Urban Environmentalist NYC: Interview with Josh Nachowitz
The Center for the Urban Environment (CUE) had an opportunity to speak with Josh Nachowitz, NYS Policy Director for the New York League of Conservation Voters on the subject of the economy and the environment. To learn more, come to CUE’s Third Thursday on January 15th where Josh will be speaking along with Rob Crauderueff, Policy Director for Sustainable South Bronx. The forum will take place at 6pm @ CUE (168 7 Street, Brooklyn, NY). Call 718.788.8500 x263 or email firstname.lastname@example.org for more information.
CUE: Critical parts of President-Elect Obama’s energy and climate plan link directly to his economic stimulus package and other items on his economic agenda—are New York legislators poised to do the same at the local level?
Nachowitz: NYLCV has long argued that environmental protection and economic growth are intimately linked. We believe that our elected officials now understand this message. On Wednesday Gov. Paterson delivered his first State of the State speech and we were pleased to see that he listed building a clean energy future as one of the top priorities for his administration. The Governor reconfirmed the State’s commitment to an aggressive energy efficiency and renewable energy plan and in fact further strengthened the State’s goal for renewable energy despite the economic crisis. We expect both the Governor and the Legislature to take action on this and other proposals in the upcoming session. Policy makers across New York State seem to have finally recognized the link between climate action and economic prosperity. Ending our dependence on foreign oil, creating clean, reliable and cheap domestic energy sources and fighting climate change are critical to leading impoverished areas of the State (such as large swaths of upstate New York) back to economic prosperity.
CUE: What are the unique environmental challenges facing Kings County—compared to other counties in the State?
Nachowitz: Brooklyn is one of the most densely populated urban communities in the United States. Yet the environmental problems facing the borough are similar to those experienced by many communities in New York State. Key issues in Brooklyn include the clean-up of contaminated “brownfield” sites and heavily polluted waterways, the enhancement and protection of vitally important parkland, investment in improving and expanding our mass transit network and efforts to control congestion and remove toxin spewing vehicles from our already overburdened streets. Supporting the borough (and the city’s) continued growth is also important for the environment. It is somewhat counter-intuitive to think of an urban environment like Brooklyn as “green.” But due to its very density and our reliance on mass transit, Brooklynites (I am proud to be one myself!) are consume far less energy and natural resources and emit fewer greenhouse gasses than average Americans. We support concentrating growth in transit rich and energy efficient urban areas like Brooklyn instead of sprawling and wasteful suburbs.
CUE: How will the current economy affect New York City—from initiatives like PlanNYC to citywide recycling services?
Nachowitz: New York City is currently faced with a serious budget crisis which may turn out to be one of the most difficult since the 1970s. The economic collapse will certainly effect the city government’s ability to carry out wide-ranging and ambitious plans. The current budget already calls for cuts to recycling education programs. We plan to fight these proposals. In 2002, Mayor Bloomberg suspended the city’s metal, glass and plastic (MGP) recycling program. This action had disastrous consequences for recycling in New York City. We are hopeful that the mayor will not go down the same road again. Other PlaNYC initiatives, however, have even more importance during a budget crisis. The Mayor has committed about $80 million to energy efficiency initiatives. The city spends close to $1 billion in energy costs a year, and reducing this substantial and inflexible yearly cost could not only help the environment, it could also reduce the burden on the city’s budget.
CUE: How can Brooklyn residents get involved in local environmental policy and advocacy?Nachowitz: There are countless opportunities for New Yorkers to get involved. One of the easiest is to check out the websites of advocacy organizations such as mine (www.nylcv.org) which will help you stay abreast of legislation and news concerning the environment. I also encourage you to contact your local legislators and make them aware of your interest in the environment and environmentally friendly legislation.
(Interview conducted by Rebeccah Welch, Senior Associate Director of Communications at the Center for the Urban Environment. As a guide to a more sustainable New York City, the Center is dedicated to educating individuals about the built and natural environments. For more about our work visit www.thecue.org.)