It’s Debatable: Restore Mother Nature Bond Act
From the July/August 2020 issue of Adirondack Explorer, editors asked the question: “Is now the right time for New York to move forward with the Restore Mother Nature Bond Act?”
Below is the “YES” response, from John Sheehan of the Adirondack Council and “NO,” from Roger Dziengelski, retired woodlands manager, chief forester and senior vice president for Finch Paper in Glens Falls.
Weigh in with your thoughts in the comments section!
YES John Sheehan
COVID-19 may change where people vote this year, or allow you vote by mail.
Regardless of how you receive your ballot for Election Day on Nov. 3, or how you plan to cast your vote, don’t forget to turn over your ballot and vote “yes” on the Restore Mother Nature Bond Act.
Our need to address climate change, secure clean water and manage crowds on the Adirondack Forest Preserve didn’t go away when the coronavirus hit.
Your vote will authorize the state to spend $3 billion catching up on much-needed public works projects and environmental improvements that will bring money to local businesses and jobs to local communities. The bond act will also bring local tax relief, as taxpayers statewide will help to fund expensive municipal clean water and sewage-treatment projects, while helping to redirect crowds away from overused High Peaks Wilderness Areas trails.
Investments in clean water will bring new filtration plants and sewage treatment systems in towns where they never existed, have failed due to age, or lack sufficient capacity. Those plants need construction crews to build them and maintenance crews and engineers to run them.
Clean energy investments mean new jobs building, improving and maintaining solar, wind and hydropower equipment. Energy conservation brings new jobs in building and installing modern heating and cooling equipment, and in buttoning up leaky buildings. Managing crowds on public lands and waters—especially in a post-pandemic world—will require serious planning and local people to carry out those plans.
Long term, these are great investments in a clean environment and public health. Short term, they will get the economy moving again.
Our public lands grow more precious every day. They are a place of refuge in times of crisis; a place of healing and solace as we recover from this blow; a place of celebration, when we can be closer together again.
“Forever wild” isn’t just a cliché. The Adirondack Forest Preserve is one constant in a world of never-ending change. It is the bedrock that steadies us when the whole world’s foundations have been shaken.
Due to the potential economic impact of the COVID-19 pandemic, the Legislature granted Gov. Andrew Cuomo the authority to rescind its approval of the bond act this spring or summer, if the economy slows to the point where he believes the state cannot repay the loan. Otherwise, it will be on same ballot as presidential, congressional and state legislative races.
The Adirondack Council is a tax-exempt, not-for-profit organization, and is therefore prohibited from supporting or opposing candidates for public office. When it comes to ballot questions we are allowed to voice an opinion, but are limited in the amount of time and money we can devote to the cause. We must report even the time it took to write and edit this essay, since it is likely to be considered “grassroots lobbying” by state officials.
To be sure that it is tracking its spending carefully, the Council formed New Yorkers for the Adirondacks. The group intends to remind voters that the Adirondack Park could reap great benefits if the bond act is approved.
But we cannot expect to carry the success of a statewide ballot initiative on our own. We need to spread the word as part of a coalition of support. The Council is working with other advocates on a voter education plan and will execute the plan in coalition with other conservation organizations, private employers, labor unions and local government officials.
We will invite other advocates to join and support our New Yorkers for the Adirondacks committee and seize this once-in-a-generation opportunity.
John Sheehan is communications director for the Adirondack Council.
NO Roger Dziengelski
The proposed $3 billion Restore Mother Nature Bond Act of 2020 is wonderful, even grandiose, especially when looked at as a cornerstone of New York’s $33 billion, five-year plan to combat climate change.
The act is a pragmatic response to climate change. It focuses on natural infrastructure as a means of dealing with extreme weather events, sea level changes and habitat protection. Rather than trying to stop climate change, it attempts to anticipate and adapt to the impacts. Additional land acquisition, creating artificial reefs, shellfish restoration, fish hatchery improvements, additional boat launches, “right-sizing” culverts, trail reconstruction, and many other projects are covered. All these would be wonderful to have, but they are wants, not needs.
These actions, also intended to increase recreational activities like hiking and fishing, need to be re-evaluated in a COVID-19 world where millions are out of work and many businesses may be lost forever. In this world, dollars for travel and recreation are not likely to be back to pre-COVID levels for years. Spending billions of tax dollars on climate change and recreation during a crisis doesn’t make sense. Those dollars are needed elsewhere.
There are other ways to address climate change in the interim: incentives for those who use smaller cars and houses, combined with disincentives for those who choose to live large; changes to zoning laws so as to encourage density and discourage sprawl—no more 3-acre or larger lot sizes, and no more building or re-building in flood prone areas; continued support for Climate Smart Communities; encouraging the use of sustainably grown wood as a substitute for fossil fuels. These and similar programs do not require huge government expenditures or subsidies for new alternative wind or solar technologies.
The governor acknowledges a $13 billion and climbing budget shortfall due to the COVID shutdown. To close the gap, he has said a 20% reduction in school, fire, police and hospital budgets will be needed. Even if New York State receives a federal “bailout,” $3 billion could be put to more immediate use. School facilities will have to be modified, broadband availability in rural areas will be even more important for education, child care programs will be an urgent need and mass transit systems will need to be rethought and re-engineered for safety.
Reductions in greenhouse gas emissions will not have an effect on rising sea levels and extreme weather events for at least 50 years, according to scientific models. Delaying these actions until the economy is restored, taxpayers are off the unemployment rolls and businesses are back in business makes sense.
The 2020-2021 budget, with the Restore Mother Nature Bond Act, was proposed well before the full coronavirus impacted the economy. Taxpayers have to ask themselves, in a COVID-19 world, is it better to fund schools, hospitals and emergency services now than to buy more land and open space? Is it better to invest in safer buses, subways and trains to protect people from a virus resurgence than to have more boat launches and redesigned hiking trails?
Restoring Mother Nature can wait a couple of years until the virus crisis is addressed, we are certain there is no second wave and the economy is rebuilt. Mother Nature has done very well on her own for thousands of years. She will persist without big government’s help for a few more years—especially if we all act to reduce our environmental impact, just as we proactively acted in our own best interest to “flatten the curve” and keep ourselves and our families safe during this virus crisis.
Roger Dziengelski is a retired woodlands manager, chief forester and senior vice president for Finch Paper in Glens Falls.