Senate candidates Ahearn, Palumbo share environmental positions at forum

The two candidates for New York’s 1st Senate District both pitched themselves as advocates for the environment during an online forum last week hosted by the New York League of Conservation Voters.

The candidates, Republican Anthony Palumbo and Democrat Laura Ahearn, are vying to fill the position long held by Sen. Ken LaValle (R-Port Jefferson), who is not seeking re-election after 44 years in office. Mr. Palumbo is the current assemblyman on the North Fork and Ms. Ahearn is a social worker, attorney and executive director of Suffolk County’s Crime Victims Center. 

Mr. Palumbo and Ms. Ahearn each answered the same set of questions during the forum, moderated by RiverheadLocal publisher Denise Civiletti, and discussed their views on addressing nitrogen pollution and pesticides, climate goals, offshore wind technology, reducing emissions and contamination at the former Grumman site in Calverton. They did not debate each other.

Mr. Palumbo pointed to his voting record in the Assembly when it comes to clean water efforts and said the East End is the “most environmentally sensitive, in my opinion, district.”

“If we don’t have clean water, we don’t have a place to live,” he said.

Mr. Palumbo said he’s been an active member of the environmental conservation committee during his six-year tenure in the state Assembly and pointed to the expansion of the Community Preservation Fund to allow money to be used for water quality initiatives as a recent accomplishment.

Ms. Ahearn criticized her opponent’s voting record, citing a 67% grade Mr. Palumbo received in the 2019 State Environmental Scorecard published by the NYLCV. She said that as a Democrat, she would be better equipped to pass legislation as a member of the majority party, whereas Mr. Palumbo would join a minority party that includes climate-change deniers. 

“I promise I will absolutely follow the science and I will be a fierce advocate for our environment and I assure you I will not be earning a D for defending what I see as becoming our most vulnerable and in need of protection — our environment,” she said.

Asked about bills that he could introduce or co-sponsor to help New York achieve its goals of 100% clean energy by 2040 and 100% carbon neutrality by 2050 — set by the 2019 Climate Leadership and Community Protection Act — Mr. Palumbo said that as technology increases, municipalities and school districts need to be encouraged to go into renewables in addition to businesses and individuals. He said his home was recently converted to solar energy.

Assemblyman Anthony Palumbo speaking earlier this month. (Credit: Tara Smith)

“As far as our ultimate goal of 100% renewable, we do have some parameters within that act to modify it as it becomes practical, but that is certainly something that is laudable and we will get there someday in the near future,” said Mr. Palumbo, who voted for the Climate Act.

Ms. Ahearn said one goal for her is to focus on the “polluter pays” principle to ensure any polluter that’s benefiting and profiting will pay for what the government has to do to mitigate the damage. She said she would add a low carbon fuel standard, tax fossil fuel providers that bring fossil fuel into the state and look more into how to incentivize anaerobic digestion, a process of generating energy from waste.

Speaking about nitrogen pollution, Mr. Palumbo said it’s important to maintain the work currently being done, such as the expanded CPF fund, and create revenue streams. He said there are approximately 400,000 septic systems on Long Island and creating subsidies for advanced wastewater systems is something that should be done statewide.

“We’re making progress, but with 400,000 systems we have a long way to go,” he said.

Ms. Ahearn said protecting water can be done foremost by preventing pollution with government-funded land acquisition and preservation.

Laura Ahearn in a campaign photo. (Credit: Laura Ahearn for Senate)

“Wastewater treatment is one of our greatest challenges,” she said, adding that she would support a subsidy and tax incentives for advanced wastewater systems. 

Both candidates said they support offshore wind technology.

Asked about maintaining and advocating for local farming, Mr. Palumbo said he has been a friend of the Long Island Farm Bureau as an assemblyman.

He said the business climate in New York has not been good of late and farmers fall into that category.

“The continued legislation that I think is adversely affecting businesses, if we continue to do that and our businesses disappear — speaking from an environmental perspective — what do you think is going to happen to that land?” he said. “Farming is crucial to this district.”

Ms. Ahearn said farming has to be done in an environmentally safe and sustainable way so farmers can survive economically. She said she’d like to work on the farmland preservation program because farmers say the development rights are strict when it comes to a retail use.