you up for the challenge? Anne Reynolds..
Photo by Joe Putrock.
the Feds Won’t Do It . . .
environmental protections are rolled back, state groups look
to take matters into their own hands
the Bush administration has continued to make corporate pollution
and resource depletion more business-friendly, a collection
of grassroots organizations statewide is asking New Yorkers
to take environmental protections into their own hands.
During last month’s Cool New York: A Global Warming Summit,
nearly 20 environmental and public-policy groups met in Albany
to decide how to positively affect climate change. But it
was an idea imported from Vermont called the 10 Percent Challenge
that captured the attention of many. The challenge sets out
to curb global warming by asking individuals and businesses
to reduce the amount of greenhouse gases produced through
everyday energy use.
of the ways to participate involve behavior changes, and others
are investments in more energy-efficient products,” said Anne
Reynolds, air and energy project director with Environmental
Advocates, which participated in the summit. “Driving less
and keeping your tires inflated are two big ones for the cars.
You can turn your thermostat down when you are not there.
Recycling is a big part of it, because a significant percentage
of the emissions from an individual’s activity is waste generation.”
The 10 Percent Challenge started in Vermont two years ago,
when the City Council of Burlington adopted a plan to reduce
its greenhouse-gas emissions by 2010. The resolution called
for the city’s municipal buildings to reduce the amount of
waste they produce and become more efficient with their energy
consumption. It also called for the community to implement
an energy plan relying on alternative fuel sources and to
develop a program to educate the public on the effects of
working, slowly but steadily, on inching toward realizing
those strategies,” said Deb Sachs, director for the Burlington-based
Alliance for Climate Action. “Albany should check its closet
and see who is going to help out in the transportation, energy-efficiency
and solid-waste departments. Anybody who has anything to do
with these has a vested interest in such a program.”
While summit participants have yet to formalize a New York
version of the 10 Percent Challenge, Reynolds hopes that upcoming
discussions regionally will give local groups the tools to
work toward enacting the program at their local levels.
hoping individuals and institutions, as they often have irrational
energy behaviors, across the state will do it,” said Reynolds.
“We’re looking for local groups to do the legwork, to take
the challenge to their school boards and legislators.”
Other summit attendees said localized efforts are needed to
combat attacks on environmental protections from the agency
charged to protect them: the Environmental Protection Agency.
federal government and the powers that be aren’t getting the
job done,” said Patrick Clear, executive director of the Environmental
Clearing House of Schenectady. “The whole hook of the event
is that there needs to be more small community action, and
that is just what 10 Percent Challenge is, a community-oriented
Clear and others pointed to the EPA’s recent decision to weaken
regulations of the 1970 Clean Air Act, essentially allowing
older power plants to continue operation without being required
to meet modern pollution standards, as examples of the current
administration’s disregard for the environment. But Clear
and the summit attendees are not alone in their disappointment
with the federal government’s lack of environmental initiative.
New York state Attorney General Eliot Spitzer is one of nine
attorneys general, mostly from the Northeast, set to file
a lawsuit against the EPA for what his spokesman characterized
as the Bush administration’s “gutting the Clean Air Act.”
The attorneys general are looking for a federal judge to decide
whether the administration’s recent decisions stand in opposition
to the initial intent of the 1970 Clean Air Act.
believe that what the Bush administration has announced is
illegal,” said Spitzer spokesman Marc Violette. “In short,
it allows plants to emit more pollution, not less, and that
is a violation of congressional intent. We believe the president
and his administration are missing the boat. You look to the
U.S. to be the leader, but we are the caboose on this train
with our brakes on.”
Violette said that local implementation of a program such
as the 10 Percent Challenge “works hand in glove” with the
efforts of the attorneys general. Reynolds said the global-warming
summit rejuvenated the efforts of her group and others to
make a difference on the issue locally.
have a ways to go,” said Reynolds. “But we were very much
encouraged by the enthusiasm at the summit. [The 10 Percent
Challenge] is such a great idea.”
Cranberry Sauce With Your Cement Plant?
charge that St. Lawrence Cement offered Hudson a deal on Thanksgiving
Eve to avoid public scrutiny—and that the proposal is a real
night before Thanksgiving, St. Lawrence Cement offered the
city of Hudson a $4 million deal if the city government agreed
to give up its standing in an upcoming state review of the
company’s proposed coal-fired plant and its potential impact
on the local environment. While Mayor Richard Scalera touted
the proposal as a windfall for the city, some residents accused
St. Lawrence and Hudson officials of collaborating to hide
a bad deal behind the upcoming holiday.
was really no notice on this, and they tried to sneak it on
us,” said Sam Pratt, executive director of the local activist
group Friends of Hudson. “Normally, companies coming to town
don’t have to bribe the town to let them in.”
For the last three years, St. Lawrence Cement has been negotiating
to build a new and expanded factory in the town of Greenport,
with conveyor belts and a barge that will operate in neighboring
Hudson. The new plant would replace the company’s existing
facility in Catskill. Its proposal faces fierce opposition
from many residents and local activists who are concerned
about air pollution from the plant’s stacks and question the
company’s environmental record.
In the proposed “host agreement” with Hudson, St. Lawrence
offered $200,000 a year for the duration of its 20-year contract
to operate within the city. In exchange, the city would not
be a party to state hearings on the plant. Mayor Scalera said
the deal would not totally separate Hudson from the review
process because the city’s Planning Commission would still
be present to give its input and to keep tabs on what environmental
impact the city can expect.
The deal was first proposed at the city’s legal committee
meeting the evening before Thanksgiving. Pratt and other activists
saw the timing of the meeting as strategic, because many people
would be busy preparing for the holiday rather than paying
attention to city politics.
putting it on the table in a way that there’s really very
little time for the public to figure it out or be a part of
the process,” said Linda Mussman, a member of Friends of Hudson,
before the meeting. “Let’s have a real discussion instead
of a handful of people.”
However, more than a handful showed up for the meeting—the
proposal’s introduction drew an audience of roughly 100 people.
Mayor Scalera argued that the Friends of Hudson made a fuss
over a normally scheduled meeting.
of the so-called Friends of Hudson . . . they’re always looking
for some corruption,” Scalera said. “If they just take time
and read the host agreement I think . . . the majority of
people will be satisfied.”
Pratt claimed that St. Lawrence bused nearly 50 of its own
employees and supporters to the meeting to take up most of
the seats in the relatively small room, which left many critics
forced to watch the discussion from outside in the hall, too
far away to hear.
The deal outlined other details of operation between the city
and company, should St. Lawrence get a permit to build the
plant. Pratt also claimed that several of the agreement’s
clauses could erode the city’s power to oversee the plant’s
air emissions, and they could also create a loophole that
could sap money from Hudson’s annual compensation.
any city agency requires anything of St. Lawrence that [the
company] deems to be extra or beyond what the state would
require,” said Pratt, “the cost of those changes get deducted
from the annual payment made to the city for as many years
as it takes to pay for it.”
For example, if the city created an ordinance banning the
use of conveyor belts at night because they made too much
noise, Pratt argued that St. Lawrence could write off the
cost of not running the belts at the expense of the city’s
Scalera looked at the noise-ordinance analogy differently.
we’d do in that particular instance is to allow it to go through
a mediator, so to speak, a court of law . . . to see if it
is indeed a detriment to their business,” Scalera said. “Before,
they were grandfathered in. Now there’s a process.”
By giving up air monitoring, Scalera said the city is just
avoiding redundancy, because Hudson can look at all of Greenport’s
emissions reports. While St. Lawrence would have initially
paid the bill, the city later would have had to pay for expensive
air testing itself, Scalera said.
St. Lawrence did not return calls for comment on this story,
but Scalera confirmed that these provisions are part of the
proposal. Still, Scalera said the city is in a better position
than it would have been if it had agreed to a previous proposal
made by SLC last November. St. Lawrence offered the city roughly
$1.5 million less, and the deal would have shielded the company
from any laws the city passed after the contract was signed.
The host agreement was passed on for the consideration to
Hudson’s Common Council—without the legal committee having
actually read the agreement, according to Pratt. The council
will decide whether to have a formal vote on the agreement
on Dec. 17, according to Scalera.
writing and recruiting: John Amidon.Photo
by Teri Currie.
Child Left Unrecruited
parents and educators angered by a provision—buried within
the No Child Left Behind Act— requiring schools to assist
in military recruitment efforts
provision of the No Child Left Behind Act requiring schools
to provide military recruiters access to students’ names,
phone numbers and addresses has critics fuming.
When the new education laws took effect in September, school
districts nationwide were required to provide student contact
information to military recruiters upon request—or lose any
federal funding the school receives. Though the mandate has
raised concerns of military encroachment on the nation’s schools,
Douglas Smith, a spokesman for U.S. Army recruiting command,
said the requirement is well-intentioned.
intent is that military recruiters have access to high school
juniors and seniors,” said Smith, “so recruiters can contact
them to tell them what the military offers in terms of educational
benefits, learning a skill and the other things that military
enlistment offers a young person.”
Critics of the requirement, like Heidi Siegfried, interim
executive director of Capital Region Chapter of the New York
Civil Liberties Union, do not think a federal education law
should grant military recruiters access to the nation’s schoolchildren.
are there to educate our children,” said Siegfried. “Education
is one of the few social goods provided universally in our
country, and the idea that it should be somehow linked to
recruitment efforts is not right.”
Officials at the Albany City School District, which received
approximately $8.2 million in federal funding this year, much
of which was spent on programs for at-risk students, said
it wasn’t taking a chance.
following the law,” said Theresa Swidorski, member of the
Albany City School Board. “It was quietly placed in the bill
and most people didn’t know about it till later. A catch-22
can describe it.”
Parents can choose to opt their child out of the federally
mandated recruitment effort by notifying their child’s school
in writing. But John Amidon, with Veterans for Peace, said
that access to student information should be given with consent,
not entitlement. Amidon, who served in the United States Marine
Corps from 1964-1969 and has been a vocal opponent of the
new measure at Albany School Board meetings, said students
should notify their school if they want to be considered for
military recruitment efforts.
children are being taken advantage of,” Amidon said. “Kids
are more susceptible to the military mindset at the ages of
14 through 17 than they are once they go to college. Once
they grow up a little, they are harder to recruit because
they are not so susceptible to what is essentially military
is a matter of fairness,” said Smith. “If the schools assist
colleges and private employers with access to their students’
information, then it would be a matter of fairness to give
military recruiters that same access.”
But when asked how fair it was that a school’s willingness
to assist with military recruitment efforts hinge upon the
loss of federal funding, Smith ducked the question.
what the Congress passed,” Smith said.
Siegfried also has taken issue with the manner in which parents
received the letter to request that their child’s contact
information be kept from military recruiters. She said the
notification is sent home at the beginning of the school year
amid a pile of paperwork, and the form looks like “a standards
[Family Education Rights and Privacy Act] letter.”
think we could get the school board to state it in more bold
print,” Siegfried said.
Some parents have expressed concern as well. Mark Mishler,
an Albany civil-rights lawyer who has two children in the
city’s schools, said a district being forced to assist with
recruitment further adds to “the militarization of our society.”
am worried about my sons and everybody else’s sons,” Mishler
said. “The law doesn’t allow, in any organized way, an opportunity
for people who are opposed to the military to have a way to
speak out against the military. I would feel better if peace
groups had the same access to students as the military does.”
The mandate has also compromised entire school districts whose
politics stand in opposition to those of the U.S. military.
In October, facing the prospect of losing $41 million dollars
in federal funds, the Rochester City School Board rewrote
a longstanding policy that denied groups that it deemed discriminatory
access to its schools. The policy had covered military recruiters.
the military’s discriminatory policies fit into institutions
that have policies against discrimination is an issue that
has been around for a long time,” said Mishler. “The military
is discriminatory, I don’t think anybody has any question
about that. I think it is a good reason to keep them off campuses,
but it is not the only reason to keep them off.”
Smith would not comment on questions regarding the U.S. military’s
alleged discriminatory policies toward gays and lesbians,
but denied that the military recruitment provision in No Child
Left Behind affects a school district’s right to exercise
school district has a choice to make—whether to comply or
not to comply,” Smith said. “That is the bottom line.”
Citing the success of military recruitment programs like the
Junior Reserve Officer Training Corps, Amidon said he doesn’t
see the need for further military recruitment in schools.
He said recruitment can result in successful military careers
for some, but he doesn’t want to “minimize the impact of the
No Child Left Behind Act.”
is a very intrusive invasion of students’ privacy and a stepped-up
effort to recruit our children without parents really knowing
what is going on,” Amidon said. “Forcing schools to give the
names of students and threatening them with cutting federal
funding is quite despicable when you think about how we’d
like to conduct business in a civil and sensible manner.”