEO and president of Competitive Power Ventures, called the DEC decision “confusing” knocked it as not having merit. The company, he said, plans to press forward with the project.

“We will continue to move forward with our scheduled opening in early 2018,” Lambert said. “We will commission and operate on our backup fuel as we have every confidence the pipeline will ultimately be approved. Once the pipeline is complete, the Valley Energy Center will begin to reduce the region’s overall emissions, protect and enhance the reliability of the region’s electric grid, and start saving New York’s energy consumers more than an estimated $600 million in electricity costs annually.”

Federal Court Upholds DEC Blocking Pipeline

A federal court ruled Friday in favor of the Department of Environmental Conservation after it denied a water quality certification for the Constitution Pipeline.

“Our actions are based on the merits and we’re pleased this ruling upholds this principle and –specifically – this agency’s work to uphold New York’s strict water quality standards,” said DEC Commissioner Basil Seggos. “We hope this his sends a loud message that New York will not rubber stamp any project that fails to protect public health and our environment.”

The ruling was cheered by Attorney General Eric Schneiderman and environmental groups, but criticized by business groups that had wanted to see the pipeline approved.

“New York must be able to do what’s necessary to protect our environment – and we’re glad that the court agreed,” Schneiderman said in a statement.

“It would be unacceptable for a pipeline – or any project – to pollute our waters and undermine New Yorkers’ health and water resources. Today’s decision marks a major win for New Yorkers, and for the State’s right to take the actions necessary to protect the public and our environment.”

Federal regulators in late 2014 had approved the pipeline conditional that it receive proper water quality certification from New York environmental officials. After a review, the DEC denied the certification, arguing Constitution did not provide enough information to demonstrate it would meet the state’s water quality regulations.

“This momentous decision protects our communities and environment from a 124-mile pipeline that would have carried fracked gas from PA to Canada,” said Wes Gillingham of Catskill Mountainkeeper. “Countless communities, over 1,000 acres of forests and farms, and nearly 300 vulnerable waterways are no longer under threat.”

Supporters of the project said they hoped it would still come to fruition.

“Although we are disappointed with the court’s decision, we remain confident that the Constitution Pipeline will provide a bridge to New York’s energy future, and should be approved and built,” said Darren Suarez, the government relations director at The Business Council.

In a statement, the company called the pipeline project “a transformational opportunity” for the northeast and would create both short and long-term employment.

“In today’s decision, the Second Circuit recognized the jurisdiction of the D.C. Circuit, and the D.C. Circuit has recently acknowledged FERC’s authority to make the ultimate decision under the Natural Gas Act,” Constitution said. “While we would have preferred an immediate path to construction, we are pleased with the court’s resolution of this jurisdictional issue.”

Ortt Asks DEC To Make Niagara Falls Investigation Results Public

State Senator Rob Ortt, R-North Tonawanda, is applauding the Department of Environmental Conservation’s investigation into how a plume of waste water ended up in the Niagara River near the falls at the end of July, but he wants to make sure the results are public. Ortt wrote a letter to DEC Commissioner Basil Seggos, asking he release the findings in a timely manner so the Niagara Falls Water Board can be held accountable.

The board originally attributed the black discharge to routine maintenance but later changed the story, calling it human error instead. Some public officials have called for the resignation of some or all of the members.

Ortt said the incident, which made national news, has hurt the reputation of Niagara Falls and could affect tourism.

“The people of Niagara Falls and tourists have a right to know the results of this investigation, and so do local elected officials so we can continue to hold the water board accountable and prevent another incident like this from happening again,” he wrote. “Trust and transparency are two qualities that our fellow New Yorkers, and tourists, deserve when it comes to their safety and that of our natural resources.”

The Niagara Falls Police Department is also investigating the incident.

Mayors of Large NY Cities Promise To Honor Paris Accord

From the Morning Memo:

The mayors of New York City, Albany, and Syracuse were among dozens of mayors from across the county who committed to adopt and honor the terms of the Paris Climate Accord.

The coalition, called Climate Mayors, released a statement Thursday in response to President Donald Trump’s decision to withdraw the U.S. from the agreement.

“As 76 Mayors representing 38 million Americans, we will adopt, honor, and uphold the commitments to the goals enshrined in the Paris Agreement. We will intensify efforts to meet each of our cities’ current climate goals, push for new action to meet the 1.5 degrees Celsius target, and work together to create a 21st century clean energy economy,” they wrote.

Buffalo Mayor Byron Brown, who doubles as the state Democratic Party Chair, did not sign the statement, but Thursday evening he issued his own. In it, Brown expressed his commitment to the agreement too.

“Climate change is a global challenge requiring immediate attention. I am proud to have signed on to the U.S. Climate Alliance and the U.S. Conference of Mayor’s Climate Protection Agreement. In Buffalo, we stand in solidarity with leaders from across the country in condemning President Trump’s retreat from the Paris Agreement and reaffirm our commitment to the global community fighting climate change,” he said.

It was Pittsburgh Democrat Bill Peduto who led the mayoral charge against Trump after the President pointed to the Pennsylvania city in explaining his decision to withdraw. Peduto quickly promised to issue an executive order pledging the city would follow through on emission reduction goals.

He also pointed out, during an interview on CNN, that Pittsburgh was strongly for Hillary Clinton, not Trump, last fall.