The environment has long been a leading concern in Suffolk County and thus having a Suffolk County Environmental Executive Forum early in the contest for Suffolk’s highest county government position, county executive, was a natural.
Held last week at Stony Brook University, sponsored by the New York League of Conservation Voters Education Fund, Julie Tighe, president of the fund and also the league itself, opened the forum by saying “this election season is critical to the environment.”
The environment is not only on the “top of the minds” of people, but “permeating into their daily existence,” Tighe said. She addressed how in recent weeks “we’ve seen apocalyptic orange skies” and there have been “multiple torrential rainstorms” including, she noted, four inches of rain in Suffolk the day before the forum last Monday evening. Further, globally there was a series of days that had “the hottest temperatures the Earth has ever seen.”
The extreme weather events—drought in Canada resulting in massive wildfires and orange skies in the U.S., severe rainstorms especially in Vermont and upstate New York, and the globe’s hottest weather in 120,000 years—are being attributed to climate change caused largely by the burning of fossil fuels.
Tighe urged people to make the environment a “top priority” in the coming election.
On the ballot in November as candidates for Suffolk County executive will be Brookhaven Town Supervisor Ed Romaine, the Republican nominee who before becoming supervisor of Long Island’s largest town was a long-time Suffolk legislator, and David Calone, the Democratic nominee, an attorney, an ex-prosecutor including for the U.S. Department of Justice, and also formerly chairman of the Suffolk County Planning Commission and a trustee of the Long Island Power Authority.
Each spoke for the several minutes allotted for opening and closing statements and were separately questioned for more than a half-hour apiece by Tighe. Before becoming leader of the league, she was chief of staff of the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation for 11 years. There were about 200 people in attendance at the forum.
Calone, of East Setauket, was the first to appear on the stage. In his opening remarks, he said: “I am the candidate with the broadest environmental experience of any candidate we have ever seen run before for Suffolk County executive.” And he referred to actions he has taken on environmental and energy matters in various positions he has held.
Calone said “we have significant issues facing our county” and cited two. One was how Romaine, he charged, “failed to deal with the landfill in Brookhaven Town” which has been “poisoning the community and putting our entire economy at risk.” The second was the rejection by the Republican majority on the Suffolk Legislature on having a referendum on the November election ballot on a measure increasing the sales tax in the county 1/8th percent to raise money to replace cesspools on which most of Suffolk depends with sewers and what are termed Innovative/Alternative Septic Treatment System.
However, when it came his turn, Romaine, of Center Moriches, said prior to his taking office as Brookhaven supervisor there was a push by the then Democratic town administration to increase the size of the landfill. Instead, said Romaine, he called for closing the landfill, and that has been happening while he seeks reducing waste with a “circular system” concentrating “on recycling.” As for a referendum increasing the sales tax for money for sewers and new high-tech septic systems, he said the plan developed is “far from perfect” and “I don’t believe legislators were involved in drafting this legislation,” but “I am not going to let the perfect be the enemy of the good.” He said: “I hope it goes through and if it doesn’t, you have an ironclad commitment from me that another plan will be forthcoming as soon as possible and that plan will include consultation with all 18 county legislators and not be drafted in secret.”
About climate change, Calone and Romaine had similar positions—both advocating the elimination of fossil fuels especially through the use of solar and wind power and electric vehicles. Romaine said “we can substitute green, non-polluting power” for energy to replace the burning of fossil fuels.
Romaine pointed to repeated endorsements he has received from environmental groups that he has received as a candidate for the legislature and town supervisor “because of the work I’ve done for the environment.” He spoke of endorsements by the Sierra Club, Long Island Environmental Voters Forum and the league. He said that as a legislator “I preserved more land in my district”—which, he noted, included Shelter Island, Riverhead and Southold towns and eastern Brookhaven—“than the other 17 county legislators together.”
To hear all of what was said in the hour-and-a-half forum, a video of it is on YouTube at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=x0agp2ALNfY&t=3s This can also be linked to by inputting on Google or YouTube the words Suffolk County Environmental Executive Forum.
The incumbent Suffolk County executive, Democrat Steve Bellone of West Babylon, after three four-year terms is term-limited and will leave office at the end of this year.