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Cobb, Stefanik’s similarities, differences on environment

Mother Nature is on display at her finest as autumn colors mix with a watery reflection of clouds in front of Whiteface, Moose and McKenzie mountains Sept. 25 along state Route 3, near the Saranac Lake Fish and Game Club. (Enterprise photo — Lou Reuter)

Both candidates for New York’s 21st Congressional District believe climate change is caused by humans, renewable energy will be more common in the future and that the Green New Deal is not their preferred plan for addressing the environmental threat to life on the planet.

They also both say Lake Ontario and St. Lawrence River flooding should be addressed by tweaking rather than overhauling Plan 2014.

Though they agree on some big issues, incumbent Republican Rep. Elise Stefanik and Democratic challenger Tedra Cobb differ on why they agree, and they are taking different sides on the problems and solutions.

Climate history

Elise Stefanik and Tedra Cobb speak at a congressional candidate debate Oct. 19 at the WWNY television studio in Watertown. (Provided photos — Sydney Schaefer, Watertown Daily Times)

Cobb has spent most of her adult life taking steps to reduce her carbon footprint. Her home in Canton has collected solar power since 1993, and she drives a Chevrolet Volt electric car. While she was a student at SUNY Potsdam, she joined in successfully fighting a proposed garbage incinerator.

She believes Congress should pass the Scientific Integrity Act because she said Trump’s administration has been trying to influence scientists with a political agenda.

She also said the federal government should strongly fund home weatherization programs, consider purchasing electric vehicles for its departments and run federal buildings on green energy.

Cobb said she cares about environmental justice, pointing out that children in minority communities are multiple times more likely to develop asthma or experience lead poisoning.

Stefanik is one of the more environmentally minded Republican members of Congress and has tried to sway fellow Republicans toward addressing climate change.

“I think getting members of Congress on record that climate change is an issue is (important) — and there are more Republicans than ever putting forth innovative solutions on climate change,” Stefanik said.

She was the lead sponsor of the Republican Climate Change Resolution in March 2017. This resolution, which was never brought to a vote, included language acknowledging the most severe results of climate change but also included caveats that actions to combat climate change “should not constrain the United States economy.”

She has opposed President Donald Trump’s claims that climate change is a “hoax” and his 2018 decision to pull out of the Paris climate agreement. She has not been as critical of him as Cobb, as she is still loyal to the president and is the co-chair of his New York reelection campaign.

Fuels of the future

Both candidates support subsidizing green energy such as wind, solar and hydro power, but differ on what the future holds for fossil fuels.

“We need to end subsidies for fossil fuels,” Cobb said. “The future is not in fossil fuels. The future is in clean energy.”

Cobb said the country needs to invest in green energy and cleaning up environmental disasters, saying these efforts would provide the “jobs of the future.”

Stefanik said she wants to “level the playing field” for renewable energy but is not ready to move away from fossil fuels.

She said fossil fuel subsidies are part of an “all-of-the-above energy approach” she supports, which includes subsidies for renewable energy as well. She wants the U.S. to be “energy independent.”

Stefanik has supported solar and wind tax credits and said she would like to see more hydro and nuclear power opportunities created in the future.

She also supports biomass fuel, adding that she is proud that Fort Drum in Watertown is the only 100%-renewable-energy military facility in the country.

Green New Deal

The two have different reasons for opposing the Green New Deal — a bill proposed by New York City Democrat Rep. Alexandra Ocasio-Cortez. As written it would not change any laws but would set a list of climate change goals for the country.

Stefanik opposes it because it would include tax increases — mostly on the wealthiest Americans — and impact the economy too much. She claimed the bill would “outlaw air travel essentially” and criticized it for recommending reductions to beef and dairy consumption.

Cobb opposes it because she believes the plan is too broad and too vague.

Stefanik said Cobb has “failed to take a position” on the Green New Deal, but this is not true. North Country newspapers have quoted Cobb several times this campaign cycle saying she does not support the bill.

“I don’t support the Green New Deal,” Cobb told the Enterprise Oct. 15. “The Green New Deal is a white paper. … I think it is a good conversation-starter.”

Cobb said she prefers Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden’s climate change plan, calling it “excellent.”

Upon hearing this, Stefanik said the Green New Deal is on Biden’s website and that Ocasio-Cortez is the co-chair of his environmental group. This is partially true.

While Biden’s website does reference the Green New Deal positively, it only describes the bill as “a crucial framework” for his bill.

The difference in the two plans amends the issues Cobb said she has with the Green New Deal.

“I think the thing about the Green New Deal is that it goes beyond just the environment,” Cobb said. “There are other things in the Green New Deal. The Green New Deal isn’t a specific plan. It has health care in it. It has other things in it.”

The Biden plan is more narrowly focused on the environment.

Stefanik’s air pollution change

Stefanik’s approach to environmental issues has evolved since her first term began in 2015.

Stefanik opposed the Clean Power Plan when it was first enacted in 2015 by then-President Barack Obama’s executive order. The CPP has reduced carbon dioxide emissions from coal-fired power plants.

Stefanik said she opposed the CPP then because she believed it was an issue that should be governed by Congress.

Stefanik voted later that year to repeal the Clean Power Plan, an effort that was eventually vetoed by Obama. She also voted that year for the Ratepayer Protection Act, which, if passed, would have let states sidestep the CPP. She said she later changed her mind after speaking with voters and now supports the CPP.

When Trump’s EPA Administrator Andrew Wheeler repealed and replaced the CPP in 2018, Stefanik spoke out against that decision, citing her reason of wanting Congress to legislate.

Wheeler’s Affordable Clean Energy rule changed how the EPA calculates the health risks of air pollution. Not much has been done in Congress to stop this, although lawsuits by states such as New York have stalled some EPA regulation rollbacks.

Acid rain and EPA

Cobb said Stefanik’s earlier decisions on the CPP may result in acid rain potentially returning to Adirondacks.

“I think the federal government needs to fully fund the EPA,” Cobb said. “We have seen this administration gutting environmental protections.”

Stefanik says she’s worked in recent years to protect the Adirondacks from acid rain.

In 2017 she co-sponsored the Carbon Capture Act, which gives power plants financial incentive to responsibly dispose of carbon dioxide emissions deep underground, where they can’t enter the atmosphere and add to climate change.

She said when funding for the Ray Brook acid rain monitoring site was cut from the state budget, she secured federal funding for it.

She also spoke out against proposed cuts to the EPA by the Trump administration.

She said she believes the EPA should “implement the (1990 amendment to the) Clean Air Act as written” and stop letting power plants get away with breaking EPA rules or not turning on their clean air “scrubbers.”

Lake Ontario

An agreement between the U.S. and Canada’s International Joint Commission regulation of annual water level fluctuation along the St. Lawrence River and Lake Ontario shoreline — based on the Plan 2014 — has been under public scrutiny since 2017, as that year and 2019 saw record flooding.

The agreement, based on Plan 2014, lets waters fluctuate more naturally, but has also led to shoreline homes and businesses flooding.

Stefanik said she has done a lot of work with Plan 2014 over the years and still supports it. She said tweaking the plan has improved its impact, pointing to lower levels of flooding this year than in recent years.

She said some Congress members from Western New York wanted to throw the whole plan out, but she advocated for them to amend it instead. She said allowing the IJC to modify the plan was a good compromise.

Cobb also said improvements need to be made to mitigate damage.

She believes the area will continue to see flooding because of climate change and said the federal government should invest in the Federal Emergency Management Agency and infrastructure to keep people and their property safe by tempering flooding before it happens.

A native of Western New York, Cobb also said she believes there are competing interests on different areas of the lake and that she will be a “fierce advocate” for people here on the east side.

“Quite frankly, the folks on the southern end of Lake Ontario sometimes have outsized voices because of income and because of numbers of people,” Cobb said.

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