This year’s First Congressional District candidates both agree more needs to be done to protect the area’s natural resources, but how the Environmental Protection Agency goes about making that happen is where they disagree.
East End Congressman Lee Zeldin is calling for more oversight since he feels communication between the EPA and Congress is lacking. His opponent, Democratic challenger and former Southampton Town Supervisor Anna Throne-Holst, is criticizing that suggestion since she believes science — not politics — should govern the federal agency.
Both points of view were discussed Tuesday night during a candidate forum hosted by the New York League of Conservation Voters Education Fund at Suffolk County Community College Culinary Arts and Hospitality Center in Riverhead.
Panelists included Citizens Campaign for the Environment executive director Adrienne Esposito; Defend H20 president Kevin McAllister; and Save the Sound outreach coordinator Louise Harrison.
When Ms. Esposito asked if he agrees with Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump’s plan to abolish the EPA, Mr. Zeldin, a supporter of Mr. Trump, said: “My position has been and continues to be … a need to improve the agency, which is very different from advocating to eliminate it.”
Mr. Zeldin added he believes the next president should strengthen the EPA’s relationship with Congress, an effort he described as “the best way to improve the EPA.”
“When a proposal is being signed off on that really should be passed through Congress, and going through the legislative process, I think that’s what caused the additional tension,” he said. “Certain policies are being implemented through the EPA that should be vetted out statutorily through the legislative process, through committee of jurisdiction, more than what we’re seeing right now.”
Ms. Throne-Holst said she opposes that approach, claiming that no other federal agency is under as much scrutiny by Congress.
“I happen to be a politician that believes in science,” she said. “We rely on science in the fields of medical, technology and the idea we’re leaving science at the door when it comes to informing all of these decisions … is pennywise and pound foolish.”
Both candidates also discussed why they believe Plum Island should be preserved during the 90-minute event, in which they appeared separately, with the incumbent fielding questions during the first 45 minutes, followed by the challenger.
Mr. Zeldin said he supports keeping the research facility in place for use by a university or non-profit organization. He also believes there should be some level of public access to the island.
“Ninety percent is undeveloped and it should stay that way,” he added.
The Animal Disease Center on Plum Island has conducted scientific research there since 1954 on a variety of infectious animal-borne diseases, including foot-and-mouth disease. The federal government has owned the land since 1899.
Mr. Zeldin sponsored legislation approved by Congress in May nullifying a 2008 federal law that required the island to be sold to the highest bidder. That bill was proposed after the Department of Homeland Security announced in 2005 that it was moving its animal research lab to Kansas, which was expected to open in 2022.
That bill passed the house but hasn’t yet been taken up in the Senate.
Ms. Throne-Holst said she believes the proposal falls short and more needs to be done to protect the island.
“A bill should have gone in that said this is being made a national park and preserve into all future with nothing else going on there,” she said, adding she would support the land being used for educational purposes.
The debate, shown in the videos above, also featured questions about water quality and dredge dumping in the Long Island Sound.
The next local debate will be hosted by the North Fork Chamber of Commerce on Oct. 27 at 6 p.m. The chamber’s “Meet the Candidates” event will be held at Pace’s Dockside Restaurant in Mattituck. Entry cost is $30 for members, $35 for non-members and includes dinner.
Photo credits: Grant Parpan