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Candidates join protesters in march for greener New York

Candidates join protesters in march for greener New York

Legislative Gazette, April 30, 2018

Two gubernatorial hopefuls marched with more than 1,000 climate change protesters to call on the Cuomo administration to implement more environmentally friendly policies, starting with a new microgrid project that heats and cools the Empire State Plaza.

Called the “Walk the Talk on Climate,” the event was the latest — and largest — in a series of attempts to push the governor to adopt greener environmental policies for New York state. According to the rally’s organizers, the walk had three distinct goals: Stop all fracking infrastructure projects, move to 100 percent renewable energy and make corporate polluters pay.

Attendees at the rally included Howie Hawkins, the Green Party’s nominee for governor, and “Sex and the City” star Cynthia Nixon who is looking to challenge Cuomo in the Democratic primary in September.

Both Hawkins and Nixon champion environmental policies that echo the three goals of the rally they attended, though only Hawkins spoke, citing the seriousness of climate change.

“If we don’t rapidly transition off of fossil fuels, the resulting climate catastrophe means mass extinctions, the collapse of ocean and land ecosystems, and flooding of the world’s cities and bread-basket deltas,” Hawkins said.

Also representing the Green Party at the march were Co-Chair of the Green Party of New York Gloria Matter and Mark Dunlea, a GPNY organizer and member of the State Committee.

On Nixon’s campaign site, her “clean energy economy and climate justice” platform includes transitioning to 100 percent renewable energy, rejecting new fossil fuel infrastructure projects and holding corporate polluters accountable by making them pay reparations for the damage they have done to people and communities.

Although New York state under Cuomo has taken important steps becoming more environmentally friendly — banning fracking in the state in 2014 and mandating that 50 percent of the state’s electricity needs come from renewable sources by 2050 — more action is being demanded from groups that see other environmental policies as one step forward and two steps back.

The rally filled the Sheridan Hollow neighborhood with protesters brandishing signs calling for 100 percent clean energy and an end to all use of fracked gas in New York state. Crowds of people filled the sidewalks in front of the Sheridan Hollow steam plant, the latest focus of environmentalists’ ire. While some protesters chanted, others played music and sang songs about preserving the Earth. However, all attention was given to the flatbed piled with bales of hay from where the organizers spoke.

“Real climate leaders don’t allow a massive buildout of fracked gas pipelines, power plants and compressor stations that shackle New York to decades more of fossil fuels while contaminating the communities where they are built,” said Laura Schindell, the New York organizer for Food and Water Watch.

Sheridan Hollow is one of those contaminated communities. New York Power Authority’s proposed fracked-gas microgrid system that would be placed in the neighborhood, a mostly minority community just a few blocks from the state Capitol.

This facility would be built as an addition to the current Sheridan Hollow steam plant, and would power the heating and cooling systems of Empire State Plaza. The site has previously been the site of other power plants and a trash burning facility, all of which have since closed.

The proposed facility would burn fracked natural gas sourced from out of state. The burning of natural gas can produce nitrogen oxide, which irritates the lungs and can lead to respiratory infections, and particulate matter, which can affect the heart and lungs and cause serious health effects such as irregular heartbeat and non fatal heart attacks, according to the Environmental Protection Agency and former EPA Regional Director Judith Enck.

Albany County Legislator Merton Simpson, a longtime resident of Sheridan Hollow and the co-chair of the Sheridan Hollow Alliance for Renewable Energy, said during the rally that the current Sheridan Hollow power plant and its predecessors in the small neighborhood have already had irreversible effects on its inhabitants.

“I live about four blocks from [the Sheridan Hollow steam plant],” said Simpson.“And I have reason to believe that people in my family died from cancer from exposure to this plant.”

After the rally, more than 1,000 protesters representing more than 100 different environmental organizations marched through the streets of downtown Albany to West Capitol Park, during which the streets were filled with the sounds of chants and live music played by a band leading the march.

Although most of the chants were inspired by social empowerment — as People United for Sustainable Housing (PUSH) Buffalo asked rhetorically “Whose streets? Our streets!” over the course of the march — other chants were directed directly at Cuomo.

“Hey-o Cuomo, walk the talk!” was the rallying cry of the event.

While the event centered itself around a push for more environmentally friendly policies in New York state, participants pleaded with the governor to be more directly involved in making changes himself.

After rallying at the West Capitol Park, demonstrators made their way into the Capitol to the Million Dollar Staircase and the front of the Governor’s Office. Once there, demonstrators participated in a sit-in where they discussed how worsening climate conditions had adversely affected their lives. According to Tripp Eggert, one of the rally organizers, this led to the arrest of 55 people on counts of disorderly conduct.

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