Earth Day 2015

2015 is certainly a year for anniversaries. Federated Conservationists has entered its fifth decade, and Earth Day is celebrating its 45th year. When looking back to the first celebration of Earth Day, it is easy to wonder if the 20 million Americans who gathered across the country knew what their movement would become.

Coverage of the first Earth Day, April 22, 1970, in The New York Times.
Coverage of the first Earth Day, April 22, 1970, in The New York Times.

In 1970 the Beatles’ “Let It Be” and Simon and Garfunkel’s “Bridge Over Troubled Water” topped the charts for the year; the Vietnam War sparked anti-war protests among students nationwide; and the hippie and flower child culture was at its height. The United States of 1970 was a much different place than it is today.

The roots of the environmental movement stem from this period in history. Earth Day 1970 used the energy from anti-war protests to move environmental concerns to the forefront of politics; it united those concerned individuals as activists under an environmental banner. Prior to 1970, environmental degradation was not clearly in the public consciousness. There were small rumblings that human activities were causing disturbances in the environment. For example Rachel Caron’s Silent Spring was a NY Times bestseller in 1962, however the general consensus was that poor air and water quality was simply a product of successful development and economic growth.

On April 22nd, 1970 small groups of Americans gathered to support the Earth. There were teach-ins, organizational efforts to pick up trash, trees plantings, and peaceful marches. The next day the opening line of the New York Times read, “Huge, light-hearted throngs ambled down autoless streets here yesterday as the city heeded Earth Day’s call for a regeneration of a polluted environment by celebrating an exuberant rite of spring.” Earth Day 1970 brought environmental activism to the mainstream, and started the flow of important environmental legislation like the Clean Air Act and Clean Water Act.

It’s humbling to think that FCWC has been around long enough to witness the first Earth Day and the passage of environmental legislation that followed. To honor half a century of environmental work and to celebrate our favorite holiday, we would like to bring our friends outside to enjoy what these many years of work have been about: a greener, cleaner Westchester. We are co-sponsoring a hike with Westchester County Department of Parks, Recreation, and Conservation  at Ward Pound Ridge Reservation. We feel this is the perfect way to reflect on where we’ve been, where we’re going, and illustrates the importance of environmental work. We hope you’ll join us.

To register, please visit: https://www.eventbrite.com/e/fcwcs-earth-day-celebration-tickets-16207926344. Happy Earth Day!

New! A Look Into Our Past – Westchester Environment, “Earth Day: Progress and Promise”

This is the fourth installment of our “A Look into Our Past” Series, honoring the past five decades of work done by Federated Conservationists of Westchester County. This series revisits some of our best accomplishments by featuring past articles from our original publication “Westchester Environment.” 
 
In this post we would like to celebrate FCWC’s favorite holiday, Earth Day. Follow along as J. Henry Neale, Jr., a previous FCWC board member, recounts the first Earth Day and the start of “Earth Day ’80.”

“Westchester Environment” – Vol. 2 No. 4 – April 1980

Earth Day 80Earth Day: Progress and Promise By J. Henry Neale, Jr. (Excerpt from)

April 22, 1980 will be “Earth Day ‘80”. It has been declared to be the start of the “second decade of environmental progress.

The Earth Day celebration this year had an auspicious and impressive beginning. It was officially announced on January 1, 1980, on the first day of the new decade, in a Presidential Proclamation. President Carter’s proclamation called upon all citizens and government officials “… to observe this day and appropriate ceremonies and activities” and that “…special attention be given to community activities and educational efforts directed to protecting and enhancing our life-giving environment.”

Although the characterization of this year as being the start of the “second decade of environmental progress” may seem overly optimistic about our future – and excessively charitable about our recent past – there have been many changes during the past ten years. Several of these changes might be considered improvements. Perhaps these are reasons for describing the last decade as one of progress and for hoping that this progress will continue in the future…

…One indication of the change in the past ten years is that the environmental movement has become even more diversified. In addition to the continuing commitments to achieving air and water pollution control, wilderness preservation and land use planning, which had been well established long before 1970 and are enough to keep anybody busy for a long time to come, the environmental movement now includes many persons advocating other themes and causes: energy conservation, workplace safety, cancer prevention, transit reform, neighborhood preservation, alternative technologies and labor-intensive economic development, to name only a few.

A rough way of estimating progress toward accomplishment of this expanding list of goals is by evaluating the actions taken by the New York State Legislature in response to the various conflicting pressures upon it.

By coincidence, the 1970 regular Session of the Legislature ended the night before the first Earth Day. During the session the Legislature restricted the use of DDT, limited drilling for natural gas in Lake Erie, allowed the PSC to override local ordinances on transmission lines, authorized a study of the impact of public utility facilities and adopted a compromise proposal altering the procedures for seeking payment compensation by polluters. All of these issues have been debated by the Legislature several times since 1970 and probably will continue to be the subject of controversy during the next decade.

The 1970 Legislature also adopted a new Environmental Conservation Law. The bill created the Department of Environmental Conservation [(DEC)] with responsibility for administering environmental and resource programs of the state government; established a Council of Environmental Advisers to the Governor and also created a State Environmental Board which was supposed to set pollution abatement and environmental standards and to serve as a forum for the mediation of environmental controversies.

Governor Rockefeller signed the Environmental Conservation Law on Earth Day 1970. His message approving it stated, “This bill represents a bold new State commitment to our environment. It provides the tools that will enable our State to balance environmental needs with economic growth and human progress.”

…While the issues have become more complicated during the past ten years, and the formation of a consensus in favor of solving the problem is far more difficult now, there is still a reason to be encouraged.

The tools necessary for the job are already available, according to Byron Kennard, who is chairman of the Citizens Committee for the Second Environmental Decade which is acting as the clearinghouse of information about Earth day ’80 events being planned in different parts of the country. There have been many important legal political and institutional advances during the past 10 years. Of equal significance, there is continuing public commitment to a clean, safe, healthy environment which the first Earth Day helped to create.

Earth Day ’80 will continue to build upon that foundation.

Don’t give parkland for pipeline expansion

Written by Carole Griffiths, Co-President of FCWC


(Photo: Joe Larese/The Journal News)
(Photo: Joe Larese/The Journal News)

Blue Mountain Reservation is a 1,538-acre county-run park in the northwest section of Westchester County. It features miles of trails and offers challenging hikes to the tops of two large peaks, Mt. Spitzenberg and Blue Mountain. The park is used heavily by the public.

There is also a natural gas pipeline running though the park. Spectra Energy is proposing to enlarge this 26-inch diameter pipeline, installed in the 1950s, to a massive 42-inch diameter, high-pressure (850 pounds per square inch) transmission pipeline. The construction would require an expanded work easement of up to 130 feet, 55 feet beyond its present 75-foot right of way.

Enlarging this pipeline and the expansion of the easements will have negative impacts on the park. There will be permanent destruction of trees and habitat for animals. New edges will be opened a few hundred feet into the forest on either side of the expansion, which will allow invasive species to further infiltrate the park.

SPECTRA map
The route of the proposed Algonquin pipeline expansion. (Photo: Spectra Energy)

Important habitats are close to or adjacent to the proposed pipeline. These include a sizable stand of hemlock trees (mostly dead in our region), what may be an original wetland and a pond that is home to amphibians, turtles, fish and dragonflies. All are essential to preserve intact. In particular, the pond will also be affected by silt and other contaminates, killing eggs laid in the spring.

Trees do not regrow in the current Algonquin right-of-way pipeline easement. If Spectra is allowed to cut down the many young and mature trees in widening the easement for construction work, they will not replant with trees but only seed with grass. In addition, Spectra did not specify in the Draft Environmental Impact Statement how they intend to maintain the right of way, by mowing or applying herbicide.

A survey of trees is being conducted by Spectra. However, Westchester County residents deserve an independent survey of park biodiversity. According to a report from Dr. Erik Kiviat of the Hudsonia Institute, a complete biodiversity survey of birds, bats, amphibians, insects, trees and plants, should be conducted over several seasons. This would determine which species in the park would be negatively impacted by this project, especially those species that are threatened or endangered. Dr. Kiviat also suggested legislators might ask for pre-construction protection measures for species identified by this survey.

Finally, the report concluded that the right of way should not be widened. AIM should be able to increase the capacity of the pipeline within the existing right of way, even if it requires a departure from typical technology. Many gas pipelines are planned or being repaired in New York and other states, and the AIM project will set a precedent for other pipeline projects.

In addition to environmental damage, the proposed expansion increases the danger of a rupture and impact of an explosion. More than 70 such incidents occurred in 2013 as reported by the Pipeline Hazardous Materials and Safety Administration, but many more remain unreported.

Spectra has requested a revocable license from Westchester County for this expanded easement. “In New York, the Public Trust Doctrine requires state legislative approval when there is a ‘substantial intrusion on parkland for non-park purposes,’ regardless of whether there has been an outright conveyance of title and regardless of whether the parkland is ultimately to be restored,” (from FERC DEIS, p. 4-157-8). A private corporation should not be interpreting this Doctrine, but rather the Courts would decide whether this is a case of parkland alienation.

A private corporation should not be interpreting this Doctrine, but rather the Courts would decide whether this is a case of parkland alienation.

Tell the Westchester Board of Legislators (914-995-2800) and County Executive Rob Astorino (914-995-2900) to commission a full ecological and biodiversity survey with AIM impacts, as recommended by Dr. Kiviat, before deciding whether to pass a resolution for the New York State Legislature to alienate parkland for a commercial use or whether to deny Spectra permission to damage this precious gem that Westchester residents wish to see preserved intact.

(Originally published in The Journal News on March 24th, 2015)

#StopSpectra – AIM project is Issued its Certificate

SPECTRA map
A screen shot of the map for Spectra Energy’s Algonquin Pipeline expansion proposal. Photo Credit:Spectra Energy/Screen shot

WESTCHESTER COUNTY, N.Y. — The Algonquin Pipeline expansion proposal has  received approval from a federal agency that conducted an environmental review for the project.

FERC issued its Certificate for the AIM project yesterday despite safety and security issues raised by nuclear and pipeline experts, elected officials and the public.
.
Call to make a public statement and help us spread the word on social media by tweeting #StopSpectra
.
Please call the government officials listed below TODAY to ask them to make a public statement about FERC’s failure. 

US Senator Kristen Gillibrand 845-875-4585
US Senator Charles Schumer 914-734-1532
Congresswoman Nita Lowey 914-428-1707 or 845-639-3485
Congresswoman Eliot Engel 914-699-410
Congressman Sean Maloney 845-561-1259
Governor Andrew Cuomo 518-474-8390
Secretary Jeh Johnson, Department of Homeland Security 202-282-8000 (ask to be connected to comment line/voice mail)
Background:
The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) issued its approval decision on Tuesday with details presented  in a 66-page document that included expansions for the conclusion.
.
The proposal  is from Spectra Energy. It involves replacing approximately 20.1 miles of natural gas pipeline that is 26 inches in diameter with larger pipeline material of 42 inches in diameter. An existing compressor station in the Putnam County town of Southeast would undergo several changes, according to FERC.
.
The work includes adding a 10,320-horsepower compressor unit that is natural-gas fired and adding gas cooling for it, FERC notes.  The pipeline goes through Rockland County, crosses the Hudson River to Westchester and Putnam before crossing the Connecticut state line into Fairfield County.

A Look Into Our Past – Westchester Environment, “Doom Is The Spur”

This is the third installment of our “A Look into Our Past” Series, honoring the past five decades of work done by Federated Conservationists of Westchester County. This series revisits some of our best accomplishments by featuring past articles from our original publication “Westchester Environment.” 
 
In this post we would like to highlight an issue still prominent in the environmental community today. Follow along as this article tries to answer the question: how do we best spread the message of conservation? While forty-five years later we are still trying to find the answer, it is interesting to look back and see how far we have come.

“Westchester Environment” – Vol. 2 No. 3 – March 1980 Doom Is The SpurDoom is The Spur By Patrick Allen In the early ‘70s the prevailing orthodoxy amongst conservationists was doom-gloom – the view that very nasty things will very shortly occur unless we very quickly mend our wicked ways. This was the period of A Blueprint for Survival, jeremiads from the Club of Rome – notably (or notoriously) The Limits to Growth – and the Stockholm Conference on the Human Environment. For a time a great many people were mightily exercised by these warnings and even a few of the mighty took time off from (mis)directing affairs of state to Express Considerable Concern. But when the end, so widely heralded as nigh, quite failed to show up, the boom went out of the doom business. Books with titles like The Hungry Future, Standing Room Only, Our Polluted World, Timetable for Disaster, no longer poured from the printing presses, and in the western world earnest young men and women, so lately converted to the edifying values of cycling and recycling, quietly reoccupied their former niches in the gas-guzzling, throw-away society. For all but a hard core of the faithful doom-gloom was out. Yet despite nature’s well-known abhorrence of a vacuum, no revised version of the gospel took its place. Nor has done since. With the result that conservation has joined the long list of Worth Causes of Our Time about which all men of goodwill are agreed that something should be done tomorrow once Pressing Matters have been dealt with today. Doleful finding But of course the main characteristic of Pressing Matters is that they are always with us. Which means that for other matters – conservation for example – tomorrow arrives, if at all, very late in the day. Nowadays even those who should be beating the drum for conservation appear instead to be beating a retreat. A recent polling of environmental journalists produced the rather doleful finding that while most of them accept that the loss of species leads to a world that is aesthetically poorer, most of them do not believe that the loss of species leads to a world that is economically poorer. In other words, while they regard conservation as a Good Thing – in that having animals and plants around jollies up our grey lives – they do not regard it as an Essential Thing. And this from a cross section of environmental journalists! Admittedly many decision-makers (those paragons of our day) are better informed. They readily concede that conservation does matter – in an economic, scientific, in a strictly utilitarian sense. But whereas in former days, when the fear of imminent doom rode high, there was the immediate payoff or popular applause for conservation rhetoric (with the promise of deeds to follow), now there is nothing of the kind. With the result that Pressing Matters (see above) have entirely taken over.

The missing factor, it is clear, is popular pressure – or in the jargon, “public awareness.”… Fearsome predictions where are falsified by events (or rather by non-events) spoil the market for truth.

The missing factor, it is clear, is popular pressure – or, in the jargon, “public awareness.” Of course the apocalyptic warnings of the early ’70s, with their naïve dependence on crude computer models, were counter-productive. Fearsome predictions where are falsified by events (or rather by non-events) spoil the market for truth. And yet… and yet. The environmental pundits of a few years back may have erred in believing that the planet’s life-support systems were heading for imminent and dramatic collapse. But if the truth is that the planet’s life-support systems are softly, invisibly coming apart, is the message very different? If the world ends not with a bang but a whimper, the result is the same. Doom deferred is still doom. Doom deferred, though, is not in itself a rallying cry to action. As who-was-it said: “There is nothing to concentrates a man’s mind as the knowledge that he is to be hanged in a fortnight.” But substitute 15 years for a fortnight and concentration vanishes. How then to recover that focusing public attention on the Conservation Issue? For this, after all, is the truth. The time scale of cause and effect in nature may sometimes be lengthy. But it is nonetheless very real – with the added caveat that the results of what we do or do not do now may prove irreversible. What we do or do not do now also serves to narrow or to expand our range of options. Choice dwindles as resources are used up. Rainforests are shrinking at a frightening speed. World catches of many fish species have plummeted. Deserts are growing at such a rate that one-third of the world’s croplands may have disappeared by the turn of the century. Or take the most obvious example of all: energy. Failure to conserve now makes a full-blown nuclear future – the “technological fix” for a world in a fix – almost inevitable, regardless of hazards. So long as politicians feel that they are more likely to receive kicks than kisses for acting so as to stave off distant and problematic calamity, they will act, if at all, only halfheartedly. But of course people want a healthy future for themselves and even more so for their children. So a public which perceived the real-life choice between Good and Ill – and understands that choosing starts now – will direct both kicks and kisses to Good effect. With a real-live chance of happy outcome. The enemy of action The doom-watchers of the early ‘70s got it wrong. But the doom-watchers of the present day also have got it wrong. They know full well the track we are on but believe a rose-tinted view is all that people should be given for fear of depressing them. This is psychologically inept. It makes for complacency, the enemy of action.

The doom-watchers of the early ’70s got it wrong.

The track we are on is bound for doom but we are not bound to go there. We can backtrack in time. Just in time. And this truth is a truth that should be told. Unavoidable doom breeds only despair but preventable doom is the best of all possible spurs to action. So come back doom, preventable doom – we need you. Originally printed in the bulletin of the International Union for Conservation of Nature and Natural Resources.

New Independent Report on Environmental Impact of Proposed Gas Pipeline Expansion in County Park

Westchester County Board Of Legislators Labor, Parks, Planning & Housing Committee (LPPH) has received an independent report on environmental impact of proposed gas pipeline expansion in Blue Mountain Reservation.

FCWC Program Director, Alicia Molloy, reading FCWC's position statement against the Spectra Energy project.
FCWC Program Director, Alicia Molloy, reading at DEC hearing FCWC’s position statement against the Spectra Energy project.
New York Governor Andrew Cuomo set a positive precedent this past year when he passed the New York State ban on fracking – we must not trade away a healthy environment for natural gas production. However, currently our environment is under threat of being compromised by the Houston, Texas-based Spectra Energy Company.

Spectra Energy has proposed an expansion project for the Algonquin natural gas pipeline; the proposed construction will replace and widen the existing pressurized gas pipe, built in the 1950s, from a 26″ diameter pipe to 42″ pipe. In the proposal for the project, there is planned construction activity to go through the County-owned park, Blue Mountain Reservation.

A Draft Environmental Impact Statement has been completed by Spectra Energy, but the Westchester Board of Legislators felt that it was lacking in many respects. Fortunately, Dr. Erik Kiviat, from the non-profit institute Hudsonia produced a new, independent environmental assessment of potential impacts to Blue Mountain Reservation was completed to find out the truth behind this proposed project.

On January 14 2015, the Westchester County Board of Legislators (BOL) Labor, Parks, Planning & Housing Committee (LPPH) met to receive and discuss this new report. The conclusion of the report states, “The proposed expansion will be highly destructive to wetlands on and near the ROW [pipeline’s right-of-way], justifying comprehensive and detailed species surveys to provide information for habitats and species protection and restoration.” He suggested, and FCWC agrees with:
  • Dedicating wetlands conservation;
  • Saving and salvaging native plants;
  • Widening the ROW as little as possible;
  • Conducting a better survey of plant and animal species (especially during the growing season);
  • And ensuring that the project includes a full-funded, independent environmental monitor on-site.

Blue Mountain Reservation contains high numbers of vernal pools and sensitive wetlands essential to amphibian populations. Habitat and air quality degradation through construction and operation of the proposed pipeline will negatively affect Westchester County’s rich biodiversity.

The pipeline was the subject of two New York State Department of Environmental Conservation public hearings, January 21st and January 22nd. FCWC was one of the many participants, and presented a statement to oppose the granting of new air permits for this project (to read it in full click here).

It is imperative to maintain a united front in fighting for our health and our environment.

Written by: Kate Munz, FCWC Member Relations Coordinator


Source: Press Release (Jan. 15, 2015) “BOL Committee Receives Independent Report on Environmental Impact of Proposed Gas Pipeline Expansion in County Park

The Future of Westchester County Parks Wrap-up

Future of WC Parks_1On January 23rd, FCWC and the Greenburgh Nature Center hosted a roundtable discussion on the future of Westchester’s parks, sanctuaries, and nature centers.

An amazing success – about 50 individuals concerned about preserving natural habitat and wildlife in Westchester, participated in the discussion about the major resources at the various parks and preserves, the problems in preserving habitat and biodiversity and solutions that are planned or now being implemented. We were particularly interested in identifying the resilience needed for the challenges of climate change’s impacts on Westchester County’s open spaces.

At the beginning of the event, participants were asked to identify major resources, and those that were of importance to protect on properties that they managed, volunteered with, or recreated on. Next, they came up with top problems found on those properties, and many common problems emerged such as invasive species, deer, and the proper way to manage various habitats. Discussion then moved to actions and solutions that are currently being implemented to address these problems, and what plans/if any are on the table to adapt and or recover from impacts of climate change.

One overarching theme that was present amongst participants was there was a lot of knowledge, skills and talent in the room, and that we need to tap into the collective knowledge so each area and group is not continuously re-inventing the wheel for their properties.

As follow up for this roundtable discussion, FCWC has created a Westchester Open Space Google Group where members will be able to start a discussion, pose a question, or make an announcement concerning management or preservation of any park, sanctuary, nature center or open space in Westchester County. This Google Group will be helpful to organizations to collaborate to manage and preserve Westchester’s open space resources. We will be curating a list of resource and reference links on resource management that will be available on our website, fcwc.org, at a future date. We will also organize future workshops and conferences on natural areas with experts to address issues raised by this workshop. Please stay tuned for details about these initiatives as we move forward with them.

We want to thank everyone who came out and made this conversation so fruitful, and hope to play an integral part of protecting and improving Westchester County’s natural areas going forward.

To see further updates from this past workshop and the more to come, check back to FCWC’s events page.