Gov. Andrew Cuomo and former U.S. Vice President Al Gore spoke at the Kimmel Center for University Life on Friday morning about New York’s initiatives for environmental preservation and sustainability. The event drew hundreds of attendees to the Eisner and Lubin Auditorium to hear the governor’s plan to harness the energy of offshore wind turbines.
Much of the event centered around U.S. Secretary of the Interior Ryan Zinke’s Jan. 4 announcement of the National Outer Continental Shelf Oil and Gas Leasing Program, which would open most of the country’s offshore waters to drilling for oil and gas.
Richard Kauffman, chairman of Energy and Finance for New York, began the lecture with a presentation on the dangers this plan poses to the environment.
“The federal plan poses a triple threat to the health and safety of New Yorkers: exploration, drilling and the potential for a catastrophic spill,” Kauffman said. “The federal plan puts polluters first and virtually all federal waters off coastal states, including New York, at risk.”
Gov. Cuomo followed suit in speaking out against Zinke’s plan.
“My personal comment is going to be that offshore drilling is a really, really dumb idea,” Cuomo said. “It is the exact opposite direction that we should be headed as a nation. They [the Trump administration] are showing a total disregard for the science, the reality and the history.”
Cuomo also harkened back to a vow he made in his 2016 State of the State address to stop relying on coal-fired power plants.
“New York is going to lead a countermovement to what this administration is doing on the environment,” Cuomo said. “While Washington [D.C.] wants to return to coal, the polluting energy of the past, New York has vowed to be coal-free by 2020.”
The governor went on to list strategies for reaching the target goal of developing 2.4 gigawatts of power from offshore wind by 2030, as set forth in the New York State Offshore Wind Master Plan.
“Today, we have two new procurements as a giant step forward towards that goal,” Cuomo said. “We will procure 800 megawatts of offshore wind power located offshore of Long Island. These new offshore wind programs will create 5,000 clean energy jobs, a total of investment of $3 billion.”
Al Gore, known for his 2006 climate change documentary, “An Inconvenient Truth,” also took the stage to tackle renewable energy from an economic standpoint.
“The job growth and efficiency in the renewables industry, batteries, electric vehicles – these are the jobs of the future,” Gore said.
“We are in the early stages of a sustainability revolution in this world,” Gore said. “It has the magnitude of the Industrial Revolution, but it has the speed of the digital revolution, and it is transforming every sector of the market.”
Referring to temperatures in the North Pole climbing above the freezing point last week, Gore reaffirmed the importance of sticking to science.
“This is climate disruption, climate chaos,” Gore said. “It has been predicted long since by the scientists.”
The governor’s office has often been at odds with the environmental policies of the current administration.
On June 1, 2017, the same day President Donald Trump announced the removal of the United States from the Paris Climate Accord, Cuomo signed an executive order committing New York State to uphold the same standards laid out in the agreement.
In response to President Trump’s February budget proposal, which would cut funding to the Environmental Protection Agency by over $2.5 billion, Cuomo included in his executive budget proposal a plan to increase funding of the state’s Environmental Protection Fund from $177 million to $300 million in the 2018 to 2019 fiscal year.
The governor also banned fracking in the state in 2014, although he has yet to announce his stance on the controversial Williams Northeast Supply Enhancement Pipeline, which would carry fracked natural gas from Pennsylvania to New York by way of the New York Harbor.
Laura Shindell, an organizer with Food and Water Watch, was among the tens of people who gathered outside the Kimmel Center for University Life to call on Cuomo to stop plans for the pipeline’s construction.
“Building the Williams pipeline through New York Harbor is also a ‘dumb’ idea, especially because that pipeline would go right along the areas that suffered the worst effects from Hurricane Sandy from climate change: the Rockaways and Coney Island and Staten Island,” Shindell said. “To be building more fossil fuels right in their backyards, which locks us into decades more of fossil fuels, is the wrong way for New York.”
Email Sarah Jackson at [email protected]