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Environment Takes Center Stage at Congressional Candidates Forum

Thu, 10/15/2020 - 22:41

Representative Lee Zeldin and his challenger, Nancy Goroff, answered questions posed by climate and environmental activists in an online forum on Tuesday night, three weeks before Election Day and 11 days before the start of New York State's early voting period. 

As the candidates had received questions and recorded their answers before the event, there was no engagement between Mr. Zeldin, a Republican seeking a fourth term in Congress, and Ms. Goroff, who is on leave from her position as chairwoman of Stony Brook University's chemistry department. Nor were the candidates challenged or asked follow-up questions by the panelists. 

"I got in this race because I was frustrated and infuriated at the way Lee Zeldin and our president have been ignoring the facts and ignoring the evidence on issue after issue," Ms. Goroff said, "but especially on the issues of climate change and the environment." The United States, she said, must rejoin the Paris Agreement on climate change mitigation, from which President Trump announced its withdrawal in 2017, and "we need to make sure we are working actively and ambitiously to reduce our carbon output, as quickly as possible, down to zero. That is the only way we can sustain our way of life here on Long Island." 

Mr. Zeldin spoke more about public works projects, including the federal Army Corps of Engineers' Fire Island to Montauk Point Reformulation project, than he did about climate change. He did, however, note his co-sponsorship of the Carbon Capture Improvement Act of 2019, which would incentivize industrial plants to invest in carbon dioxide capture and storage. It has not become law. "We all want to see our environment protected," he said. "We want our coastlines to be secure."

Adrienne Esposito of Citizens Campaign for the Environment, one of the groups sponsoring the forum, along with the New York League of Conservation Voters and Students for Climate Action, asked the candidates for proposals they would support to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and strengthen the federal government's role in fighting climate change. "I think it's really important for the government to work with the private sector, to have a strong partnership to make progress," Mr. Zeldin said. The federal government's role in investing in research at Brookhaven National Laboratory and Stony Brook University is important, he said, given private companies' potential reticence with respect to high-risk pursuits. 

When implemented, he continued, FIMP will see more than $1 billion invested in coastal resilience and recovery from Superstorm Sandy.

Ms. Goroff called federal efforts to combat climate change "a top priority for me." A member of the Union of Concerned Scientists who serves on its national advisory board, she said that climate change "was a major motivation for me getting in the race." 

To fight climate change, she said, "we need to set ambitious targets" toward carbon neutrality. "We need to deploy existing technology" in renewable energy, electric vehicles, and energy-efficient buildings, which she said "means building our clean energy infrastructure. We also need to invest in research to move us to the technology of the future, things that are scalable and we can export" to developing countries "so they can improve their quality of living without blowing the whole world's carbon budget." 

She pledged to be a resource for all members of Congress, and to "hold their feet to the fire to make sure we take meaningful action on climate change."

Regarding the advancement of offshore wind, Ms. Goroff said that the Covid-19 pandemic necessitates "real federal stimulus funding," and she wants to "make sure, when I get to Congress, that that includes money for infrastructure and especially clean energy infrastructure" to develop offshore wind as quickly as possible. 

 Mr. Zeldin emphasized the varying perspectives on offshore wind, from its developers to fishermen and property owners in proximity to the landing site of a wind farm's export cable. "It's extremely important for residents to feel like they have a voice," he said. Offshore wind is an opportunity for the district, he said, "but for the average Long Islander, they may not be as aware as you are about how this will impact their lives. One way is their bill: They want to see cost savings each month." 

Ms. Goroff said that she was "so proud of New York" for the Climate Leadership and Community Protection Act passed last year, noting that Assemblyman Steve Englebright, who represents her district, is also a scientist. "That is exactly the role I intend to play at the national level," she said, describing work to "ensure that every member understands the urgency of this threat and how important it is that we do take action" by broadening investment in clean energy and curtailing it in fossil fuels. 

The forum also featured Jackie Gordon and Assemblyman Andrew Garbarino, the Democratic and Republican nominees in New York's Second Congressional District, respectively.


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