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Source: Riverhead Patch

Congressional Candidates Face Off On Environmental Issues

Lee Zeldin and Anna Throne-Holst had widely disparate views on the future of the Environmental Protection Agency.

BY LISA FINN (PATCH STAFF)

Posted: October 21, 2016
Originally Published: October 20, 2016

RIVERHEAD, NY — Congressional candidates had their turn to speak out about environmental issues Tuesday night at a forum held at the Suffolk County Community Culinary Arts and Hospitality Center on East Main Street in Riverhead.

The event, organized by the New York League of Conservation Voters Education Fund, as well as the Citizen's Campaign for the Environment, Defend H20, and Save the Sound, brought together incumbent Rep. Lee Zeldin and opponent and former Southampton Town Supervisor Anna Throne-Holst, who both had time to answer questions posed by both the panel and the audience.

Zeldin kicked off the evening by giving a brief bio; he grew up on Long Island and attended law school in Albany, later serving in the Army Reserves, where he's now a Major. Zeldin also served for four years in the New York State Senate, working on issues such as infrastructure, veterans affairs, education and the economy, he said.

Zeldin also said his accomplishments include an expanded land and water conservation fund, working with Riverhead Town to avoid a fish die off, expediting dredging by the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation in East Hampton, and working with residents at Hashamomuck Cove in Southold Town.

"You're all here because you care about Long Island, and about the future for our kids and grandkids," he said.

Anna Throne-Holst discussed her eight years serving Southampton Town, six as supervisor, saying she'd put "sustainability and environmental protection at the forefront of the agenda." Accomplishments included putting together the Southampton Town Green Committee and implementing stringent sustainable building codes, requiring builders to meet higher Home Energy Ratings Standards. In addition, Throne-Holst said, she worked to commission the Southampton 400+ Sustainability Element, an update to the town's comprehensive plan.

An aggressive preservation plan as an update to the Community Preservation Fund, where farmers could come to the town to discuss preservation, was also one of her achievements, Throne-Holst said, as were beach renourishment, a vehicle management plan, solarization strides and work to create the New York State Clean Water Technology Center at Stony Brook University.

Adrienne Esposito, executive director of the Citizens Campaign for the Environment, said as a coastal community, locals are very sensitive to the adverse impacts of climate change. She said New York State has made a commitment to achieve 50 percent of its energy from renewables by 2030. She asked if the candidates would support an offshore wind farm proposed for 30 miles off of Montauk.

"Our climate has been changing, that's something very important for us to tackle. We can be better stewards of our air, water and land, regardless of where you are on certain issues." Despite the fact that there are points on which some would disagree, Zeldin said, "Everyone would agree it's important to have clean water and air."

Zeldin said it's critical to focus on funding the research mission at Brookhaven National Lab and at Stony Brook, and to move away from a reliance on crude fossil fuels toward green, clean energy, with an eye toward pursuing the future of the Long Island economy with well-paying jobs. Alternative energy opportunities can help stimulate job creation, he said.

As for the offshore wind farm, he said it was critical to maintain local control.

"We are so well-poised, here on Long Island, surrounded by water and an abundance of wind and sun, to be a leader in converting off old, dirty fossil burning fuel and tapping into renewables," Throne-Holst said.

The question lies in funding, she said, with the federal government and Environmental Protection Agency having leadership roles to play.

Kevin McCallister of Defend H2O discussed the Fire Island to Montauk Plan and said elevating homes and dikes around flood prone areas would have little affect; he asked for the candidates' thoughts on coastal retreat as an appropriate alternative in flood prone areas.

Zeldin discussed the FIMP, explaining how public input from residents and towns has led to modifications of the draft plan; for example, in Montauk, where an increase in the amount of sand initially proposed was pitched by the town supervisor and is now being integrated into the plan. Zeldin said he lives on the Mastic peninsula and said there is a split community when it comes to buyout and home raising options. Some are concerned about property tax impacts and property maintenance, he said.

But, he said, change is critically needed on the Mastic peninsula where, during Sandy, the Mastic Beach Fire Department was doing rescues from second story windows.

"Science has got to be our guide," Throne-Holst said, adding that making decisions without a firm scientific basis was "pennywise and pound foolish."

She remembers when former Congressman Tim Bishop "dusted off" the FIMP plan and said the town fought hard to get the United States Army Corp of Engineers out to the East End. "If we're going to do a plan like this, we have to do it in a real, comprehensive, scientific based way. Not what is happening," she said.

Louise Harrison of Save the Sound asked, if Plum Island were to be successfully retained, what the candidates' vision for its future use and management would be.

Zeldin said visiting Plum Island feels as though you are "thousands of miles away from home" with seals, beaches, and cliffs. He said it should continue as a research facility and to provide good jobs. The 90 percent of Plum Island that's undeveloped, he said, "should stay that way," but he feels there should be public access to the natural resources.

He pointed to the his reintroducing the HR 1887 legislation to save Plum Island, and his success at getting it out of committee and passed on the House floor. Now, he said, the Senate must pass the legislation "in order to save Plum Island."

Throne-Holst, on the other hand, said the fact that the island is virtually untouched, with flora and fauna and natural resources still untouched, is an "incredible gift that has presented itself to us. There is no gray area there. It has to be preserved, made a national park."

She added, "I take exception to the fact that it hasn't been preserved already. I don't think it's okay. I support full preservation of that natural resource" and said only some educational components should be considered, nothing more. She said she'd put forth a bill for full preservation of the natural resource.

Esposito asked both candidates if they would support a pledge by Congressman Steve Israel, who is retiring, to propose $10 million in funding for the Long Island Sound.

Zeldin said he would but would also like to see funding expanded to other waterways on the South Shore, such as the Great South Bay, through additional appropriations.

"I think you can absolutely trust my track record," Throne-Holst said. "One of the big reasons I'm looking to get elected is I think we need real leadership from this district and from the Long Island Sound as a whole. We can’t sit back and let this just unfold under us."

Discussing Connecticut's dredge waste, Zeldin said with the Environmental Protection Agency is set to phase out eastern dump sites on the Sound in December, he'd like to see open water dumping phased out in the western sites, too.

Throne-Holst said she'd "plant herself" outside the EPA office and "not go until" she was heard on the issue. "That's what we are elected to do."

When asked her position on funding the Clean Water State Revolving Fund, Throne-Holst said it's critical to invest in infrastructure. "We talk about how the federal government has not done its share. We are starting to see the real negative effects of that. If we don't invest in them today the cost multiplies exponentially."

While plans "with teeth" are needed, local governments can't handle them on their own, she said.

Candidates face off on EPA

McAllister asked about the EPA, which, he said, "seems to be under siege." He asked Zeldin whether he thought the agency should be strengthened or downsized.

Zeldin said a lot would depend on the policy and vision of the next administration, and said there was a lot of room for improvement in the relationship with the EPA and Congress. It's the role of Congress, Zeldin said, to oversee all agencies in relation to implementation of federal laws and in regard to the manner in which federal appropriations are spent. Certain policies going through the EPA need to be vetted out by other agencies and go through the legislative process, Zeldin said.

In order to improve the oversight function, rather than signing so many executive orders, there's a need to work with committees to get a bill passed, he said.

Throne-Holst said she took "great exception" to Zeldin's approach that EPA projects should be vetted by Congress.

McAllister asked if Throne-Holst felt the EPA should be strengthened as an agency.

"The simple answer is 'yes,'" she said. "The EPA plays a very critical role. There's an expression, 'Don't tell me your values, show me your budget and I'll know your values.' We have a representative in Congress that has repeatedly voted to defund and deregulate the EPA, and wants every single project to go before Congress for scrutiny."

The EPA, she said, was put in place with a "clear mandate." The EPA has a front and center role, she said, in a plethora of issues, including public health, national security, protection of food sourcee.

Esposito said "one candidate running for president" — meaning Donald Trump — would "like to abolish the EPA. Do you agree with that or not? You've said you want to make them more accountable to Congress," she asked Zeldin.

"My position has been and continues to be that there there's a need to improve the agency, which is very different from advocating to eliminate it," Zeldin said. "I would suggest. . .the best way to improve the EPA is to strengthen that relationship with members of Congress."

Throne-Holst, meanwhile, said she takes exception with Zeldin's "having voted to defund the EPA."

Discussing global warming, she said, "I believe in science" with the EPA having a front and center role in tackling the issue, with the government working on a plan for appropriate funding.

Next, McAllister asked the candidates about nitrogen pollution and their opinions on a numeric nutrient standard.

Zeldin discussed the diversity of the district. Throne-Holst said and McAllister had discussed the standard many time and she was in support of it. "I've always found when you put facts and figures, numbers and dollar amounts to things, it helps people understand what it is you're talking about. It's no longer a fuzzy, amorphous thing," she said.

Asked about climate change, Zeldin said he'd joined a bi-partisan group in Congress to seek solutions and said one of the most important goals is figuring out how to pursue the smartest policy to get something done. "You have to be willing to have that conversation," he said. "If there are 120 ideas you have to be willing to listen to them all. I continue to be willing to have that conversation with anyone."