Council: Adirondacks are ‘stressed and challenged’
The Adirondack Council’s 40th annual State of the Park report, released today, underscores what the Elizabethtown-based environmental advocacy organization describes as a period of stress in the wake of climate change and political challenges in the Adirondack Park.
The report is titled “Stressed and Challenged,” a reference to what the report’s principal author, Adirondack Council Director of Communications John Sheehan sees as a period of “great change and emotion strain for the Adirondack park” exacerbated by a divisive political atmosphere that has stalled progress on environmental legislation. In the report, the council calls for a return to democracy, highlighting its State of the Park report as one that doesn’t shy away from calling out government officials who have deepened political divides with fear and hampered environmental progress as a result.
“Reliable environmental standards and sustainable communities don’t exist in autocratic societies,” the report reads. “There is no Clean Air Act, no Adirondack Park Agency, no ‘Forever Wild’ Forest Preserve without the rule of law and an informed electorate.”
The introduction to the council’s State of the Park reports — which evaluate local, state and federal governments and agencies’ environmental actions in relation to the Adirondacks — are traditionally written by the Adirondack Council’s executive director. This year, the introduction was written by Sheehan, who has been the principal author of “State of the Park” for the last 30 years.
The Adirondack Council gave local governments in the Adirondacks mostly positive marks for their environmental actions in the 2022-23 report.
The council recognized the town of North Elba and the village of Lake Placid for helping to create more affordable housing with the nearly-completed MacKenzie Overlook development on Wesvalley Road and for developing short-term vacation rental regulations.
Franklin County got a thumbs-up for moving forward with a foreclosure proceeding on the Big Tupper Ski Center and Tupper Lake Marina properties due to unpaid property taxes. The report also gives credit to Essex County for showing financial competency while dealing with additional expenses incurred by the ongoing coronavirus pandemic, and for operating two hiker shuttles in the High Peaks in an effort to promote safety and sustainable recreation in the Adirondacks.
Gov. Kathy Hochul was well-reviewed by the council, which highlighted her “calm” approach throughout political turmoil. The report credits Hochul for speaking out about the need for environmental protection in her first State of the State message and for the state funding allocated to environmental protections in the state’s 2022-23 fiscal budget.
Hochul got a thumbs up for nominating Benita Law-Diao to the Adirondack Park Agency board — the first Black woman to hold that position — and for nominating Barbara Rice as the APA’s executive director, but Hochul was given a thumbs down for nominating Art Lussi to the APA board “yet again” rather than considering “young, enthusiastic candidates” for the job. Lussi was appointed to the APA in 2006 by then-Gov. George Pataki. While the report gives Hochul a thumbs-up for supporting funding for a new APA building for staff, Hochul got a thumbs-down for leaving the APA “understaffed.”
The council recognized Hochul for appointing members to the state’s road salt task force, for supporting a budget increase for the Adirondack Diversity Initiative, for supporting the broadening of broadband access and for state funding to increase air and water quality monitoring. Hochul got a thumbs-down for vetoing a bill that would have granted DEC forest rangers full pension vestment after 20 years of service — like most other police officers in the state — rather than 25 years of service.
The council recognized Assemblyman Billy Jones (D-Chateaugay) and Sen. Dan Stec (R-Queensbury) for their bipartisan cooperation in their agreement to preserve the former Debar Lodge, and the council gave Stec a thumbs-up for sponsoring a bill that would have given local governments the authority to create special tax districts to pay for the management and reduction of aquatic invasive species. Neither of those efforts were ultimately successful, according to the council.
The council gave Assemblyman Matt Simpson, R-Horicon, a thumbs-down for sending out postcards to his constituents claiming that a transition away from fossil fuels to green energy — a transition currently under consideration by the state’s Climate Action Council, according to the report — would come at a high cost to homeowners.
The Adirondack Council gave the state Department of Environmental Conservation mostly thumbs up, namely for kickstarting programs to discourage the spread of aquatic invasive species and for addressing recommendations made by the High Peaks Advisory Group. The DEC was also recognized for green energy efforts like switching to zero-emission trucks and installing EV charging stations at two Adirondack campgrounds, including the Meadowbrook Campground in Ray Brook and the Frontier Town Campground in North Hudson.
The DEC got thumbs down for its move to delist the gray wolf as an endangered species, for what the council sees as its lack of regulations for septic systems in the park and its lack of action after the Environmental Protection Agency shut down air quality monitoring stations in and around the Adirondack Park, and its issuance of ATV permits for a road on Bald Mountain in Oswegatchie.
The APA got a thumbs-up for refusing an incomplete application for a sprawling subdivision in Jay — which has yet to be resubmitted — and for what the council sees as an improvement to transparency at the agency through news releases for project applications and pre-applications. The agency was also applauded for considering limitations on the total mileage of roads on the “Forever Wild” Forest Preserve and discussing its methods for reviewing solar power plant installation projects. However, the APA was given a thumbs-down for neglecting to improve review policies for large-lot subdivisions in remote locations and — for the second year in a row — for failing to measure and enforce compliance with recreational carrying capacities for public lakes and forests.
The council’s review of President Joe Biden’s administration was mostly positive, spotlighting Biden’s proposed Federal Implementation Plan for Regional Ozone Transport bill — which would reduce smog and acid rain-causing emissions from 12 midwest states — and the administration’s moves to reinstate environmental regulations repealed by former President Donald Trump’s administration.
U.S. Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-NY) was also praised for his role in advancing the Inflation Reduction Act through the Senate and leading efforts to restore air quality monitoring systems after the EPA shut them down. However, the council gave a thumbs-down to concessions in the IRA Schumer made during negotiations with holdout Sen. Joe Manchin (D-WV) that require the federal government to auction off lands and waters for oil drilling and increase tax credits for carbon capture technology.
Rep. Elise Stefanik (R-Schuylerville) got a thumbs-down for voting against the Biden administration’s bipartisan infrastructure bill that was ultimately signed into law last November, which includes funding for local road, bridge and broadband projects. The council also gave a thumbs-down to “the words and actions of some who represent upstate New York in Congress (who) took a sharply authoritarian and anti-environmental turn recently,” alluding to leaders who support Trump’s unsubstantiated claims that the 2020 election was stolen from him.
The report also criticized the federal Supreme Court for curbing the EPA’s ability to regulate coal.
This year’s State of the Park sets a few key “priorities” for the next year, which include supporting the state’s $4.2 billion Clean Water, Clean Air and Green Jobs Bond Act — set to go before voters this November — and securing more federal funding for environmental protections. The council also wants to prioritize combating climate change through investments in science-backed research and air and water quality monitoring, preservation of wildlife and wetlands, and advancements in water protection.
The council has set a couple of equity-related goals, too, which include supporting the expanse of the ADI along with efforts that promote justice, equity, diversity and inclusion. The council also wants to focus on fostering sustainable farms, forests and communities.