By DANIEL OFFNER
While the race for Westchester county executive has become one rife with accusations between the two candidates, the New York League of Conservation Voters Education Fund provided an opportunity to hear Rob Astorino and Noam Bramson address topics of relevance for voters.
During the first candidates forum held on Sept. 23, both elected officials had their chance to share their unencumbered opinion on sustainability issues facing Westchester.
Unlike a debate, the forum provided Astorino, the Republican county executive, and Bramson, New Rochelle’s Democratic mayor, with a 30-minute window to answer questions from a four-member panel on an array of environmental issues, including ways to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, the disposal of prescription drugs, wastewater management, Indian Point, the implementation of a ban on plastic bags, mass transit and the Tappan Zee Bridge project.
During the forum—held inside the Gerber Glass Center at PACE Law School in White Plains—Professor Karl Coplan explained that reports have indicated suburban areas have the highest greenhouse gas emissions per capita.
“Is suburbia sustainable,” Coplan asked. “Can Westchester County exist as a sustainable county, with an 80 percent reduction of greenhouse gas emissions?”
First to the floor, Bramson said that, while suburbia is unsustainable, there are means in which the county can preserve and protect quality of life concerns and at the same time meet sustainability goals.
“Through comprehensive plans with Westchester municipalities, the county should not only look to replace its depreciated assets,” Bramson said. “It should also look to reduce both its carbon footprint and energy consumption.”
Posed with the same question, Astorino said that Westchester 2025—an online format of countywide planning policies—has worked as a planning tool to provide transit-oriented development, giving residents easy access to mass transit.
Astorino added that, in discussing the plans for the Tappan Zee Bridge project, he informed Democratic Gov. Andrew Cuomo that he would withhold his vote on the bridge unless the plans included a mass transit component.
“This will have a profound effect on generations to come,” Astorino said.
Focusing on one of the more contentious issues facing the local environment, Paul Gallay, president of the clean drinking water watchdog organization, Riverkeeper, asked both candidates whether or not they felt it is time to close down the nuclear power plant facilities at Indian Point in Peekskill.
“A nuclear power plant should never have been located in such a densely-populated area,” Bramson answered. “We need a coherent strategy to move away from our reliance [on nuclear energy] and look for an alternate source of power.”
In opposition of closing the Peekskill facility, Astorino said he wants the nuclear facilities at Indian Point to be kept operational, as the plant provides 25 percent of the energy supply in the county.
“I do believe [Indian Point] should remain open,” Astorino said. “But we do need to make sure it is safe all the time.”
Discussing a recent trend gaining traction amongst several municipalities in the county, the candidates turned to bans of plastic bags. Although not typically a countywide topic, the plastic bag ban has already been approved in the City of Rye, villages of Mamaroneck and Larchmont, and was recently shot-down in the Village of Tuckahoe.
Adrienne Esposito, executive director of the Citizen’s Campaign for the Environment, informed the candidates that, on average, an individual uses as many as 300 to 700 plastic bags each year. She asked the candidates what Westchester’s top elected official plans to do to get rid of the “plague” of plastic bag use in Westchester.
Although both candidates were hesitant that a countywide ban would be achievable without the approval of each municipal government, both candidates were open to the idea.
Astorino said the fact that three municipalities have already taken to banning plastic bags, shows that people are much more mindful of the environment and how it will exist for future generations.
“Education is the key to this,” he said.
Astorino pointed out that, while some communities have taken to banning plastic bags, others have taken a different approach, charging a nickel for each plastic bag.
Similarly, Bramson said he would need to ensure that municipal officials provide the requisite level of support to transition the entire county away from using plastic bags. He also felt individual responsibility is a key factor in making something like a countywide plastic bag ban work.