Environmentalists say President-elect Donald Trump’s positions, though still not crystalized, have them fearing for the quality of New York’s water and air.
Though Trump has yet to attach specifics to much of his agenda, he vows to champion U.S. production of oil and gas while rescinding President Barack Obama plan limiting power-plant emissions.
He has enlisted Myron Ebell, a climate change skeptic, as a key member of his transition team.
Trump’s regulatory agenda is expected to find a receptive audience in Congress, where Republicans have expanded their hold on the House and kept control of the Senate.
Regardless of the new direction in Washington, New York’s top enforcer of clean air and water rules said the state will not swerve from its green objectives.
“Climate change is the defining issue of our times, and we cannot afford a rollback in any federal laws or regulations,” said Basil Seggos, commissioner of the state Department of Environmental Conservation, in an interview Tuesday.
Public pressure may be the most significant hurdle to efforts to roll back environmental protections, said Peter Iwanowicz, director of the non-profit Albany lobby Environmental Advocates and who previously led the state climate change office.
“People wanted change but I don’t think the mainstream voter wants dirty water, dirty air or an unsafe climate,” he said.
Environmentalists say they’re counting on the state and Gov. Andrew Cuomo to temper federal plans to expand fossil fuel production.
Under Cuomo, the state has banned the controversial drilling practice known as fracking and tripped up a $700 million pipeline to convey gas from Pennsylvania to several upstate counties. Federal regulators had permitted the Constitution Pipeline.
Trump’s views on climate change seem to be evolving. Once calling it a hoax perpetuated by China, Trump on Tuesday told the New York Times he has an “open mind” about climate issues and is “closely” reviewing the Paris Agreement, the newspaper reported.
Separately Trump has signaled that his administration will sign off on the Keystone Pipeline — rejected on Obama’s watch — if developer TransCanada submits a new application.
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell told reporters in Washington last week that he could do as much without congressional approval.
McConnell said he has urged the president-elect to end Obama’s “war on coal,” which conservatives have tied to the Clean Power Plan that forced states to commit to reductions in carbon emissions.
But it’s unlikely that a fledgling Trump administration will try to insert itself into New York’s goal of drawing 50 percent of its power supply from green sources by 2030, said Anne Reynolds of Clean Energy Alliance.
She also predicted that the state’s push for a wind farm off the Long Island coast will move forward without federal interference because of the economics of a project that will power 15 million homes.
Cuomo’s top energy adviser, Richard Kauffman, said the state is moving “full steam ahead after this election” in pursuing expanded reliance on clean sources of power, and state officials hope to find “common ground” with the Trump administration.
“There is a global race on to see who is going to make the energy systems of tomorrow, and it’s an enormous economic opportunity,” Kauffman said. “It’s a false equivalence to say the economy and the environment are conflicting objectives.”
Heather Briccetti, president of the Business Council of New York, the state’s largest business group, said any changes in regulatory climate are bound to be incremental, at least at first.
“I just don’t see a massive reversal coming right away,” she said.
One simmering river in New York issue involves plans by the U.S. Coast Guard to permit 10 anchorages for barges carrying crude oil from the Port of Albany. Critics say it will turn the river into a parking lot and pose environmental risk from a potential spill.
Rep.-elect John Faso, R-Columbia County, says the project is “not well planned” and was rolled out by the Obama administration with “insufficient” justification. How the Trump administration deals with it remains to be seen.
Faso said he’s optimistic that Trump will rescind a host of executive orders by Obama, saying they amount to “broad regulatory overreach” with no input by Congress.
Even if rules aren’t relaxed, Aaron Mair of Schenectady, president of the Sierra Club, said he’s concerned that Congress may impede enforcement by cutting the budgets of agencies such as the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.
“The role of Congress is going to be critical,” he said. “They have the power of the budget and making sure we have good laws on the books.”
What amounts to reducing “red tape” for businesses, he noted, could cause higher asthma rates in urban communities.
Predicting the changes that Trump will attempt is difficult given possible litigation, the uncertainty of how a new administration will react to public pressure and his own mixed signals, said Ted Potrikus, president of the Retail Council of New York State.
“Time is the only thing that will tell,” he said.