Empowering Communities, Advocating Solutions


Source: Times Beacon Record

Environmentalist of the Year: Adrienne Esposito

She toughs it out for the sake of our land, water


Posted: January 3, 2012
Originally Published: December 28, 2011

Image of Adrienne Esposito.

Adrienne Esposito’s latest message? Stop using plastic bags. She’s doing her part with this reusable bag she brought to a recent environmental leaders meeting sponsored by Stony Brook University’s Waste Reduction & Management Institute. Photo by Susan Risoli

One person can make a difference. Never give up. It's not over till it's over. Activist Adrienne Esposito embodies those lessons, say those who have fought with her to defend our fragile natural environment.

Esposito is one of the founders of Citizens Campaign for the Environment, a not-for-profit organization that works with legislators, scientists, public health agencies and fellow citizens to protect land and water resources. The grass-roots group started in 1985, when Esposito and some friends sat around her living room talking about how to save Long Island from groundwater pollution and toxic dumping. They incorporated and opened an office. Today, Esposito is executive director and CCE has six offices in New York State and Connecticut.

Mary Ellen Dour was one of the friends who co-founded CCE. She calls Esposito an "awesome" leader who built a small, do-it-yourself posse into an advocacy force to be reckoned with. Dour, CCE's financial and educational director, says although the organization has taken on some difficult fights, Esposito doesn't give up.

"No matter how tough it is, she never allows herself to ever get discouraged," Dour said.

CCE's anti-Broadwater campaign "really stands out" as an example of Esposito's persistence, Dour said. The Broadwater Energy company, a joint venture of Shell Oil and TransCanada Pipelines, tried to put a 1,200-foot, floating liquefied natural gas platform in Long Island Sound. Esposito and CCE sounded the alarm, talking endlessly to Long Islanders and their elected officials about the potential environmental impact of the gas terminal. The project was shot down when the New York Department of State ruled against it.

Esposito "really did not let go" of the effort to stop Broadwater, said Dour. "She would not let the government give an estuary of national significance away to corporations."

It seems Esposito also refuses to let obstacles daunt her.

"When people come to her with problems — they couldn't get into a meeting, or no one would pay attention — she'll strategize and say, 'OK, this is what we need to do,'" Dour said.

Esposito is known for her ability to translate technical jargon and scientific concepts into concise talking points the lay person can easily understand.

State Assemblyman Robert Sweeney (D-Lindenhurst) chairs the Assembly's Environmental Conservation Committee and works with Esposito on improving Suffolk County drinking water.

"She just has this quality that, quite frankly, very few people possess — to articulate issues very clearly and convincingly to whatever audience she happens to be speaking to," Sweeney said. "It's a quality most of us in government could learn something about, I think."

Karen Miller, founder of the Huntington Breast Cancer Action Coalition, has worked with Esposito on a variety of environmental issues and praised her "ability to understand the science and be able to speak to a community of very busy people." Esposito shines at "giving them reasons why we need to change the status quo," Miller said.

Maureen Dolan Murphy, CCE's executive programs manager, recalled when Esposito went to Washington, D.C., to testify about the Long Island Sound to the House transportation committee. After the hearing, which was a lengthy affair full of complicated information about coastal zone management, "someone came up to her and said, 'Adrienne, I just want to say, thank you for speaking English.'"

Esposito is energetic and tough, her colleagues say. "She's the most dedicated person I know, and the most passionate person on the issues," said Murphy.

Neal Lewis, executive director of Molloy College's Sustainability Institute, said Esposito has "never been accused of being a wallflower. She's a strong-minded person that you can count on will speak up."

Yet she tempers her toughness with a ready sense of humor, and inspires her colleagues to enjoy their shared purpose. "She mixes fun with very serious work," said Dour. "She works extremely hard. The staff respects her and works hard in return."

And though Esposito sometimes finds herself "the only woman on a panel or in the room," Murphy observed, she handles it with good-natured aplomb. "She always says she's there to balance out the suits."

Researcher Chris Gobler, from Stony Brook University's School of Marine and Atmospheric Sciences, serves on the Northport Harbor Water Quality Protection Committee with Esposito.

He called Esposito's work with the committee "one of the best examples of identifying a problem, and then instead of just complaining about it, bringing everybody to the table to come up with solutions."

In addition to her service on the Northport committee, Esposito is also "working very hard at the state, local and federal levels to improve sewage treatment plants, and to minimize road runoff," he said. Gobler noted that Esposito is "not looking for the easy way to do things, she's looking for the right way to do things, and what's best for the environment."

A common theme that runs through all of Esposito's efforts, Gobler said, is "she's championing the environment for the sake of the people — there's no hidden agenda." For that reason, we honor Adrienne Esposito as Environmentalist of the Year.