April 9th, 2011 Posted in President's Blog

It’s been a busier week than usual for me, with no fewer than five meetings in three days.
On Tuesday, Dr.Dena Robins and I attended (1) “What’s Water Worth”, a panelist discussion in Barnard Hall. Afterward, we had (2) meeting of BCEQ Education Committee..
(3) On Wednesday evening I attended a meeting of VOBEC, my summer residence’s environmental commission, of which I’m one of seven officially appointed members.
Thursday there were two evening events: (4) another environmental panel in Columbia U Low Library, an impressive building with a entrance staircase rivaling that of AMNH and the Met. (5) Annual Riverdale Nature Preservancy Membership Meeting at Riverdale Neighborhood House, with G.O.K. as the guest speaker.
Here’s my take-away on the events:
(1) Hydrofracturing Panelists: Paul Gallay, Executive Director Riverkeeper; Caswell F. Holloway, DEP Commissioner; Martin Stute, Professor of Environmental Science Co-chair, Department of Environmental Science; and an industrial consultant from the Independent Oil & Gas Association.
Caswell Holloway made a fine presentation, and altho not trained as a scientist, seemed well-versed on hydrofracking issues of import to DEP. His first words were, “Drink NYC Tapwater”, as he held up his glass with a flourish, which delighted the audience. I learned from his presentation that only 6% of NYS Marcellus Shale is within the NYC watershed. That seems to me an easy enough chunk to declare off limits? As one of his final remarks, the Riverkeeper Director mentioned that Air Quality needs to be added to the concerns over Hydrofracking.
Also in the audience were Suzannah Glidden and Dr. Marion Rose of CWCWC, who are well known to Riverkeeper’s Executive Director. Dr.Rose mentioned her concerns regarding biosolids that may be contaminated by Radium 226-228 with levels of alpha radioactivity many times higher than the drinking water standard.
For a long moment the Q&A became uncomfortably provocative when someone from the audience refused to cease a loud, hostile interrogation in which he seemed to hold the industrial scientist personally responsible for a litany of (deceitful, political, legal) ills of the industry. After the event, I went up to Commissioner Holloway and introduced myself as “I-C from The Bronx”, and handed him an invitation to our Water Conference. He said he’d heard of BCEQ.
(2) Dr.Dena seemed to know the neighborhood around Columbia/Barnard well. She recommended a nearby soulfood restaurant as a convenient venue for meeting. Fried catfish, candied yams, and spicy collard greens.
Dena came prepared with an Agenda. The minutes of the last meeting were approved. Arrangements for our projected field trip with teachers to Seton Falls Park should be finalized soon. A call for nominations for our 3 Annual Environmental Education Awards will be sent out within the next week, hopefully before the Annual Members Mtg. on April 13th.
(3) The venue for our off-season winter VOBEC meetings is impressive: A penthouse in Manhattan with views of the Empire State and Chrysler buildings. Best of all, parking is easy, but the quarters add up. Rising sea levels may doom us all to lower property values, or no property at all. Among other issues, we are trying to ensure that the village employs “green architectural design” as it implements major projects along Ocean Beach’s Great South Bay F.I. Ferry Dock.
(4) “New York as a Sustainable City” with four panelists, moderated by Columbia Professor, Dr.Steven Cohen, Executive Director of The Earth Institute. Dr.Cohen related that when he first requested to teach an environmental course, he was told that “students do not come to NYC to learn about the environment”. It took seven years of requests before he was given permission to teach such a course.
Below is a brief summary of what I remember from each panelist’s presentation and comments:
(a) David Bragdon, Director of Mayor’s Office of Long-Term Planning & Sustainability said that since Climate Change is not being addressed on a national level, the need for guidelines of mitigation and adaptation must be addressed on a local level. So much is local vs. federal issues, e.g. solid waste, air pollution, etc. NYC has >500 mi of shoreline, therefore sea level rise is a concern. Data is the guide for Mayor Bloomberg. We have always been faced with trade-offs between development and natural resource allocation, e.g. our National Parks System. Decision makers often ignore the fact that externalities have a price, e.g. the costs of oil pollution. He suggested a tax on the true costs of fossil fuels.
(b) Dr.Esther Fuchs, Professor of Public Affairs & Political Science at Columbia. Introducing herself as a girl from Queens, she went on to advocate her support for PlaNYC. Clean Jobs are needed to deal with unemployment. For greater eco-development we must strike a balance between regulation and incentive. There is a Green Bldg Technology Course at Columbia. Without regional control, there is an incentive between states to offer tax incentives, ignoring environmental trade-offs, that results in a race to the bottom. She is concerned how future administrations will continue implementing The PlaNYC.
(c) Caswell Holloway began his remarks by reminding everyone to drink NYC TapWater, again to the delight of the audience. He described PlaNYC as having “127 Initiatives on a To-Do List” with $780 Million allocated to implement The Plan over the next ten years. The Mayor is encouraging “Green Lease” developers. He supports co-generation of heat and power (Co-Gen). The change from #6 fuel oil —> #4 —> #2 will stop more air pollution than taking all vehicles off city streets. Of special interest to me was his discussion of what to do about CSO’s, e.g. build capture tanks at about $.5M each (Gray Infrastructure) vs. Green Infrastructure. DEP has come up with suggestions for dealing with CSO’s, and instead of offering to help, both EPA and DEC are showing their distrust of NYCDEP with delaying tactics, e.g. proposals must meet specific pipe size regs. When challenged, an EPA regulator told Cas, “Pain is Part of the Process”.
(d) Dr.William Solecki, Director CUNY Institute of Sustainable Cities. A geographer with concerns about climate change, he said that “history shows us that cities are resilient” He was the most optimistic of the group, predicting dynamism will lead to evolution and positive change.
(5) At the Annual RNP Membership Meeting at RNH, Mary Bandziukas, RNP Program Consultant summarized the results of the GreenWay Member’s Questionnaire. Peter Kohlmann, Co-President, in the absence of the treasurer reported that the organization was still solvent, altho income had fallen since the previous year. He recognized that Assemblyman Jeffrey Dinowitz was in attendance. Then Councilman G.Oliver Koppell briefly outlined how NYCouncil has been supporting environmental efforts in Riverdale, including designation of historic homes, parkway, and the threat of development, i.e. Indian Pond in Fieldston.
Nanci was kind enough to have dinner waiting for me when I got home after a busy day for this old man.

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This post was submitted by I-C LEVENBERG-ENGEL.

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  1. One Response to “PRESIDENT EMERITUS’S BLOG – April 9th ‘2011”

  2. By Dotti on Apr 20, 2011

    I am exhausted for you….
    Keep up the interesting work.

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