In Pursuit of Better Conservation for the Empire State: NYLCVEF year in review

Each Monday morning at The Moore Charitable Foundation, we sip a coffee and read the news round up from the New York League of Conservation Voters (NYLCV) to learn what’s really going on in the Empire State. NYLCV is the only statewide environmental organization in New York that fights for clean water, clean air, renewable energy and open space through political action.

In 1993, this non-partisan, pragmatic and effective group realized the public-at-large needed a greater understanding of environmental issues and founded the New York League of Conservation Voters Education Fund (NYCLVEF). And as a result, they’ve been educating, engaging and empowering New Yorkers – including us – to be effective advocates on behalf of the environment, from clean energy and funding for parks, to solid waste and green buildings.

2016 has been a big year for the NYLCV Education Fund. They held two policy forums, three candidate forums, and two massive civic engagement campaigns. Here a few highlights that encapsulate their year:

Passing the Plastic Bag Bill. For two years NYLCVEF has written petitions, held rallies, and raised the volume about the issue of plastic bags polluting our streets, waterways, and landfills. In May, City Council finally passed the plastic bag bill, a huge win for the environmental community. Their work to empower New Yorkers with the tools to be civically engaged for the environment is more important than ever.

Taking Green Preservation to Affordable Housing. In February, NYLCVEF partnered with Enterprise Community Partners, Inc and NYU’s Robert F. Wagner Graduate School of Public Service for a forum on Green Preservation of Multi-Family Affordable Housing. Panelists from state and city agencies for housing and environmental protection, as well as local advocates and utilities, discussed challenges, opportunities, and solutions to take green preservation to scale in New York City with an engaged audience.

Educating Buffalo about Green Infrastructure. Later in the year, they went up to the Buffalo History Museum to continue a successful policy forum series on green infrastructure. Top policymakers and advocates from the Buffalo Sewer Authority, Buffalo Niagara Riverkeeper, and other local organizations explored the benefits of green infrastructure and worked to answer important questions about sustainable economic growth and the future of green infrastructure in the Buffalo Niagara Region.

Informing the Public About Their Political Choices. NYLCV they held three nonpartisan Environmental Candidate Forums in 2016. In April, NYLCVEF joined with West Harlem Environmental Action (WE ACT) for Environmental Justice for a 13th Congressional District Candidate Forum in West Harlem.

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WE ACT is a Northern Manhattan community-based organization whose mission is to build healthy communities by ensuring that people of color and/or low income participate meaningfully in the creation of sound and fair environmental health and protection policies and practices.

Before the primaries for the state legislature, they held a Democratic candidate forum in Assembly District 65. All 6 candidates attended, and the room was packed. Our partners from the Lower East Side Ecology Center, New Yorkers for Parks, Transportation Alternatives and Waterfront Alliance, as well as audience members, asked candidates about issues ranging from resiliency to air quality.

Finally, in October, they went out to New York’s Congressional District 1 on Long Island and partnered with Citizens’ Campaign for the Environment, Defend H2O, and Save the Sound to hear from Lee Zeldin and Anna Throne-Holst. Both candidates presented their ideas for preserving the environment on Long Island and working with congressional leaders to protect clean water and open space and promote renewable energy.

What’s up for 2017? So far, NYLCV Education Fund will hold forums on green infrastructure in the capital region and in Central New York. And local elections in Westchester County, New York City, and Nassau County will be the key to elevating environmental politics in 2017.

Along with Louis Bacon and The Moore Charitable Foundation, I want to thank the NYLCV Education Fund for all they do to protect the natural resources and places of New York State for all people, and for advancing understanding and policies about green infrastructure across the state. I would encourage all New York readers to sign up for their newsletter, plan to attend an event, sign a petition, or consider a year end donation to ensure and amplify the success of this important group. NYCLV – we look forward to standing with you in 2017.

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2016 Victories for the Hudson and Your Drinking Water: Riverkeeper

When Riverkeeper promises to protect the environmental, recreational and commercial integrity of the Hudson River and its tributaries, and safeguard the drinking water of nine million New York City and Hudson Valley residents, they’re not kidding. Here’s what Riverkeeper spent its 50th Anniversary year doing:

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Photo (c) Riverkeeper

Fighting poisoned drinking water in Newburgh. Riverkeeper has voiced serious concerns about pollution in the reservoir serving 29,000 Newburgh residents. In 2016, they helped win state commitments to make free blood testing available to all residents, designate the base a Superfund site and create a new plan to protect Newburgh’s water supply for the future.

Expanding water quality monitoring. With new community partners, Riverkeeper expanded its water quality monitoring to more than 400 locations, yielding 4,750 samples, showing where and when the water is safe for swimming. For the first time, they went as far as the source of the Hudson River, where scientists sampled Lake Tear of the Clouds.

New scrutiny for an oil facility in Albany. Riverkeeper scored a big victory when the Department of Environmental Conservation demanded a full environmental review of the proposed expansion of Global Partners’ crude oil terminal in Albany and required Global to apply for new permits for the expansion. Additionally, the EPA backed a Riverkeeper challenge, agreeing that Global had misrepresented emissions associated with crude oil “bomb trains.”

Closer than ever to closing Indian Point. In November, Riverkeeper celebrated a NYS Court of Appeals ruling confirming the denial of a critical environmental certification required for re-licensing the aging nuclear plant. In a NY Times op-ed, Riverkeeper demonstrated that Indian Point is fundamentally unsafe and can be replaced with alternative power sources. It’s now no longer a question of whether Indian Point will close, but of when and how quickly it will be decommissioned.

Supporting the grassroots. Riverkeeper achieves results across the vast geography of the Hudson River Watershed by engaging with existing partners, and supporting the formation of new groups that share their values. From the SWIM Coalition’s work fighting for Clean Water Act compliance in New York City to the Wallkill River Watershed Alliance’s documentation of a persistent toxic algal bloom, new partners work collaboratively with our to fight for clean water — and win.

Removing a dam, restoring habitat. Riverkeeper patrols identified a prime opportunity to remove an obsolete dam and allow herring to return to their historic spawning ground on a tributary of the Hudson. In May, they brought state and local partners together and organized a precedent-setting dam removal project. Within days, underwater cameras spotted herring swimming up the Wynants Kill to spawn for the first time in 85 years.

Boosting water infrastructure investments. New York State heard the call from the Riverkeeper community and our partners, and doubled its commitment to water infrastructure grants to $400 million, leveraging hundreds of millions more in local investments to improve water quality in the Hudson River watershed. Riverkeeper’s water quality data gave 25 Hudson Valley communities a leg-up for state funding.

Fighting back against ‘parking lot’ for oil barges. When the maritime industry proposed to designate 2,400 acres on the river as new long-term anchorage grounds for oil barges, Riverkeeper fought back. This proposal could allow the oil industry to create new and cost-free storage facilities for crude oil on the Hudson River without going through any environmental review. Riverkeeper and their allies developed an unprecedented bipartisan coalition to win more time for public input and demand a full environmental impact statement.

Stopping pipeline expansion. Pushing back against pipeline expansion is paying off. Thanks to their advocacy, two fracked gas pipelines, the Northeast Energy Direct and the Constitution, planned for the Hudson River watershed were stopped dead in their tracks. In partnership with dozens of municipalities, they’ve forced a comprehensive environmental review of the proposed Pilgrim Pipelines—designated for crude oil and refined petroleum—running the length of the Hudson Valley.

New hope for flooded homeowners. Five years after homes in the New York City Drinking Watershed area of the Catskills were flooded by tropical storms Irene and Lee, Riverkeeper joined with Watershed stakeholders to sign a “Flood Buyout Agreement.” Now, for the first time, NYC may purchase and conserve land within hamlets that is prone to inundation and presents a hazard to human life and water quality. With this funding, the homeowners can move upland and out of harm’s way.

Gowanus cleanup underway. The long-awaited cleanup of the Gowanus Canal by the EPA began this fall. Riverkeeper fought to get the Gowanus designated as a Superfund site and continues to work with communities around the Gowanus to push government agencies toward the quickest, most thorough cleanup possible. The first parts of the canal should be dredged, capped, and cleaned up by summer, 2017, with the rest on deck for work over the next decade.

Expanding clean water enforcement. Riverkeeper has expanded its fight against illegal stormwater pollution in New York City. They systematically target industries operating without Clean Water Act permits or in violation of their permit terms with “notices of intent to sue.” Their goal is to require non-compliant businesses to obtain proper permits and adopt best management practices.

Biggest shoreline cleanup ever. Riverkeeper is stepping up to rid our waterways and shorelines of debris. During their annual Sweep in May, more than 2,200 volunteers netted 48 tons of trash, and planted hundreds of trees. They piloted a new data collection method to categorize marine debris, with the aim of preventing waste from even entering the waterways, and organized a coalition to remove derelict barges that were contaminating Flushing Bay with Styrofoam and other pollutants.

Bottom line: our shorelines are cleaner, fish are coming back to spawning grounds blocked to them for nearly a century, hundreds of millions of dollars are being spent on clean water infrastructure, Indian Point is closer than ever to closure — and that’s just for starters. Louis Bacon and The Moore Charitable Foundation are extremely proud partners. Thank you, Riverkeeper. To all – please give generously.