Congress candidates jostle over environment
SARANAC LAKE — Any of the three candidates in New York’s 21st Congressional District race will tell you the environment plays an important role in the health, economy and safety of the North Country — especially the Adirondack Park — and each says she is the one to protect it.
Incumbent Rep. Elise Stefanik has led the Republican Party in environmental matters, Democratic challenger Tedra Cobb has lived environmentally friendly for years, and Green Party contender Lynn Kahn, as usual, is proposing a solution no other candidate is talking about.
The environment is often a key topic for politicians in NY-21, but the topic is hotter than ever in this midterm election, just weeks after a report by the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change painted a bleak picture of the future of climate change and put a 12-year deadline on changes needed to combat it.
Kahn believes it is long past due for Congress to act on climate change.
“We’re at zero hour,” Kahn said in an Oct. 15 interview with the Enterprise editorial board. “There are old diseases that are resurfacing because the tundra is thawing, so we’re dealing with anthrax already, and who knows what else is there?” She said a polio-like virus has had several cases in Minnesota, Colorado and Illinois. Scientists have connected anthrax cases in northern Russia with melting permafrost, but the jury is still out on the cause of the polio-like virus.
Cobb said she has been fighting for the environment for decades, even altering her daily life for 11 years by living off solar power off the grid. Running solar before grid tie-ins meant constantly monitoring battery levels and conserving energy consumption.
Cobb said her family was early adopters of solar and other green energy. She drives a Chevy Volt hybrid car and said she would like to fund the infrastructure buildout of electric car charging stations in the North Country.
Stefanik broke with Republican leadership on several environmental issues during an Oct. 5 editorial board interview. She said she disagreed with President Donald Trump’s decision to pull out of the Paris climate agreement, that she was one of the first people to call for the resignation of former Environmental Protection Agency administrator Scott Pruitt and that she has disagreed with Trump’s claims that climate change is a “hoax” or not man-made.
She said supporting alternative energy sources like solar, wind and biomass means taking flack from members of her own party.
“I’m focused on trying to get Republicans up to speed on this issue,” Stefanik said. “I am the lead sponsor of Republican Climate Change Resolution, which forces Republicans on the record to acknowledge climate change is happening, is a problem, is science-based.”
She said she wants to end the “war on science” and said she fought amendments trying to take science-based research from the EPA.
Stefanik has evolved on environmental issues. In 2015, her first year in Congress, she voted for the Ratepayer Protection Act, which would have let states sidestep the Clean Power Plan that limited pollution by coal-fired power plants. When asked to name any issue on which she had changed her mind, she picked that.
“I think we need more elected officials who say, ‘Look, I have listened to my constituents and here’s how I’m voting to reflect it,'” Stefanik said.
Stefanik’s League of Conservation Voters scorecard started with a 9 percent rating her first year for three votes the league agreed with and 32 is opposed, including a vote against the Clean Power Plan. Stefanik said she made that vote because the president had enacted the plan without Congress. In 2017, that score had risen to 43 percent (15-20), giving Stefanik a lifetime score of 27 percent.
“You cannot be a ‘sometimes environmentalist,'” Cobb said in a phone interview. “I think that given the most recent report on climate change, we don’t have time to educate Elise Stefanik on the environment.”
Stefanik has introduced six pieces of environmental legislation into the House, addressing invasive species, tax credits for renewable electricity, including biomass, and a resolution expressing that environmental stewardship is a conservative value.
This March 2017 resolution included language detailing the most severe results of climate change, but included caveats that actions to combat climate change “should not constrain the United States economy, especially in regards to global competitiveness.”
“In the district that I represent, I have many hard-working families that are struggling to make ends meet, and energy bills are a part of that,” Stefanik said in a follow-up phone interview. “So I want to make sure that the increase in energy costs, that we watch that closely. Because that is something that could make or break my constituents’ weekly or monthly budgets.”
“This is Elise Stefanik talking out of both sides of her mouth,” Cobb said.
Cobb said she knows NY-21 has a lot of poverty and elderly people trying to pay monthly bills. She said that with an abundance of hydro, solar and wind energy in the district, renewable energy sourcing could lower monthly bills. She added that in 2018, 94 percent of new electrical power in U.S. was clean energy, according to a SUN DAY Campaign analysis of data released by the U.S. Federal Energy Regulatory Commissions.
Stefanik has also co-sponsored 13 pieces of legislation. One of these is the Carbon Capture Act, which incentivizes the act of capturing carbon dioxide emissions at their source and storing the waste deep underground, where it can’t enter the atmosphere. Stefanik said this could capture up to 90 percent of CO2 emissions.
Globally, Stefanik said Congress can vote on trade agreements based on environmental impact but that it is really up the president’s administration to hold the rest of the world accountable.
“I think on the global scale the U.S. needs to lead on this instead of being at the bottom, being behind,” Stefanik said. “I think that we should use our leadership to pressure countries like India and China to really step up and take this on.”
She said this could be done through Trump’s “tough on trade” rhetoric.
Hydrogen on the rise
Kahn said much of the rest of the world is heavily investing in hydrogen fuel, and she does not want the U.S. to lag behind. She is proposing a “green energy corridor” on the St. Lawrence River that would use the water resource to manufacture hydrogen fuel,
“Hydrogen, the most abundant element in the universe, is consumed clean, no emissions; byproduct is water or water vapor; everyone else is going in that direction,” Kahn said.
She cited Switzerland manufacturing hydrogen fuel along Swiss rivers and building out a network of hydrogen fueling stations, Canada and Australia inking a new partnership for hydrogen production using on-site solar energy, South Korea about to invest nearly $80 million in hydrogen production, Germany rolling out the world’s first hydrogen fueled commuter train, China manufacturing hydrogen fuel in a corridor along the Yangtze River and building the infrastructure for 30,000 hydrogen-fueled vehicles and 25 European nations pledging last month to increase the use of hydrogen fuel to power industry, drive cars and heat homes.
Unlike the other candidates, Stefanik receives campaign donations from fossil fuel companies such as Exxon-Mobil and Koch Industries. When asked if these ever influence the way she votes or writes legislation, Stefanik said, “No, contributions do not impact how I represent and how I vote in Congress.”
Cobb said her campaign has calculated that Stefanik received $137,000 from oil and gas companies.
“Who does she serve?” Cobb asked.
Taking issue with the proposed 2018 Farm Bill that passed the House with Stefanik’s vote but is still in the Senate, Cobb said the reset of the nation’s agricultural and food policy includes several serious rollbacks for the environment. She said the budget slashes the Conservation Stewardship Program budget and eliminates the Clean Water Rule, which took 10 years of negotiation to pass.