Sierra Club

Sierra Club Questionnaire Environmental Leadership question is followed by policy priorities. 

A. Environmental Leadership

PERSONAL INITIATIVES

Please describe your most important environmental achievements, accomplishments or experiences that would indicate your commitment to advancing a sustainability agenda. If you are an incumbent, please share what you have accomplished since taking office. Please outline your environmental priorities, should you be elected.

I joined the Sierra Club in when I entered 5th grade under the influence of a teacher who was a member. I didn't go on the Sierra Club outings because I had Boy Scouts for that, but I liked the wilderness protection advocacy and that led to broader environmental concerns that affected the San Francisco Bay Area where I lived: sprawl, smog, mass transit, SST, nuclear power, Trans-Alaska pipeline. Though I left Sierra Club when David Brower left to form Friends of the Earth in 1969, the foundation of environmental awareness and education I got from Sierra Club impelled me into ecology action. The highlights for me in high school were the People's Park events of April-May 1969, leading the organization of Earth Day activities at my high school in 1970, and writing a substantial paper my senior year in 1971 on steady-state economics based on Herman Daly's writings and his resurrection of John Stuart Mills' 19th century discussion of it.

When I was going to college at Dartmouth in New Hampshire, I helped form in 1973 the statewide Granite State Alliance and its People's Energy Project against the Seabrook Nuclear Power Station. By 1976, we broadened out the anti-nuclear campaign by forming the New England-wide Clamshell Alliance.

My intention in helping to form the Granite State Alliance was to make it the state affiliate of the national People's Party. I was not able to persuade the others in the early 1970s, but by late 1979, most of the core of the Granite State Alliance and the NH Clamshell Alliance joined the Citizens Party and campaigned for environmental scientist Barry Commoner for president in 1980. When the first national organizing meeting to form a Green Party in the United States was held in St. Paul, Minnesota in August 1984, I represented the Clamshell Alliance.

Within the Green Party since the 1980s, I have campaigned for many environmental policies, including opposition to trash incinerators; Onondaga Lake and Creek clean-up emphasizing sewer separation, biological waste treatment, and green infrastructure for stormwater management instead of regional (chemical) treatment facilities; banning fracking; prioritizing in-fill and brownfield development over greenfield development (e.g., Xavier Woods); and public power utilities in order to replace fossil and nuclear fuels with the efficient use of clean renewables.

My top three environmental priorities if elected are big changes we need to address the climate crisis and unsustainable sprawl development:

1. Public Power: A Public Power Utility is necessary to give Syracuse the power to build, own, and operate its own clean renewable energy generation and to invest in and structure incentives for maximizing energy efficiency and conservation. Under the current structure of regulation separates investor-owned distribution utilities from investor-owned power generators, National Grid buys power in an oligopolistic market of providers reliant on fossil and nuclear fuels, with the incentives structured to maximize profits by maximizing energy consumption and buying nuclear and fossil power from the incumbent energy providers.

2. Plan for Carbon Free by 2030: The city should develop a executable plan to power, heat, cool, and transport Syracuse solely with carbon-free clean energy by 2030, as the recent study by Mark Jacobson et al. for powering New York State only by clean wind, water, and sunlight sources shows is technically feasible and cost effective. With the state and federal governments stalled on climate action, cities like Syracuse must take the lead to avert climate catastrophe.

3. Green the Interstate 81 Corridor: I advocate a plan for the I-81 Corridor in the 4th Council District that is designed around people and sustainability, not cars and the status quo of sprawl development. That plan would take down the viaduct, reroute through traffic onto I-481, and build a green neighborhood in the I-81 corridor: a car-free neighborhood supported by mass transit, bike, and pedestrian infrastructure, with a central park surrounded by mixed-use, mixed-income, mixed-age development. It would move commuters, shoppers, and tourists in, around, and out of the city and this core central neighborhood by building a first-class metro mass transit system instead of continuing car-dependent transit by rebuilding the viaduct or replacing it with a stop-and-go boulevard.

B. Issue Questions

Please articulate specific policy and budgetary proposals which would advance the following goals:

I will start with budgetary proposals because it will impossible to undertake the energy and transportation investments needed to make Syracuse a sustainable city without sufficient funds. One of my top priorities is Fiscal Justice: organizing and advocating for a restoration of progressive taxation and revenue sharing by New York State with its municipalities and especially its cities, which host most of the tax-exempt educational, medical, and governmental institutions.

As the mayor often says, the fiscal model for Syracuse is broken. The tax-paying manufacturing businesses left, followed by many middle-class homeowners. The tax-exempt “Eds and Meds” have taken the place of tax-paying businesses, leaving more than half of Syracuse's property tax exempt and Syracuse's fiscal capacity insufficient to meet its service obligations.

Unfortunately, the governor and the mayor have focused on consolidation and changing the Triborough Amendment and Binding Interest Arbitration in order to extract concessions on public employee contracts. The savings from consolidation are dubious, as we have just witnessed with the increased cost to the city of the merging of the city and county planning departments. The potential savings from concessions from public employees are not sufficient to cover the structural deficit, let alone generate sufficient funds to make significant energy and transportation investments.

The loss of tax-paying manufacturing businesses happened in the 1950s and 1960s, encouraged by the interstate highways and federal housing finance policies that encouraged sprawl. What has been ignored is that Syracuse and other cities in New York got together in the late 1960s and early 1970s to campaign for and win a solution to the broken urban fiscal model that worked for a time: revenue sharing.

Without going into the whole history of state revenue sharing, suffice it say that in 1971 the state agreed to revenue sharing with the cities and by 1980 the policy enshrined in the state Finance Law was to share 8% of state revenues with the cities. Today, revenue sharing is less than 1% of state revenues.

Here is what has happened since 1980:

  • The share of income going to the top 1% has increased from 10% to 35%, while taxes on the top income earners have been radically reduced.

  • The top tax bracket has been halved from over 15% to 6.85% (with temporary higher brackets through 2017 of 7.85% on income of between $200,000 and $500,000 for singles and between $300,000 and $500,000 and 9.97% on income over $500,000 for singles and couples)

  • The bottom tax bracket has been doubled from 2% to 4% (the first $8000 for singles, the first $16,000 for couples)

  • The stock transfer tax has been collected and 100% rebated since 1981, which now amounts to $16 billion a year.

  • Each year the state budget bill has included a “nothwithstanding” clause to exempt that year's budget from the 8% revenue sharing requirement , with the share of state revenues going to revenue sharing progressively reduced to less than 1% today.

If the state restored the progressive income tax structure of the 1970s, 95% of New Yorkers would pay reduced income taxes and the state would receive $8 billion more in revenue. Add in keeping instead of rebating the $16 billion Stock Transfer Tax and there would be $24 billion in potential additional revenue from progressive taxation. That does not take into account additional revenues that could be obtained from a 50% bankers bonus tax on their $20+ annual bonuses, as was proposed following the 2008 economic crash, or by reducing the $7 billion a year in tax breaks going to businesses.

Any modest combination of these potential tax reforms would be more than sufficient to restore state revenue sharing to its traditional 8% level. The governor's four-year budget plan has total revenue sharing to remaining flat at $775 million, compared to $90 billion operating budget for FY 2013-14. Syracuse receives $72 million of that. 8% of $90 billion is $7.2 billion. Syracuse's traditional share is about 10% of all state revenue sharing. That would mean that sharing 8% of state revenues would mean about $720 million for Syracuse. That is more than Syracuse's combined city and school budget for FY 2013-14 of $666 million.

One more option should be pursued: home rule on income taxation. Of the nearly 100,000 jobs in Syracuse, 62,000 are held by commuters who tend to hold the middle and high income jobs at the tax-exempt governmental, educational, and medical institutions. The total annual payroll for all Syracuse employees is $3.7 billion. A modest progressive city income tax averaging 1%, which also covered the incomes earned in Syracuse by commuters, would generate $37 million a year, more than enough to cover the city's recurring structural deficit. Local income taxes are collected in 4,943 jurisdictions in 17 states.

One of my top priorities is to work with the community, labor, and elected officials to advocate for a restoration of progressive taxation and revenue sharing, as the cities did four decades ago, so Syracuse has the resources it needs to meet its obligations and invest in a sustainable future.

1. Combating climate change by reducing carbon emissions and energy consumption

Plan for Carbon-Free by 2030 and Public Power: At the end of the first section of this questionnaire on environmental leadership above I outlined my top three environmental priorities, all of which addressed reducing carbon emissions and energy consumption. To summarize here, I advocate that Syracuse develop a real, practical plan to achieve a carbon-free energy system for the city by 2030. A city-owned public power utility is a necessary condition for having the capacity to build our own clean sources of electricity and heat and to incentivize or help finance green building retrofits and electrified mass transit. The plan for the future of the I-81 viaduct corridor gives us an opportunity to design a sustainable neighborhood based on car-free transit and mixed-used compact development that can serve as a model for future development and redevelopment around the city and region.

2. Promoting sustainable land use policies

Land Value Taxation: The city should study the impact of reforming the city property tax into a land value tax. Land value taxation levies taxes based upon the market value of land but not its improvements (homes and businesses). By discouraging speculative investment in abandoned city lots and buildings and sprawl, land value taxation stimulates inner city redevelopment and encourages compact development, thus supporting the anti-sprawl goals of city and county development plans.

Prioritize In-Fill and Brownfield Development over Greenfield Development: I will oppose “greenfield” developments in the city like Xavier Woods until existing “brownfield” sites and abandoned houses and vacant lots in existing neighborhoods are redeveloped.

Tax and Land Use Planning Reform: The present system of town and city-based land use planning and property taxation creates incentives for unsustainable sprawl development in order to expand local tax bases. The inter-jurisdictional tax and development competition undermines Onondaga County's regional “smart growth” planning goals in its Settlement Plan that promotes “traditional neighborhood development” as opposed to sprawl. I favor serious consideration and action on the many reforms that have been proposed to address this problem, from county-wide property tax sharing to state legislation requiring some level of cooperative regional land use planning by the affected local jurisdictions.

Pesticide Notification and Reduction: I favor local laws requiring notification of pesticide application and maximizing the use of non-toxic biological methods of pest control on public lands and in public buildings.

3. Developing sustainable solid waste policies

The Green Party of Onondaga County Platform has an extensive list of policies to promote a Zero Waste Strategy, which I support. Among the many policies the platform advocates are:

  • Green Fees on Solid Waste: A “pay as you throw” fee schedule, scaled to the amount waste generated, in order to encourage waste reduction and reuse.

  • Green Fees on Non-Recyclables: A schedule of fees on non-recyclable packaging and products sold in the county.

  • Bans on Plastic Bag and Single Use Water Bottles

  • Require take-out food containers & utensils to be recyclable or compostable.

  • Composting by Residents & Retail Establishments

  • Public Receptacles for Waste & Recyclables

  • Incentives for Materials Recovery Industries: Targeted economic incentives to businesses that reuse, repair, recondition, recycle, or resell waste materials.

  • Public Education & Training on the 3 R’s: Reduce, Reuse, Recycle

4. Encouraging Smart Growth policies

Under issue 2, on sustainable land use policies, I discussed three policies to promote “smart growth.” Let me here argue that we should be thinking in terms of “smart development” instead of “smart growth.” Growth, usually expressed as gross economic product or the city's property tax base, is not necessarily a good indicator of social and economic well-being. We need to track a variety of indicators to get a better measure community well-being.

Employ Social and Environmental Audits and Indicators: I favor charging the city auditor with conducting periodic environmental audits that run parallel to fiscal audits. The environmental audits would document the unnecessary use of toxics, waste of energy and resources, and identify opportunities for “eco-efficiency”—the greater utilization of non-polluting materials and the more efficient use of energy, paper, and other materials, which saves taxpayers money and reduces adverse impacts on the environment. The environmental audits should become part of a system of social and ecological accounting that includes all costs and benefits, and all assets and liabilities that impact the ecology and affect our quality of life, not only those monetized in the market. A system of social and ecological accounting would use a variety of indicators (not just government fund balances or gross product measures) to give a more complete picture of the state of our community. The 26 indicators now employed by the State of Maryland to construct its Gross Progress Indicator is one model that Syracuse should consider in developing its own social and environmental audits and indicators.

5. Improving air quality

Public Power: The most powerful step the city can take to improve its air quality is to establish a public power utility that can build its own clean renewable sources of power, heat, and transportation.

Transportation Justice: If elected, I will persist in making sure the city is not again delinquent in appointing its representatives to the Syracuse Metropolitan Transportation Council. I will advocate for representatives who are committed to maximizing infrastructure for mass transit, bicycles, and pedestrians in order to reduce reliance of cars powered by the internal combustion of fossil fuels.

Reforestation: I support a much expanded program of urban tree planting in order to reforest the city for air filtration, carbon sequestration, and natural shading and cooling.

6. Committing to green procurement

The above mentioned program of Social and Environmental Audits and Indicators to be conducted by the city auditor will be valuable in helping the city improve its eco-efficiency in its procurement policies.

I also advocate that the city partner with the big non-profits for green procurement, which can also help promote clean-tech industries and “green collar” jobs, as discussed under the next issue.

7. Supporting a sustainable economy by encouraging clean-tech industries and "green collar" jobs

I support developing a partnership with the big non-profits in the city – colleges and universities, hospitals, foundations, other governmental agencies – to not only engage in joint green procurement, but also to develop local clean-tech industries and “green collar” jobs. I think the city may have more success in pursuing this partnership than in asking non-profits to make payments in lieu of taxes, which has not produced much revenue or cooperation. The model we should emulate here is the Evergreen Cooperatives of Cleveland, Ohio, where the city government, universities, hospitals, and foundations have partnered to develop and provide secure markets for worker cooperatives in the low-income Greater University Circle district of the city's East Side. The co-ops developed so far include a clean-tech commercial laundry, a solar panel designer and installer, and an urban greenhouse farm. The 4th Council District, which includes both the low-income South Side neighborhood and the University Hill and Downtown institutions, is very similar to the Greater University Circle district in Cleveland. We can build clean-tech industries and green jobs right in the 4th District by bringing together and employing the technical expertise and purchasing power of the big institutions with the idle labor, land, and buildings located on the South Side in order to build an ecologically sustainable prosperity.

8 - Encouraging clean and/or renewable energy. Please include in your comments on: wind, solar, geothermal, coal, nuclear, natural gas, biomass, oil, fuel cells, hydroelectric, oil.

Once again, I will push for a public power utility so the energy fate of Syracuse is in our own hands instead of the management and shareholders of National Grid, AES, Entergy, Exelon, Chesapeake, Exxon, and other big energy corporations and their regulatory capture of the Public Service Commission.

I will also urge Common Council to memorialize our state and federal representatives to take strong action to promote clean renewables and combat climate change, starting with a carbon fee and 100% dividend, including carbon tariffs at the border to encourage carbon reductions by countries exporting to the United States, most notably China. 

With regard to the forms of energy listed:

Wind – It is the most cost-competitive renewable ready for quick expansion. I favor more emphasis on micro-wind generators at home and commercial sites.

Solar – The costs are coming down very fast. I favor a Feed-In Tariff policy, which has been very successful in Germany, to make solar cost-competitive now and accelerate its deployment. 

Geothermal – I support a long-term program to replace gas heating with ground source heat pumps in order to phase out the reliance on natural gas for heating.

Coal – I favor a ban on new coal plants and rapid phase-out of existing coal plants.

Nuclear – I favor ban on new nuclear plants, a rapid phase-out of existing nuclear plants, and no license renewal for Indian Point 2 and 3.

Natural Gas – I campaigned for NY Governor on a fracking ban in 2010. I favor using conventional reserves of natural gas as the “bridge fuel” to the renewable future. Any more investment in natural gas infrastructure (fracking infrastructure, including new gas pipelines) is a diversion of resources that should be invested in renewables. If we lock ourselves into a decade or two more of natural gas before building renewable alternatives, we will go past the tipping points of catastrophic climate change. The carbon content alone (not counting methane releases) of the Marcellus Shale gas reserves is bigger than the US per capita portion of the global carbon budget we must meet in order to achieve the internationally accepted goal of staying below a 2 degree Celsius rise in global temperature above the pre-industrial level.

Biomass – I believe we should emphasize wind, water, and sunlight sources of energy before biomass energy. However, I think certain forms of biomass (gas from landfills and water treatment plants, alcohol from sustainable corps like switchgrass) should be considered in developing regional carbon-free energy plans. Biomass can be considered carbon-free because its combustion can be balanced by carbon capture by photosynthesis of the feedstocks. Industrial biomass with such feedstocks as corn and sugar cane creates environmental problems, as well as food security problems. I would put sustainable biomass at the lowest priority after wind, water, and sunlight for sustainable energy supplies.

Oil – I believe we should phase out oil combustion as rapidly as possible as we electrify vehicle and train transportation. We should ban extreme oil extraction (tar sands, deep water, Arctic, fracking) and use conventional sources during the transition to a carbon-free energy system.

Fuel Cells – I love the hydrogen fuel cell concept for energy storage, which was invented in 1838 and largely neglected as the coal and then oil age took over. I favor investments in fuel cell R&D and government procurement to encourage economies of scale in fuel cell production. I am encouraged that the carbon-free by 2030 scenario studies of Mark Jacobson, Mark Delucchi, and colleagues include a role for hydrogen fuel cells.

Hydroelectric – We should maintain the hydroelectric dams we have. I oppose giant projects like the Hydro Quebec dams, China's Three Gorges, and the even bigger proposed Grand Inga on the Congo River. I favor restoring many of the low-head hydroelectric dams that have been abandoned on our smaller streams.

C. Additional Information

By which political party or parties have you been endorsed?

Green Party of Onondaga County

Socialist Party of Central New York

What other endorsements have you received or expect to receive?

I expect some union endorsements.

Are you or have you been a member of Sierra Club?

I was a member from late elementary school through to early high school, 1963 to 1969. I left when David Brower left to form Friends of the Earth in 1969. In recent years, I have spoken out within the Green Party and the anti-fracking movement against suggestions that members resign and boycott Sierra Club over the big corporate contribution from Cheasepeake and the natural-gas-as-a-bridge-fuel policy. I have argued that members should stay and advocate their positions because Sierra Club is the only big environmental organization where the membership elects its national and chapter leaderships and has a voice in policy making.

Have you previously been endorsed by Sierra Club?

Not recently. I think I was endorsed for a campaign I ran in the 1990s.

Are you an incumbent or have you been elected to a position in the past?

No.

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