New York’s First Congressional District is on the front lines of climate change, an area susceptible to rising sea levels, stronger storms, and, particularly on the East End, the threats to farmers and residents from drought and the potential for salt water intrusion into our aquifer.
The New York League of Conservation Voters paired up Oct. 13 with Students for Climate Action, Renewable Energy Long Island and Citizens Campaign for the Environment to grill candidates for Congress in the First and Second Congressional Districts in a pre-recorded Zoom and Facebook Live event.
In the First Congressional District, three-term Republican Congressman Lee Zeldin, an attorney from Shirley, is being challenged by Democrat Dr. Nancy Goroff, a longtime chemistry professor and department head at Stony Brook University.
The two candidates received five questions in advance before answering them in separate pre-recorded interviews, on topics ranging from the federal role in offshore wind to protecting the coastline and water quality to standards set for carbon emissions and federal tax credits for solar installations.
Citizens Campaign for the Environment Executive Director Adrienne Esposito asked the candidates what specific legislation in Congress they would support, and what they believe the role of the federal government is, in reducing greenhouse gas emissions.
Mr. Zeldin said he supports the Carbon Capture Improvement Act, which provides financial incentives for power plants to invest in capturing and storing the carbon the generate.
He added that he has pushed for $1 billion funding, authorized in July, for the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers’ Fire Island to Montauk Point Reformulation Study (FIMP), which he said provides funding for Hashamomuck Cove and Goldsmith Inlet in Southold, Reel Point Preserve on Shelter Island, and Wading River Creek.
FIMP also includes a dramatic amount of work to shore up the South Shore of Long Island.
Ms. Goroff said the U.S. should set targets, similar to those already set by New York State, to “aim to be carbon neutral in energy production by 2035.”
“To get there, we need to deploy existing technology in renewable energy, clean vehicles and clean buildings, and we also need to invest in research to move us toward the technologies of the future, things that are scaleable that we can export to other countries,” she said, adding that she is a board member of the Union of Concerned Scientists. The federal government’s inaction on climate change is one of the main reasons she decided to run for Congress, she added.
“When I get to Congress, I intend to be a leader on this issue, a resource for every member of Congress, with the best information available,” she said. “I will hold their feet to the fire to make sure we take meaningful action on climate change.”
Melissa Parrott, the Executive Director of Students for Climate Action, asked the candidates what they would do about an overdue map of potential ocean wind energy areas that the federal Bureau of Ocean Energy Management had been slated to release in 2019.
Neither candidate directly addressed the issue of the map.
Mr. Zeldin said he believes the wind power industry needs to do more to reach out to residents who are concerned about the price of electricity on Long Island.
“Miscommunication over the years has been the biggest source of friction,” he said. “NIMBYism is big thing here on Long Island. People are all in favor of having a cable landed at the next town over but they don’t want it landed in their town.“
“My message to offshore wind companies is to have a robust communication with the people who are going to be impacted,” he added. “The average Long Islander might not be as aware as you are of how this is going to positively impact their lives. With their bill, they want to see cost savings each month.”
“It’s important to get the maps and get moving and get the wind farms out there as soon as possible,” said Ms. Goroff. “It’s clear, because of the pandemic and economic devastation, that we need to have real federal stimulus funding, and I want to make sure that stimulus funding includes money for renewable energy infrastructure.”
Ms. Esposito asked the candidates what can be done to extend federal income tax credits for solar installations, which are slated to expire at the end of this year.
Mr. Zeldin said he has co-sponsored legislation extending the investment tax credit (ITC) for installation of solar panels by five years, but the bill could use more support from the public and advocacy groups.
Ms. Goroff said she believes tax credits have been “very successful” in the past but said she would need more complete information to see if they are useful going forward.
“Solar is much more economical than it was before,” she said, adding that her goal is to bring representatives at the town and county level together to streamline solar permitting.
“Some local ordinances make it more difficult to have solar in some locations,” she said. “This is where congressional leadership as well as town and county governments should all be working together.”
Ms. Parrott asked the candidates what they would do about federal polices that move the country backwards on cutting greenhouse gas emissions, including support for hydrofracking, coal and offshore drilling for fossil fuels.
Mr. Zeldin again pushed his support for the Carbon Capture Improvement Act, and added that, as a member of the bipartisan Climate Solutions Caucus, he had helped to push back against Representative Scott Perry’s 2017 amendment that would have blocked the Department of Defense from studying climate change.
“Members of both parties banded together to get the job done,” he said, adding that he helped facilitate a public hearing on offshore drilling in the First Congressional District.
“I remember that public hearing,” said Ms. Esposito. “Three hundred people showed up in the middle of a nor’easter.”
In response to the question about federal policies on fossil fuels Ms. Goroff praised New York State Assemblyman Steve Englebright’s effort to pass New York’s Climate Leadership and Community Protection Act last year, reminding viewers that Mr. Englebright is also a scientist.
“I’m so proud of New York for the legislation that was passed last year,” she said. “It shows the benefit of having scientists taking leadership on these issues.”
“If elected, I would be the first female Ph.D. scientist ever to serve in Congress, and one of only two Ph.D. scientists in the House,” she said. “My leadership would be something I take really seriously, to make sure every member of Congress understands the urgency of this threat.”
Ms. Esposito asked the candidates what role the federal government should play in protecting Long Island’s drinking water from saltwater intrusion and toxic chemicals.
Mr. Zeldin pointed to the federal government’s efforts to clean up the emerging contaminants PFOA and PFOS, which are often found in groundwater plumes near federal military installations.
“The federal government needs to assist local communities in remediation,” he said, adding that the government should be providing bottled drinking water to people who have toxins in their wells. “The total size and cost of the cleanup here is manageable, but the problem is, all over the country, there are massive military installations, and it isn’t something the federal government can decide to snap their fingers and all of a sudden everything is going to be cleaned up.”
Mr. Zeldin added that the EPA needs to set a standard for these contaminants in the drinking water supply.
He also said he would like to push for funding to clean up the Forge River, and he is working on legislation that will keep Suffolk County’s septic upgrade grants from being viewed as income by the IRS.
Ms. Goroff also focused on PFOA and PFOS, as well as the contaminant 1,4 dioxane.
“We know where the plumes are and where exposure is a risk,” she said. “We need the EPA to monitor and help with remediation, and where appropriate the Defense Department should be involved in remediation. People need to know that their water is safe.”
“We all want to see our environment protected. We want our coastlines to be secure. This is our home,” said Mr. Zeldin in his closing remarks. “When someone from another part of the country says we chose to live this close to the water — No. We want to stay here and fight for our home.”
“When this election is over, you all just work together to find common ground,” he added.
“I got into this race because I was frustrated and infuriated by the way our Representative and President have been ignoring the facts on issue after issue, but especially on this issue,” said Ms. Goroff in her closing remarks. “We need to reenter the Paris Accords and work to reduce our carbon output as quickly as possible down to zero. I am excited to work on that for you, and I would be thrilled to have your support.”