New York State Attorney General Eliot Spitzer was the keynote speaker at the Residents for a More Beautiful Port Washington ("Residents") annual meeting. The presentation, which attracted a full house, was co-sponsored by the Port Washington Public Library. Spitzer is known as a leading environmental activist, who has vigorously addressed air and water quality issues, as well as protection of our natural resources. Tom DiNapoli, chair of the New York State Assembly Committee on Environmental Conservation, said of Spitzer, "On the environment there has never been a more proactive attorney general." Spitzer has recently taken on the perpetrators of the financial market scandals, leading Time magazine to designate him "Crusader of the Year."
Spitzer, who was introduced by Town Supervisor-elect Jon Kaiman, began by acknowledging the leadership of Assemblyman DiNapoli and outgoing Supervisor May Newburger. "May and Tom," he said, "You are two superb community leaders. You are the motivating, leading voices in environmental issues." Spitzer added that it is up to grassroots organizations to lead the way. He said, "We in government are not aware of the next issues. All major progressive movements have begun as a grassroots movement. Elected officials, unfortunately, do not lead, we follow." Spitzer added, "There is something wonderful about seeing so many people come out to discuss an issue that you care about. It is not often that you get this kind of turnout."
Spitzer said that one of the major problems we currently have is that the political climate is not supportive to environmental issues. He said, "I am not getting the support when I look to Washington. I see a growing hardening at the EPA and the White House." He pointed out that China, ironically, is imposing more stringent mileage restraints for automotive vehicles than the United States has imposed. Spitzer added, "We are losing our leadership position." He added, "After all these years of trying to find oil, we have not required the manufacturers to increase their mileage with new technology. If we can lower the polluting, boy have we accomplished something important."
Spitzer discussed the enforcement of the federal Clean Air Act, which was enacted in 1970. Then President Richard Nixon signed it into law, said Spitzer, because "it was thought to strike a reasoned balance." The Act contained a provision providing that increased emissions from power plants would have to meet new federal standards. There would be a gradual "ratcheting up" of anti-pollution standards. This concept, said Spitzer, was generally accepted through the administrations of Presidents Reagan, Bush Sr., and Clinton. Enforcement, however, was generally lax. Beginning in September of 1999, New York State and others mounted a series of lawsuits against the Midwestern states, where most power plants are located. Spitzer pointed out that plants in Ohio and other Midwestern states produce emissions that cause smog, asthma and acid rain that come down in New York. He added that the Midwestern power plants had built 750-foot high smokestacks so that the emissions would not come down in their own states. Recently, however, EPA re-interpreted the regulations so that they would not apply to Midwestern states like Ohio, Indiana and Pennsylvania. According to Spitzer, EPA said, "We will not prosecute them." Spitzer commented, "This is a travesty. This means the air we breathe." He added, "Even if we brought every New York State plant up to standard, we still could not meet EPA standards for air quality. The only remedy we have is to stop the power plants." Spitzer said that the earlier lawsuits were "joined by a whole slew of states up and down the East Coast." He pointed out that this included New Jersey, whose then governor, Christie Todd Whitman completely agreed with the suit. She later became head of EPA under President George Bush, Jr., when, Spitzer said, "Things changed." The litigation continues, but Spitzer said, "It is not easy to fight a federal regulatory agency interpretation. Also, the political winds are not blowing in the right direction."
After the presentation, Supervisor-elect Jon Kaiman presented Eliot Spitzer a certificate of appreciation from Residents. During the lively question-and answer period, Spitzer addressed the corruption in the financial services business. "To me," he said, "one of the most egregious forms of moral corruption is the financial services business cheating small investors. They make enormous amounts of money, and for a relatively infinitesimal increase in profits, they take money out of the pockets of people who are saving $50 a week for retirement. What possesses people to do this?" Other topics included MBTE (the fuel additive thought to be toxic), the MTA's "cooking the books," the new cement plant planned to be built in Hudson, achieving a sustainable water supply, excessive fees being charged by financial institutions, and school bus companies who flaunt the laws regarding idling of busses (believed to cause or exacerbate asthma and other respiratory aliments).
Eliot Spitzer's presentation was preceded by the Resident's annual business meeting chaired by co-President Kurt Trinko. Trinko listed the organization's accomplishments for the past year, which include continuation of the tree planting program, upgrading and maintenance of the Main Street Park (now the Blumenfeld Park), and environmental education grants for third-graders. Resident's architect, Eric Pick, worked with the developers of the Stop and Shop mall regarding their plans for building and landscaping. Future projects, said Trinko, include working on a renovation of Mill Pond, a traffic study, landscaping for Harbor Homes, and working with the library on landscaping for the new parking lot. He invited the community to submit suggestions for projects that they would like to see the organization take on. Co-President Rick Krainin acknowledged the many board members, volunteers and sponsors who have supported Residents. He presented a plaque to Assemblyman Tom DiNapoli, whom he described as "the hardest working legislator for any district in the State of New York." Among other things, DiNapoli spearheaded the brownfields legislation, which is expected to provide an impetus to get these toxic sites cleaned up and put back into productive use. DiNapoli also arranged for a $200,000 grant to hire the USGS (United States Geological Survey) to study the underground aquifer that supplies our water.