One of the tricky things about leadership — responsible leadership — is that it often requires telling people things they don’t really want to hear. In politics, that sometimes means going against the wishes of constituents one looks to for votes and financial contributions in favor of the common good. Maybe that’s why someone came up with the idea of calling elected officials public servants instead of politicians. A subtle reminder of the job and its responsibilities.
Last week, a committee of Orange County legislators had an opportunity to perform a public service. The majority chose a more political approach.
In voting 6-2 to present to the full legislature a resolution supporting the proposed new Danskammer natural gas power plant on the Hudson River in the Town of Newburgh, the Rules, Enactments and Intergovernmental Relations Committee effectively said we prefer the short-term gain of a few hundred jobs and added tax revenues over the long-term health and well-being of people up and down the Hudson River Valley.
The vote also contradicts the goal set by the state Legislature this year of producing 100 percent carbon neutral electricity in the state in 20 years. That’s what the Climate Leadership and Community Protection Act calls for. It doesn’t call for — as supporters of the Danskammer project argue — adding “cleaner” natural-gas produced energy (cleaner than coal) because, while everyone is, of course, opposed to pollution, we do need this added source of fossil-fuel energy (and jobs and taxes) in the meantime while we’re finding out whether alternative sources of energy will work. Don’t we?
What we need is a legitimate commitment — investment — now, in a cleaner environment. That means supporting efforts to promote and develop clean energy sources that will also provide jobs and pay taxes, but without polluting the air and threatening the health of future generations. This responsibility has been abandoned by the current administration in Washington, but New York and other states have stepped up to protect their citizens.
The resolution approved by the county legislative committee was drafted at the request of the Hudson Valley Building and Construction Trades Council, which supports the project for the 450 construction jobs Danskammer LLC says it would provide over two years. “We like the fact that it’s going to be a lot more environmentally friendly than what was there previously,” said Legislature Chairman Steve Brescia, a Montgomery Republican.
First of all, what was there previously was an environmental disaster. And not everyone is enthralled with the proposal. Environmental groups and communities on both sides of the river have spoken out against this step back to the future and the company has yet to submit its detailed proposal to the state. In other words, the company has not demonstrated that the power plant is an economically or environmentally sound investment, or that it is actually needed, as some claim, as a source of power when the Indian Point nuclear power plant closes down.
Next month, the full Orange County Legislature will get to vote on the resolution. All 21 legislators will have the opportunity to demonstrate leadership by being true public servants.