Reflections on Earth Day
This Earth Day, like every Earth Day, I think back to a time I will never forget…September 7th - 8th, 2011 when Tropical Storm Lee dumped over 12 inches of rain and the Susquehanna River flooded downtown Binghamton, Vestal, Endicott, Owego, and other areas in the Southern Tier.
I was in my first term of service on the Binghamton City Council, and we declared a state of emergency. I remember going from building to building helping seniors who were on fixed incomes leave their homes under evacuation orders…helping them clean out their apartments - carrying their pets, food, clothes, photo albums, and other various treasured belongings. Some of them were never able to return home again. It was a devastating time for our community.
But as a City Councilmember, it was also a formative time, where I saw first-hand the harsh realities of climate change, and learned that real leadership is about service and supporting the community in developing solutions that will best serve their needs.
Following the flood, as Chair of the City Council’s Planning Committee, I worked with impacted members of the community, local business owners, labor, and City planners to develop a city-wide Energy and Climate Action Plan. We changed our zoning to turn flood zones into green spaces, and invested in green infrastructure to mitigate the impact of flash floods on riverfront areas and low-lying properties. We developed 51 recommendations to reduce the City’s greenhouse gas emissions by 25% by 2025. Our visionary work won an Environmental Quality Award from the US Environmental Protection Agency in 2013, the only municipality in NY State to win the award.
In addition, while on City Council I:
worked with transit workers to expand bus service to underserved areas,
addressed food desert problems in low-income communities by establishing community gardens and urban farms,
supported programs to remove lead from Binghamton families’ homes, and
led the charge to ban fracking in the City.
Now, the threats from climate change are even more dire! Scientists warn that we have until 2030 to reduce our greenhouse gas emissions by 50% to avoid devastating tipping points. Our window of opportunity for action is closing rapidly.
In this past century, our environmental resources were exploited, and the health and safety of disadvantaged communities were sacrificed in the name of economic development. Now, NYS has charted a course to move in a different direction, with a constitutional amendment declaring our inalienable right to clean air, clean water, and a healthy environment, and a nation-leading climate law that centers on equity, green jobs, and an affordable transition to a clean energy future.
But there is much work to be done to make that vision a reality.
In Albany, I will work to protect our natural resources and to ensure everyone can live in a healthy and resilient community. I will:
prioritize building electrification while ensuring an equitable, affordable transition off of gas,
support expansion of public transportation and adoption of electric vehicles,
hold producers of plastic packaging responsible for the life cycle management of their products.
prioritize clean air and water and removal of harmful environmental pollutants like lead, mold, and asbestos from our homes and schools, and
promote job training opportunities so that underemployed and hard to employ members of our communities can become part of the green energy transition.
Most importantly, I will carry your concerns to Albany with care and attention, just as I carried people’s treasures from their homes after the devastating impacts of a natural disaster. I will listen and work with you and your communities to make sure no one is left out of our transition to a sustainable future.