The President’s address today on climate change underlines the vital importance of building a sustainable, greener economy.
While many essential steps require action at the national and international level, there is much that we can and should do on a regional basis.
Here in Westchester, Democrats and Republicans have historically worked together to lower our energy costs, increase efficiency, conserve natural resources, promote economic development, and preserve open space. That’s exactly the approach I’ve taken in New Rochelle with our award-winning Sustainability Plan. As County Executive, I will stand with scientists, not with partisan extremists, to implement a forward-looking strategy that integrates economic development, transportation infrastructure, and environmental protection.
By contrast, the Astorino administration has turned its back on these vital priorities, linked arms with climate change deniers, and put our future at risk. Under Astorino, Westchester has:
• Ended County partnerships designed to lower our energy costs, increase efficiency, and combat climate change;
• Halted progress toward the goals articulated in Westchester 2025 and the Westchester Climate Action Plan;
• Degraded the capacity of the County Planning Department, while shifting scarce planning resources to a fruitless, politically-motivated fight over fair housing;
• Been absent from major regional sustainability efforts, including the Sustainable Communities Initiative and the Mid-Hudson Sustainability Plan;
• Neglected efforts to improve transportation and transit options, leaving Westchester unprepared for the opportunities associated with the reconstruction of the Tappan Zee Bridge; and
• Done nothing to encourage transit-oriented economic development, assist municipalities with comprehensive plans, or invest in infrastructure essential to sustainable economic growth.
Reversing this record of neglect and restoring Westchester’s leadership role will require a change in Administration.
But there is a simple step that even Mr. Astorino can take right now: renew Westchester’s membership in ICLEI, the preeminent municipal and county organization devoted to climate change and climate adaptation issues.
ICLEI is a widely respected organization, with members that include every one of the ten largest cities in America, and 20 municipalities here in Westchester. It advocates for common sense action and provides local and regional governments with valuable tools to measure greenhouse gas emissions and take effective climate action. It’s so uncontroversial that even Dallas and Houston — in the petroleum capital of America — are members.
The Astorino Administration withdrew from ICLEI at the end of 2011, claiming that its annual dues of $4,500 were more than we could afford — less than one half of one penny per county resident, or $.02 for my whole family. For that low price, Westchester had access to a host of smart planning resources. To put that in perspective, Superstorm Sandy — the kind of extreme weather event associated with climate change — resulted in damages within Westchester estimated at $527 million!
The decision to withdraw from ICLEI was pure politics. Mr. Astorino was currying favor with conspiracy theorists on the extreme right, who falsely claim that ICLEI membership is part of some bizarre UN plot that threatens American sovereignty.
Today, I call on Mr. Astorino to restore Westchester’s ICLEI membership and to firmly and publicly reject the conspiracy theories of the far right.
It’s time for Westchester County to once again take the threat of climate change seriously, while also pursuing the positive opportunities of clean energy, smart growth and a greener economy.
- GreeNR is an award-winning, innovative sustainability plan spearheaded by Mayor Bramson in New Rochelle. GreeNR reﬂects and articulates a vision of sustainable practices that can enhance the quality of life for citizens today, without compromising the interests of future generations. It includes scores of speciﬁc, achievable recommendations, aimed at improving the environmental, economic, and social health of New Rochelle during the next twenty years and beyond, including reducing greenhouse gas emissions and energy use by 20% each by 2030. Many of GreeNR’s action steps are already being implemented.
- As part of his comprehensive Plan of Action for Westchester, Mayor Bramson will restore Westchester’s leadership role and advocate for reforms in the environmental review process that reward positive climate adaptation and green building practices. He will seek federal and state financial incentives for the development of energy conservation and transit districts, to take advantage of Westchester’s strong mass transit infrastructure.
- The Sustainable Communities Initiative includes communities from Connecticut, the Hudson Valley, and Long Island, as well as New York City, with the goal of better connecting residential and commercial growth. By helping develop new “housing near job centers and affordable, accessible transportation,” the SCI will “nurture healthier, more inclusive communities which provide opportunities for people of all ages, incomes, races, and ethnicities to live, work, and learn together.”
- ICLEI USA is the preeminent organization leading efforts to promote local sustainability. ICLEI helps governments take a comprehensive approach to achieve sustainability, climate protection, and clean energy goals.
- As part of an aggressively hostile opposition towards government in general, the Tea Party movement has made ICLEI and Agenda 21 litmus tests for conservative politicians. For some examples of this, please click any of these links.