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Source: The Buffalo News

Collins changes planned uses of federal 'green' incentive funds


Posted: April 16, 2010
Originally Published: April 16, 2010

Erie County Executive Chris Collins has changed the way the county intends to spend a federal grant targeted at “green” programs.

The U. S. Department of Energy gave Erie County $2.9 million in 2009 as part of the Recovery and Reinvestment Act. The county accepted the money, then looked for ways to spend it over three years.

Officials decided to spend $1.9 million to promote energy efficiency in county buildings, so that money was funneled to the Department of Public Works for those efforts.

The remaining $1 million was funneled to the Department of Environment and Planning to find ways the county could use less energy and to develop green programs that could help the community. Officials were discussing a composting operation involving waste from large-scale kitchens and promoting the community’s use of rainwater. A “green team” was devising ways that county government could consume less fossil fuels.

Collins, however, found the plans heavy on paid consultants and on the retention of three county employees who would be paid from the grant. He instructed his officials to spend virtually all of the money on making county facilities more energy-efficient — endeavors that don’t require a consultant’s guidance and could save dollars already budgeted.

For example, Collins wants to see the money spent on new lighting systems or on replacing outdated heating systems, said his spokesman, Grant Loomis.

As for community programs such as the composting of waste from large kitchens, county officials are willing to turn over that task, and a portion of the grant money, to a local agency willing to see it through, Loomis said.

He said Collins instructed officials in the Public Works Department to draw up a new budget for the grant and present it to the County Legislature.

Andrew Goldstein, a former recycling coordinator who was employed by the county, said he and some other environmental activists are discussing ways to fill the void created by Collins’ decision.

Brian Smith of the Citizens Campaign for the Environment, an advocacy group, said he will soon request a meeting with Collins to discuss the series of events that indicates “the county executive is neglecting to take a role in protecting the environment.”

“We are in the process of gathering information and would like to meet with the county executive,” he said, “because we have some very significant concerns about his elimination of environmental programs.”