QUEENSBURY — Candidates running to replace U.S. Rep Elise Stefanik agree that climate change is real and a threat, but differ slightly on the right approach to move the country away from fossil fuels.
The six Democrats and one Green Party candidate running in the NY-21 district discussed the issues for two hours in a forum held Monday at SUNY Adirondack and sponsored by North Country Climate Reality.
All candidates were invited. Participating in the forum were Don Boyajian of Cambridge; Tedra Cobb of Canton (St. Lawrence County); Patrick Nelson of Stillwater; Katie Wilson of Keene; and Emily Martz of Saranac Lake. Dylan Ratigan of Lake Placid did not participate because of a “personal emergency,” according to campaign field director Stewart Lowery, who spoke in his place. Green Party candidate Lynn Kahn of Schroon Lake also took part.
William Throop, professor of philosophy and environmental studies and director of the environmental studies program at Green Mountain College, moderated the forum.
All agreed that the head of the Environmental Protection Agency, Scott Pruitt, needs to go and Democrats must seize control of Congress.
Boyajian cited his experience as an environmental lawyer in upstate New York who has worked to ensure that companies are held accountable for pollution. He also has been an aide on environmental policy in Congress. He said the Superfund trust is empty and much more work needs to be done, including more cleanup of the Hudson River.
“I want to make sure the federal funds are in place to finish the job,” he said.
Cobb said she lives an environmentally friendly life. She drives a Chevy Volt. Her husband is a solar panel installer, and for 10 years, the family lived off the grid.
As a St. Lawrence County legislator, Cobb said, she led the fight to keep a large cow-feeding operation from coming into the community. She said everyone shares the same goal — to get new representation in Congress.
“Elise Stefanik said she cares about the environment. Actions speak louder than words. The opportunity we have right now is to get rid of Elise Stefanik, and the only way to do that is to use her words and her votes,” Cobb said.
Kahn said she is not part of the “food fight” in the two major political parties. She knows how government works in her role as a clinical psychologist for government agencies and author of three books about government reform, she said.
“I am committed and passionate about doing something about how broken and dysfunctional and wasteful our government agencies are,” he said.
Emily Martz said she believes the solution is to create green jobs. Martz pointed to her experience as director of operations for the Adirondack North Country Association, where she helped secure funding for businesses that wanted to make energy retrofits.
“There used to be a time in our country and in our region where 40 hours of hard work paid you enough so you could put food on your table and so you could put money away for your retirement,” she said.
Nelson said he learned about PCB contamination while growing up in Stillwater on the banks of the Hudson River. Nelson said the world is at a tipping point and this is a linchpin issue for the human race.
“The creature comforts that we take for granted, our society, our very way of life is under threat,” he said.
Lowery mentioned that Ratigan started Helical Holdings, which makes hydroponic farming modules. The company is based in California and employs local veterans.
Stewart Lowery, field director for NY-21 Democratic candidate Dylan Ratigan answers a question about the impact of climate change. Ratigan had a personal emergency and could not attend the forum Monday evening at SUNY Adirondack. pic.twitter.com/NY2zJnFl3a— Michael Goot (@michaelgoot_ps) May 1, 2018
“Though our political system is broke, everyone can come together to fix this,” he said.
Wilson cited her experience of protesting at the Standing Rock Sioux Reservation to fight the Dakota Access Pipeline. She said she was struck by the poverty she saw. About 20 percent of children live below the poverty line and the average income per capita is $27,000 in the 21st District, she said.
“That is not enough. It is not enough to survive on and those numbers keep people from doing more about these larger issues, because they are stuck in survival mode,” she said.
She led a fight to get railroad tankers removed that were being stored on the Tahawus line of the Saratoga and North Creek Railway, she said.
Among areas of disagreement was whether a carbon tax on emissions would work. Boyajian pushed for the idea.
“The only thing that is switching us over to renewables is market forces. Cap-and-trade that will spark a new clean energy economy,” he said.
Nelson said that when that approach was tried in British Columbia, emissions increased. It is also a regressive tax, which would hit low-income people hardest, he said.
Nelson said he supports legislation requiring the country to get off fossil fuels by 2035. He would also end subsidies of fossil fuel companies.
“Stop permitting of new fossil fuel extraction,” he said.
Cobb said 98 percent of new energy production in the United States is from solar and wind.
“One of the things we have to talk about is not looking backward at cap-and-trade necessarily but looking forward at the market and the potential we have,” she said.
Boyajian said it makes his blood boil when people call it “global warming,” because that does not accurately describe what is happening to the weather.
“It’s about volatility, it’s about intensity and severity and unpredictability,” he said.
All the candidates agreed that it is possible to be pro-business and pro-environment at the same time.
Nelson said that about 17 percent of the United States’ power is supplied through renewable energy and getting up to 100 percent is going to be a big challenge.
“It’s going to take 20 or 30 years of potentially full employment to make this work,” he said.
He advocated for a New Deal-style job corps and training for workers displaced from the fossil fuel industry.
Wilson shared that same thought, saying that the private sector would love to be able to step in and create these jobs.
“We have to figure out how to pay for it,” she said.
Martz said she visited Apex Solar, which has grown from 30 jobs to 100 and is going to be partnering with local BOCES to train graduating high school seniors in the industry.
Wilson said the environment is the economic driver for the North Country and affects industries such as farming, logging and tourism.
“Everyone knows that climate change is happening, whether or not they agree on who’s causing it,” she said.Kahn said good government policy requires participation from local residents and the ability to work with people who disagree.
“You can’t make good public policy in a vacuum, and there’s example after example of what happens when government didn’t listen to the people,” he said.
The forum was mostly cordial. Martz directed a pointed question to Lowery about Ratigan.
“Why did you start Helical Holdings outside of this district? It’s based on solar, veterans and farmers. Guess what we have an abundance of — solar, veterans and farmers,” she said.
Lowery said Ratigan hoped the model could be replicated.
Also, there was a brief back-and-forth when Nelson asked each of the candidates whether they would be accepting corporate PAC money.
“I actually find it insulting,” Cobb said.
Nelson said the Democrats should not accept any money from corporations to take the issue off the table.
“The Green Party is going to have to come up with another talking point to steal votes from us in the general election,” he said.
Cobb said she makes decisions based on her constituents’ interests.
Kahn also responded to Nelson’s comment.
“It’s rude to assume that a corporate-funded Democrat will be the next candidate,” she said.
The six Democrats will face off in a primary on June 26. Kahn faces no primary challenge.
A Stefanik campaign spokesman, Lenny Alcivar, said she did not attend the event because of a scheduling conflict.
“Congresswoman Stefanik is proud of her environmental record,” he said.
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