York State of Green
widespread criticism of the state budget, it may be one of
the most environmentally friendly ever By Cecelia Martinez
everybody else in New York state is busy blasting the recently
passed budget, some environmental groups are quietly celebrating
the number of measures included in the budget agreement that
will increase the sustainability of the state as well as protect
eco- friendly programs already in place.
“We were really hopeful,” says Jessica Ottney of the Nature
Conservancy, a global organization whose Eastern New York
chapter is located in Albany on New Karner Road.
The 2009-2010 enacted budget allocates $222 million to the
Environmental Protection Fund (EPF) of the Department of Environmental
Conservation, which enables the purchase of land for conservation,
as well as funding for chemical and pollution control, and
the protection of wildlife.
The $222 million is $17 million more than Gov. David Paterson
had originally proposed, and environmental groups are thankful
for the victory.
Nature Conservancy is thankful that in these difficult economic
times, environmental funding was not disproportionately reduced,”
says Kathy Moser, deputy state director for the Nature Conservancy
in New York.
The Nature Conservancy works together with about 150 other
conservation groups as part of an organization called Friends
of New York, which strives for increases or restorations in
the budget each year.
talked to many many lawmakers, almost all of them, and really
made the case that the cuts that were proposed would be very
detrimental to these programs,” Ottney says. “Although it
is less than it has been in past years, it was really fantastic
that we got a $17 million restoration. This money supports
things from parks to water conservation—it runs the gamut.
The budget secured funding for the EPF through a real-estate
transfer tax, a fee paid for real-estate transactions. “This
is not a new fee, that is the traditional source of income
for environmental programs in New York state,” Ottney says.
Albert E. Caccese, executive director of Audubon New York,
agrees: “In both good and bad economic times, the real-estate
transfer tax has provided a strong and sustainable source
of funding for the EPF to support critically important projects
for restoring our water, land and air resources and keeping
New Yorkers working.”
Wildlife-protection initiatives were particularly vulnerable
to the proposed budget cuts this year.
zoos, botanical gardens and aquaria, they were slashed to
zeroed out,” Ottney says. “That would have been a very significant
loss. Those funds not only go to zoos but actually support
programs that care for living animals and plants. The funds
will make sure that those institutions are available.”
The EPF, which has been providing funds for environmental
conservation for more than 15 years, also funds environmental
education programs and outdoor recreation.
vital support that EPF funds provide for living museums in
every corner of New York state will allow us to continue educating
millions of New Yorkers through innovative ecological literacy
programs,” says Lois Carswell, chairman of the Coalition of
Living Museums, “and provide economic stability to local communities.”
Another aspect of the budget that has conservation groups
excited is the expansion of the New York bottle bill. Dubbed
the “Bigger Better Bottle Bill” by its advocates, the bill
marks the first major overhaul of the bill since its creation
in 1982. Under the new law, bottled watter—which makes up
nearly a quarter of the bottled beverages sold in the state—will
be included in the state’s nickel deposit program, and beverage
companies will be required to return 80 percent of the unclaimed
bottle and can deposits to the state.
According to conservationists, not only will this program
increase recycling and reduce litter, but it will also bring
in more than $100 million in revenue to close the gap in the
was really the year to do it,” Ottney says. “With the revenue
needs of New York and recycling being in the forefront, those
issues really lined up this year to make it happen.”
Organizations also point out the other revenue benefits of
investing in environmental conservation. Solid-waste programs
help support an industry with $1.3 billion in revenue and
30,000 jobs, while wildlife watchers in the state contributed
an estimated $1.6 billion plus an additional $250 million
in sales tax revenue to the state economy in 2006.
Ottney also points out specific lawmakers that were instrumental
in the formation of this “green” budget.
Antoine Thompson from Buffalo and Assemblyman Robert Sweeney
from Long Island were amazing champions for the environment
this year,” Ottney says. “They should really be commended
for this achievement.”
best hope for curbing carbon emissions (and slowing global
warming) faces rough seas in Congress By Shawn Stone
President Barack Obama has been pretty consistent about keeping
his campaign promises. Lower taxes on the “middle class,”
aka people making $250,000 or less per year? Check. Loosen
restrictions on Cuban-Americans traveling to Cuba? Repeal
the worldwide family planning gag order? Check and check.
He also promised to do something about “climate change,” aka
global warming—and that battle is just beginning.
Obama favors a “cap and trade” system to reduce carbon emissions.
There is no better explanation of how cap and trade is supposed
to work than the “Cap and Trade 101” position paper from John
Podesta’s liberal think tank, Center for American Progress:
“Each large-scale emitter, or company, will have a limit on
the amount of greenhouse gas that it can emit. The firm must
have an “emissions permit” for every ton of carbon dioxide
it releases into the atmosphere. These permits set an enforceable
limit, or cap, on the amount of greenhouse gas pollution that
the company is allowed to emit. Over time, the limits become
stricter, allowing less and less pollution, until the ultimate
reduction goal is met.”
That’s the “cap” part. The trade part involves companies who
produce less carbon emissions selling their permits to super-polluters.
Overall emissions are supposed to decline; more efficient
companies are economically rewarded. Oh, and the U.S. government,
which will auction off these permits, is supposed to make
a bundle of money doing so (at least $50 billion per year,
according to the Congressional Budget Office). The idea is
to use that money to help offset any resulting rise in energy
Congressmen Henry Waxman (D-Calif.) and Edward Markey (D-Mass.)
have just introduced such a bill. Most Republicans and many
Blue Dog Democrats (especially those from coal-producing or
coal-burning states) are gearing up for a fight.
No one brings the crazy quite like Congresswoman Michele Bachmann
(R-Minn.). She recently introduced a constitutional amendment
“to prohibit the President from entering into a treaty or
other international agreement that would provide for the United
States to adopt as legal tender in the United States a currency
issued by an entity other than the United States.” As the
blog Wonkette kindly pointed out, no one in the Obama administration
has advocated, hinted at or even murmured in their sleep any
Now, Bachmann’s taken an interest in cap and trade, applying
her usual scholarship by misquoting a Massachusetts Institute
of Technology study at public forums in her home district.
Minnesota Public Radio reported that Bachmann told a St. Cloud
audience that the average American household would see a $3,000
per year increase in heating bills, while the actual MIT estimate
was $340 per year. She has also been bringing along Chris
Horner of the right-wing Competitive Enterprise Institute,
and author of Red Hot Lies: How Global Warming Alarmists
Use Threats, Fraud and Deception to Keep You Misinformed.
Like many people who don’t go along with the overwhelming
scientific consensus on global warming, Horner takes a shotgun
approach to his argument: load up and let fly. As he wrote
on Human Events online in 2007, even if global warming is
real, nothing we can do can change it: “No one dares say that
the expensive Kyoto Protocol would detectably affect climate.”
And the polar bears? Don’t worry; they can swim. Most relevant
to today’s right-wing discourse, he sees socialist engineering
and a desire “to control others’ lifestyles.”
The more even-tempered American Enterprise Institute dresses
the same arguments in more reasonable-sounding language: Cap
and trade is too expensive; it won’t work; and, as Ben Lieberman
wrote in a HF position paper in 2007, “cap and trade bills
are nothing short of a government re-engineering of the American
That’s the underlying political fear that has burgeoned with
Obama’s election—fear that cap and trade, like health-care
reform and a renewable energy policy will change the game
as profoundly as the economic and social policies of Franklin
Delano Roosevelt and Ronald Reagan.
The Waxman-Markey bill is the opening salvo in this year’s
fight. There has already been one setback to anything happening
soon; the U.S. Senate rejected the Obama administration’s
attempt to include any climate change bill in the budget reconciliation
process. (Translation: Only 51 votes are needed to pass a
bill in this process; now a cap and trade bill will need 60
votes and thus is not immune from a filibuster.)
Is the bill any good? The general consensus is “yes,” but
that’s if the emission permits are issued only
through an auction and the number of carbon “offsets”—which
allow companies to pollute if they “offset” their emissions
somewhere else—are severely limited.
As The American Prospect’s Ezra Klein wrote April 1
on his blog about Waxman and Markey, “They’re aggressively
liberal, terrifically informed legislators who get the moral
urgency of climate change and possess the intellectual firepower
to grasp the necessary scale of the response. If this is as
far as they felt able to go on an opening bid, it’s hard to
see the legislative pathway that strengthens, rather than
weakens, the legislation.”
Maybe any bill is better than nothing. Or not.
is the New Black
more and more eco-chic goods hitting the market, a few products
can help change how we think about conservation By Kathryn
There is no doubt that we are a culture of consumption, or
that consumer choices are driven by the trendy image of the
moment. While the conservation movement gains much-needed
steam, and the eco-minded plead for society to fight the consumer
addiction, a curious thing has happened. Being “green” has
become the new hip thing. The fashion runways are swirling
with designer eco-duds, you can buy a laptop with a bamboo
casing, contemporary art-furniture crafted from recycled plastic
yard toys, or your very own solar-cell backpack.
Critics are quick to decry these eco-trends as deceiving anti-solutions.
After all, the energy and materials it takes to produce a
new photovoltaic backpack far outweigh the energy saved
by no longer having to plug in your iPod. And for the $700
it costs for a solar-cell bag powerful enough to juice your
laptop, you could buy a hefty share of carbon offsets or adopt
14 acres of rainforest.
But our culture is in the formative stages of collective eco-consciousness.
We have unwittingly trained ourselves to be reckless consumers,
and we need to retrain ourselves to make conscientious, sustainable
choices. Of course, thrifting a vintage top from the Goodwill
rack is really much greener than popping into the mall for
the hot new eco-chic baby-T-shirt. But perhaps brandishing
the message of sustainability will shape our actions and our
thinking. After all, who wants to be caught trashing their
vitaminwater bottle while wearing a new “I Recycle” T-shirt?
So, for those jumping on the eco-trend train, here are a few
great gadgets and gifts that will help us rethink old habits.
Cold water to the face the only thing that will wake you up?
The H20 multi-function alarm clock from Stuff Junction runs
on a replaceable water battery. A quick top-off at the tap
will keep the clock powered for two to three months, and switching
modes—between time, alarm, countdown timer and temperature—is
as easy as rotating the round clock. The display senses gravity
and changes orientation automatically. The tiny bundle of
innovation will only run you $20. Of course, don’t just ditch
your current alarm clock, but when it bites the dust, consider
this water-powered replacement.
Want a personal-sized source of alternative energy? Skip the
solar-powered backpack, and opt for the HYmini from Miniwiz.
This palm-sized wind turbine harnesses wind power to charge
all your 5V gadgets: cell phones, ipods, PDAs, digital cameras,
the HYmini includes a universal adapter to charge just about
anything. The basic HYmini will run you $49.95. You can add
a string of up to four solar cells to achieve peak performance.
But we’d recommend getting the handlebar attachment; the HYmini
powers up on the breeze as you ride. Not only do you free
yourself from the need to recharge at an outlet, it’s a great
reminder that alternative power works—and it might give you
the kick you need to leave the car in the driveway and hop
on your bike.
Looking for tools to help you teach the tykes about energy
costs and conservation? Keep an eye out for the Power Hog.
It hasn’t hit the shelves yet, but the prototype took second
place in this year’s Greener Gadgets Design Competition. Imagine
your typical plump piggy bank, only with an outlet in the
snout and a curly power cord for a tail. You pick an oft-used
electrical family luxury (think TV here). Plug that into the
Power Hog’s snout, and plug the pig into the wall. Drop a
quarter in the bank, and the Power Hog will meter out 30 minutes
of electricity. More power requires more money. It’s a simple
way to enforce the idea that energy comes at a cost. Playing
outside, is, as always, toll-free.
Wondering what they do with all that colorful vinyl from billboards
after their lease is up? All that sturdy PVC is usually dumped
in landfills, where it does not decompose. Enter Vy &
Elle (get it, vin-yl, yeah), a company devoted to creating
one-of-a-kind bags from the discarded advertising. Vy &
Elle have already repurposed more than 100 tons of billboards
for this project, and the supplemental materials are created
from recycled plastic bottles; the final bags are 95 percent
recycled waste materials. Ranging from the utilitarian to
the designer, the bags make a colorful statement against corporate
wastefulness, and they’re sturdy and stylish to boot. A basic
shopping tote will set you back $29. Buying the tote is a
start. Filling it up at your local farmers’ market will really
make a difference.
Reusing what we can will always be more sustainable than building
and buying new. In the case of Dyscern, that concept can not
only help conserve resources, it can help conserve your hard-earned
dollars. As small as they are, our digital gadgets leave one
of the largest carbon footprints. Dyscern specializes in the
recovery, rebuilding and resale of returned and salvaged PDAs,
cell phones, mp3 players and Apple products. Dyscern’s re-products
are graded by condition, thoroughly tested, and even guaranteed.
So you can have your new iPod, with a reduced carbon footprint
and at a reduced price. Maybe you’ll even power it up on your
ride to work.
We are driven by trends, so let’s hope the “green” trends
drive us toward a better awareness of how our actions impact