The Sierra Club is America’s oldest and largest grassroots environmental organization. The Atlantic Chapter of the Sierra Club is a volunteer-led, grassroots entity of the national organization representing 38,000 members in New York.

The Atlantic Chapter works to support candidates who will lead the fight in protecting our communities and natural surroundings. Candidates supported by the Sierra Club include those who champion legislation that protects clean air, water and our remaining wild places; speak out against environmentally destructive practices; and otherwise work to protect New York’s natural heritage.

Candidate name: Howie Hawkins

Answer each of the questions to the best of your ability. Please save your answers in bold or a different font for easier reading.

Issue Questions

The primary source of funding for environmental programs in New York State is the Environmental Protection Fund (EPF). Are you committed to preserving the integrity and full funding of the EPF?


If so, what steps would you take to prevent the raiding of the fund for non-environmental purposes in the future?

Elect a Green Party Governor. Prior efforts to protect EPF through various laws to prevent such raids have just been circumvented by the Governor and lawmakers as part of the budget process. We need to focus more on grassroots education and mobilization to ensure political support for the EPF.

The Department of Environmental Conservation budget and staffing levels have been slashed by more than 800 positions and since 2007 the operating budget has been reduced by more than a third.

Do you support funding and staffing restorations to the DEC to at least 2007 levels?

Yes. I would go further. DEC is down about 900 positions since Governor Pataki took office and 1000 since its high point. The number of responsibilities (statutory and regulatory) have significantly increased during that period. More positions in each and every DEC division need to be added this budget cycle.

What additional opportunities do you see to improve the effectiveness of DEC’s enforcement and protection programs beyond these restorations?

The state should not contract out DEC operations to private, for-profit firms. This reduces accountability and quality control. For instance, DEC replaced its own staff with outside contractors to write the permit conditions for two hazardous waste facilities. Among these major facilities no longer under DEC’s direct review is Momentive Performance Materials in Waterford (former GE Silicones). Outsourcing is more costly. It jeopardizes the safety of not only the local community and environment but the plant employees as well.

Legislation should also be enacted to enable citizens and environmental groups to bring litigation to enforce environmental regulations.

The following questions relate to the candidate’s energy policy and philosophy.

What energy strategies do you think are most effective in combating greenhouse gas emissions and the overall effects of climate change?

The state draft energy plan goal of carbon reductions 80 by 50 is too little, too late. I would set a goal of 100 by 30 and immediately appoint an executive branch task force to create a practical plan for building out a 100% clean renewable energy by 2030. The goal is based on the findings of the Solutions Project study for New York State for 100% wind, water, and solar (WWS) energy for all purposes by 2030 (Mark Z. Jacobson et al., “Examining the feasibility of converting New York State’s all-purpose energy infrastructure to one using wind, water, and sunlight,” Energy Policy 57, 2013).

Among the policies that would be part of the clean energy plan would be:

  • a ban on fracking

  • a ban on new investments in fossil fuel infrastructure (gas pipelines, gas-fired power plants, LNG export facilities at Port Ambrose, tar sands heaters at the Port of Albany, fossil fuel storage in Seneca Lake salt caverns)

  • a phase-out of nuclear power as clean energy comes on line, starting with the Indian Point plants

  • state carbon tax

  • feed-in tariffs

  • net metering

  • clean energy purchasing by the state

  • divestment of state public pensions from fossil fuel companies

  • a statewide federaton of local public power systems to plan and coordinate the building and interlinking of clean energy generation, distribution, and storage systems and to reinvest earnings from fossil and nuclear fuel sales during the transition into the clean energy systems

  • publicly-owned baseload solar-thermal and geothermal power plants

  • expansion of public transportation systems

  • anti-sprawl measures

  • stronger energy conservation and efficiency standards

  • support for sustainable organic agriculture to, among other benefits, sequester carbon in living soils

  • complete streets that are safe for bicycles and pedestrians

  • smart grids to accommodate distributed renewable energy sources

  • energy storage systems including hydrogen fuel cells

  • a state bank for more economical and targeted financing of the clean energy investments.

What role do you see for the following energy resources and policies when considering New York’s energy needs?

    1. The development of New York’s natural gas resources using hydraulic fracturing or fracking. No role. Ban fracking.
    2. Development and continued use of nuclear power, i.e., Indian Point and Western NY reactors. Phase out all nuclear power as rapidly as clean renewables can come on line, staring the Indian Point plants.
    3. The use of coal for electricity generation. Phase it out as rapidly as clean renewables can replace existing coal-fired power plants.
    4. The development of wind power (large and small scale). Strongly support. Build a wind farm at Port Ambrose off Long Island instead of an LNG export facility. Establish a state bank with one of its missions being loans to amortize the cost of micro-wind generators so that they are affordable today for homes, offices, and factories.
    5. The development of solar thermal for water heating. Strongly support. Again, a state bank for affordable financing.
    6. The repowering of coal plants with natural gas. Only temporarily if a detailed plan for 100% clean energy finds it is necessary during the transition. A statewide public power system should take these plants over by eminent domain and use their earnings during the transition for investments in clean energy. If switching from coal to natural gas fired power plants becomes policy, it will lock us into decades more of fossil fuel burning if the plants are operated by for-profit firms. Centralized, baseload plants should be public owned and operated at cost for public benefit, not for private profit.
    7. The expansion of natural gas pipelines and compressor stations. Oppose. Natural gas should be phased out as rapidly as clean renewables can replace it.
    8. The development of liquefied natural gas storage and export terminals. Oppose.
    9. The development of waste-to-energy facilities, i.e., incineration and biogas – Incineration, no. Biogas, yes.
    10. The development of geothermal energy. Yes to deep geothermal baseload power plants. Strongly support shallow geothermal (ground-source) heat pumps for heating and cooling buildings.
    11. The development of solar power. Strongly support.
    12. The development of financial mechanisms to promote renewable energy development (feed-in tariffs, energy credits and net metering). Yes. Also support municipally or cooperatively owned community energy systems to make access to distributed clean renewable energy generation and storage systems on smart microgrids and heating and cooling districts more affordable.
    13. The development of micro-grid and smart grid technologies. Strongly support.
    14. The construction of the Champlain Hudson Power Express and other merchant transmission line proposals. Oppose.

Please explain ways in which you plan to promote energy conservation, energy efficiency, renewable energy installations and green job creation.

The Energy Solutions study for New York State cited above projects 4.5 million green jobs building a 100% clean energy system. Within the statewide public power system I advocate to implement 100% clean energy, there will be plenty of scope for small-scale private household and business solar and wind electric generation and geothermal heating and cooling. Private businesses, conventional or preferably cooperative, will conduct energy audits and manufacture, install and maintain these distributed renewable energy systems. But these private enterprises will operate within an overall framework of democratic public planning and priorities to meet the objective of a rapid transition to a zero carbon or negative carbon energy system.

Will you sign comprehensive climate change legislation that mandates statewide reductions of CO2 emissions by 80 percent of 1990 levels by 2050?

No. I will push for climate change legislation that mandates statewide reduction to zero or negative CO2 emissions by 2030. See the Solutions Project study for New York State regarding the economic and technical feasibility of this goal with technology commercially available today.

The climate science is clear that 80 by 50 is a recipe for climate catastrophe. See Kevin Anderson and Alice Bows, “Beyond 'dangerous' climate change: emission scenarios for a new world,” Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society, 29 November 2010 and James Hansen et al., “Assessing 'Dangerous Climate Change': Required Reduction of Carbon Emissions to Protect Young People, Future Generations and Nature, , PLoS ONE, 3 December 2013.

Gov. Paterson already set this goal for New York in Executive Order 24 (2009). It derives from and only slightly improves the 7% below 1990 levels adopted by the long outdated 1997 Kyoto Protocol. It only reduces carbon emissions by 26% over the next 35 years, from (using the US-wide data) the current 5.4 billion metric tons to 4 billion metric tons (i.e., 80% of the 5 billion metric tons released in 1990). New York should set an example for the nation and the world, not fall further behind advanced countries like Germany, which has a goal of an absolute drop in carbon emissions of 95% by 2050.

Will you support public purchasing requirements to promote the use of sustainable products by NYS and its public authorities?


In your opinion, what impact has the State Environmental Quality Review Act had upon both New York’s economic development and environmental health? What changes, if any, would you make to the law to improve its effectiveness?

SEQRA has not been adequately implemented and utilized at the local or state level. Strong environmental protection leads to job creation.

SEQRA has played an important role in preserving our state's environmental health and long-term economy, but the courts have unnecessarily limited the ability of citizens to go to court to enforce the law's requirements. As governor, I will work for amendments to SEQRA to reform the standing requirements so that broader categories of citizens can enforce the law.

I would also amend the SEQRA law to examine climate impact.

What actions would you take to protect New York communities and waterways from the transport of Bakken crude oil and Canadian tar sands by rail tanker and barge?

A moratorium until stabilizers are required that remove flammable natural gas liquids before it moves by rail and until it is shipped in reinforced double-hulled tankers.

End the secrecy of what is in the tanks, so that first responders would know what they are dealing with. All communities that trains pass through must have emergency response plans.

Require unlimited financial liability for all fossil fuel and chemical carriers by rail. Prohibit entirely the transport by waterway. No fossil fuel or chemical facilities within a quarter mile of waterways, or a half mile of residential areas. Revoke New York based corporate charters for any transport company responsible for a fossil fuel or chemical accident due to negligence.

Revoke the negative declaration issued by DEC for the proposed Port of Albany crude oil heating facility.

Under what criteria would you support the removal of land from the forever wild designation under Article 14 of the NYS Constitution?


Since 2011, more than 300,000 tons of radioactive drilling waste has entered NY landfills and water treatment plants from PA fracking operations. What policy changes, if any, would you implement to address this waste stream?

Ban the import of these byproducts as has already been done in 13 New York counties. Require the disclosure of chemicals in waste that has already been accepted so that proper remediation efforts can be applied in communities that have already accept the waste.

The State of New York, through its Solid Waste Management Plan, has adopted a “Beyond Waste” philosophy by which producer responsibility and coordinated local recycling efforts can reduce and eventually eliminate the need for incinerators and landfills. What policies would you adopt to better manage the state’s solid waste

I would finally have the state begin to comply with existing laws related to solid waste. Promote reuse and reduction. Oppose incineration and landfills. Adopt a zero waste program. Pass legislation to require packaging to be reusable if possible, or at least recycable. Require waste manufacturers to be legally and financially responsible for waste disposal.

Adopt Extended Producer Responsibility (EPR) legislation (also known as product stewardship) to engage manufacturers and importers in the design of products and packaging to reduce waste and toxicity and remove the burden from government and taxpayers.

Unfortunately, millions of tons of garbage are still being wasted through disposal in landfills or incinerators. The DEC estimates New York’s recycling rate to be only 20%, far short of the 50% reduction and recycling goal that was to be met by 1997 under the State Solid Waste Management Act of 1988. A large portion of waste headed for disposal is recyclable (50%) or compostable (30%). The state needs to provide leadership in improving the collection and marketing of recycables, including the construction and operation of Material Recovery Facilities. The state should promote a volume-based fee system for garbage at the local level, with recycling for free. The state needs to improve oversight of solid waste companies to ensure compliance with recycling. Ban waste haulers and municipalities from sending recyclable materials for disposal and instead require recyclables to be source separated and transported to recycling processing facilities.

Establish a secure funding stream to fund more sustainable solid waste programs over the long term and achieve job benefits and needed greenhouse gas emission reductions. Licensing fees, facility permit fees and surcharges on disposal should all be used to provide dedicated funding. A surcharge of at least $20 per ton of MSW generated could provide $5 per ton to the state for solid waste activities and $15 to local planning units to support needed recycling and composting facilities as well as educational programs.

The state should provide technical and financial assistance to enable communities to implement curbside pickup of compostable materials. Biodegradable materials in landfills emit methane, a gas that has 86 times the global warming potential of CO2 over a 20 year period. Landfill gas collection systems now capture only about 20% of landfill gas.

Garbage incineration remains a financial and environmental disaster, while diverting products such as paper and plastics from recycling programs. They should be rapidly phased out and banned. Burning and burying garbage wastes money, energy, and natural resources. It contributes to climate change and places a pollution and health burden on nearby communities. It is one of the major sources of heavy metals and other pollutants in the air.

We support policies and investment strategies that promote worker or community-owned manufacturing cooperatives using eco-technologies based on nontoxic biodegradables and recyclables and renewable energy sources.

New York State has finite water resources that are needed for agriculture, public drinking water, energy production, manufacturing, recreation and ecosystem health. What is your position on exporting New York’s water to other states?


Since the 2001 US Supreme Court decision SWANCC vs. ACOE, New York State has lost regulatory protection over wetlands smaller than 12.4 acres that are deemed to be “isolated.” This gap in protection could lead to the unmitigated degradation of as much as 40% of New York’s wetlands. What actions will you take to close this regulatory loophole, including the creation and release of jurisdictional wetlands maps?

We should pass legislation providing regulatory protection of all wetland. Rollbacks in federal protection and weak state laws threaten these important natural resources. Many of New York's wetlands are entirely unprotected as they were never properly mapped. I would direct NYS DEC staff to update state wetland maps to reflect those wetlands that were not identified when the first state maps were created with old 1980s technology. Large differences in wetland areas can be noticed when comparing national wetland inventory maps on the US Fish & Wildlife Service web site to current state wetlands maps.

What do you think New York State should do to address the impact of increasingly severe storms?

We should take action to reduce climate change by adopting a plan for 100% clean renewable energy by 2030. We should divest state pension funds from fossil fuel companies. The Attorney General and State Comptroller should sue to hold fossil fuel companies financially liable for the damages from climate change.

Cuomo created an environmental disaster when he waived environmental regulations following Hurricane Irene, needlessly destroying many critical streams in the Adirondacks, Catskills and Hudson Valley through improper channeling and fill. This waiver of environmental regulations needs to be prohibited in the future.

We need to halt construction in flood zones, including reconstruction after storms. We need to remap flood zones, including taking into account rising sea levels. We need to stop the destruction of natural resources such as wetlands that mitigate flooding.

Improve the preparation of emergency response plans, including protecting the most vulnerable residents (poor and seniors). Move water, sewage and energy production facilities from flood zones. Provide protection to mass transit systems.

What policies or legislative initiatives do you support that would reduce the carbon footprint of New York’s transportation infrastructure?

Electrify all transportation along the lines of the Solutions Project study for New York State.

Reverse Cuomo's raid of MTA funds for the general fund. Fully fund the MTA capital program to maintain the good repair of the NYC region’s mass transit system.

Expand public transportation systems so they provide convenient and affordable mobility for all, including intra-urban mass transit, inter-urban rail for intermediate distances, and high-speed rail for long distances.

Require state DOT funds spent on roads and bridges to require “complete street” designs that are safe for bicycles and pedestrians.

Promote urban design and planning for compact cities, towns, and neighborhoods that reduce sprawl and travel distances for school, work, recreation, and shopping.

What policy would you adopt regarding motorized off road vehicles in the state’s wilderness areas (especially in the Adirondack and Catskill Parks)?

I would ban ATV's in the parks.

The US Constitution permits the taking of private property for public use through the power of eminent domain. Recently we have seen eminent domain used to take private property and give it to commercial enterprises. The justification used is that it will bring economic development. How do you think eminent domain should be used?

Eminent domain should be used for public purposes such as public transportation, conservation, and economic development for a public purpose. For economic development, it should not be used to take existing homes, farms, and businesses for another private commercial enterprise. It may be used to protect existing homes, farms, or businesses. One example would be helping homeowners stay in their homes by taking over mortgages from banks at current market value instead of the original inflated value of the housing bubble and reissuing the mortgages based on the current value, as Richmond, California is seeking to do. Another example would be to take over a factory that is slated to close in order to re-open it under worker and/or community ownership on the model of the former Republic Windows and now New Era Windows Cooperative in Chicago.

What policies would you promote to safeguard New Yorkersfrom toxic chemicals in consumer products?

Require manufacturers to provide information regarding the chemicals contained in consumer products.

Expand research into the impacts of chemicals used in producing goods on the environment and public health. Apply the Precautionary Principle to these chemicals – don't use until proven safe – instead of the current safe until proven otherwise practice. Almost 80,000 chemicals are sold in the United States. We are exposed to many of them on a daily basis in household cleaning agents, personal care products, cosmetics, pesticides, building materials, and packaging. Most remain unexamined and unregulated. The odds are certain that some of these chemicals are very harmful. New York State can set an example and begin this research. But the problem is so massive that the federal government must support it. New York should demand federal action.


What is your environmental background and what do you feel are your top environmental accomplishments?

I joined the Sierra Club at 11 years old under the influence of a grade school teacher and Sierra Club member who showed us the Sierra Club books with the Ansel Adams and Eliot Porter pictures. The book that especially motivated me to want to take action was the one about Glen Canyon, The Place No One Knew.

At 14 in 1967, I was campaigning to get adults registered in the new Peace and Freedom Party, which was the first political party to have an “Ecology” plank in its platform that went beyond conservation to propose changes in the social, economic, and technological systems that were generating environmental problems. At 15, I joined Friends of the Earth when it formed and a couple years later wrote a high school term paper based on the steady state economy ideas of John Stuart Mill and Herman Daly that I read in FOE's newspaper. At 17 in 1970, I was the principal organizer for events for the First Earth Day at my high school.

In 1974, I co-founded the Granite State Alliance of New Hampshire and its People's Energy Project, which began resisting the proposed Seabrook 1 and 2 nuclear power plants. In 1976, I was one of the co-founders of the anti-nuclear Clamshell Alliance, which began occupations of the Seabrook site that spawned resistance to nuclear power across the country. Between 1978 and 1984, I co-organized and worked in a worker cooperative that specialized in energy audits and retrofitting homes and businesses with energy efficiency, insulation, solar, and wind applications.

In 1984, I was one of the co-founders of the Green Party in the United States. I participated in movements opposing trash incinerators and nuclear waste dumps in New Hampshire in the 1980s and Syracuse in the 1990s. I also devoted much time in the 1990s to opposing corporate-managed trade under NAFTA, GATT, and WTO that undermines environmental regulations. I was one of the Teamsters in the “Teamsters and Turtles Together At Last” in the “Battle in Seattle” against the WTO in 1999.

Since 2000, as the climate scientists have issued evermore dire reports on the planetary emergency of global warming, I have refocused my environmental work on campaigning for a rapid transition to 100% clean energy. I have also remained active in anti-nuclear efforts, highlighted by a 2011 speaking tour through the Carolinas, Georgia, Alabama, and Florida organized by veterans of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee to build opposition to the new nuclear power plants proposed for those states.


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