By Peter Aronson
If you step back and look at all the battles we fight to preserve our environment and reduce carbon emissions, you realize how vast the climate crisis is and how complex the solutions are.
Just in the past couple weeks, the New York League of Conservation Voters (NYLCV) joined rallies and events to eliminate harmful pesticides, praise flood control and to speak out in support of bike lanes, green legislation, electric school buses and public parks.
“We need to be active on all fronts,” said NYLCV President Julie Tighe. “We need to lobby in New York City, we need to fight for legislation in Albany. We need to work with legislators, advocates and citizens across the state, on many issues, to keep climate change at bay.”
NYLCV Policy Director Pat McClellan recently joined Mayor Eric Adams and other officials to mark the eleventh anniversary of Superstorm Sandy and to celebrate the completion of the $110 million New Creek Bluebelt Expansion to prevent flooding on Staten Island. Bluebelts — ecologically rich and cost-effective drainage systems that naturally handle the runoff precipitation that falls on streets and sidewalks — provide both critical support to Staten Island’s drainage infrastructure and beautiful open green space for residents, while creating diverse habitats for wildlife. The New Creek Bluebelt now covers 94 acres and drains a 2,249-acre watershed area.
“It’s been 11 years since Superstorm Sandy ravaged our city and laid bare the need to shore up our coastal resilience, and as the climate crisis brings more frequent extreme weather events, this task could not be more urgent,” said McClellan. “That’s what makes the New Creek Bluebelt expansion so important; it offers protection from flooding to some of New York City’s most vulnerable neighborhoods while also providing more open space for the people of Staten Island to enjoy—a win for our climate defenses and a win for public health. We applaud Mayor Adams for answering this most urgent call and for his ongoing commitment to environmental protection.”
Last Wednesday, NYLCV joined a rally of environmental advocates outside Gov. Kathy Hochul’s Manhattan office to call on her to sign the Birds and Bees Protection Act. The bill (A. 7640/S. 1856-A), as outlined here in a press release and here in a recent NYLCV’s blog, would prohibit the sale of certain pesticides that kill pollinators, primarily honey bees. The loss of bees and other pollinators means fewer crops are pollinated, resulting in crop loss across the state.
“By eliminating unnecessary and harmful chemicals in our treatment of pests, we will help protect New York’s environment, food security, and agricultural economy,” said Andrew Williams, NYLCV’s deputy director of state policy. “It’s time that New York finally takes action to ensure the survival of our essential pollinators and the health of our communities, and that is why NYLCV stands with our partners in urging Governor Hochul to sign the Birds and Bees Protection Act.”
Also on Wednesday, NYLCV staffers were rallying in City Hall Park to call for the passage in New York City of Intro 417A of 2022, a city bill that would streamline the process for constructing protected bike lanes.
“If the city is serious about reducing air pollution and tackling the climate crisis, then we need to do more to get people out of their cars and onto bicycles and other clean transportation modes, and we can only do that by creating a safe and robust network of protected bike lanes across the city,” said Alia Soomro, NYLCV’s deputy director of NYC policy. “We applaud Council Member Restler for leading the charge on this NYLCV scorecard bill, the passage of which will mean two things: less red tape and more building.”
Also last week, Williams, NYLCV’s deputy state policy director, was at a rally in Albany organized by state Assemblymember Patricia Fahy in support of the Greenways Trails For A Green Future legislative package that was introduced Thursday in the state legislature. The Greenways Trail, which includes the 750-mile Empire State Trail, is a series of trails across the state primarily for walkers, hikers, bikers and cross-country skiers. (For more on the Empire State Trail, the country’s longest multi-use recreational trail system that runs north from NYC to the Canadian border and west from Albany to Buffalo, see this NY Times article detailing two reporters’ adventure biking the trail and this state map.)
“If we are serious about reducing air pollution and tackling the climate crisis, then we need to do more to get people out of their gas-guzzling cars, which means more trails, more transparency, and better safety guidelines for our cyclists and pedestrians,” Williams said. “Assemblymember Fahy’s legislative package will not only accomplish that, it will also shore up the recreational tourism industry, a major revenue generator for the state and for local communities. When smart environmental policy and good economics line up, everyone wins.”
The League’s busy week continued with Tighe’s participation in an electric school bus “teach-in” at the New York State School Boards Association in Latham, NY. The goal was to educate school officials and school boards about best practices in school bus electrification, available funding (including grants), and resources to help make the electrification process easier.
Representatives from the Alliance for Clean Energy New York—which organized the teach-in—spoke, as did Assemblymember Fahy, and representatives from the New York State School Boards Association, U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, NYSERDA, the State Department of Education, National Grid, Highland, and more.
New York City and New York State are required by law to fully electrify their school bus fleets by 2035. New York state has approximately 45,000 buses, the country’s largest fleet.
“Electrifying our school buses accomplishes two essential goals simultaneously: eliminating the unhealthy diesel fumes school children have been breathing for decades and helping reduce our greenhouse gas emissions,” said Tighe, who was on a panel about the electric school bus market in New York.
The transportation sector in New York state is the second largest emitter of greenhouse gasses (GGE), after buildings, and by electrifying New York’s school buses we are helping the state achieve its goals of a 40 percent reduction in emissions from 1990 levels by 2030 and an 85 percent reduction by 2050.
“Simply put, electrifying our state’s school bus fleet is an essential element to achieving a zero-emission transportation sector in New York state,” Tighe said.
Also, while upstate for the school bus event, Tighe was the keynote speaker at the annual conference for the Office of Parks, Recreation and Historic Preservation. She addressed the approximate 200 park facility managers in attendance, talking about the “power of parks” and their important role in environmental stewardship and fighting climate change.
As we push ahead week after week, we look forward to working with Gov. Hochul, Mayor Adams and legislators, environmentalists and citizens across the state as we continue to move towards a carbon-free environment. Please join our effort.