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By Ed Berlin
Long Island’s Sierra Club has a close ally in Suffolk County Executive Steven Levy. Meeting with club members at the Quogue Wildlife Refuge on September 15, 2006, he demonstrated an impressive grasp of environmental issues and a passionate dedication to the cause. Seated jacketless on a couch and speaking mostly without notes, he addressed the group for fifteen minutes and then fielded questions for more than an hour.
He first thanked the Sierra Club for pressuring elected officials to do right by the environment. In Suffolk County the pressure has been effective and legislators of both major parties usually act together on environmental issues. Under the aegis of the U.S. Conference of Mayors, he will be signing the Climate Protection Agreement. This is a resolution whereby mayors and county executives nationwide, in response to our nation’s refusal to join the 141 signatory nations to the Kyoto Protocol, have agreed to work locally to combat global warming and reduce greenhouse emissions in accordance with the goals spelled out in that Protocol. Embedded in the agreement is the concept of “Think globally and act locally.”
Suffolk County has been a pioneer in its Open Space Program, a program designed to limit ground water contamination, to maintain lands devoted to farming, to control and limit commercial land development, and to provide land and park space for this and future generations. The program began in 1986 and was, for many years, compromised by political jockeying and favoritism. It is now run by scientific professionals who base decisions strictly on environmental grounds. To date, the program has spent more than six hundred million dollars, and has set aside an acreage that is three times the size of Central Park. In the area of alternative energy use, Suffolk has opted into the NY State Solar Incentive, whereby the county portion of sales tax is waived on purchases of solar energy installations in homes and businesses. County buildings are also being brought into compliance with energy conservation standards through retrofitting (currently reducing energy costs by a million dollars annually), and the police and medical examiners’ buildings now under construction are being fitted with solar panels. The County vehicle fleet is gradually being replaced with hybrid cars and buses, and the current use of fifty-nine diesel buses has cut emissions by 85%. Programs considering renewable bio-energy sources include the County’s collaboration with the Brookhaven National Laboratories to process used commercial cooking oils into diesel fuel, and a project, with a private company, to turn soy products into home heating oil.
Asked about proposals for the water company to tap the Lloyd Aquifer, the deepest, most pristine water source for Long Island, he said he is still studying the issue and is in consultation with his experts. He noted that Nassau County, which has done little to preserve open space for water purity, is pressing for use of the Aquifer. Brooklyn, Queens, and Nassau no longer have any open space. Suffolk is the last frontier and he is determined not to allow its land to be misused to the disadvantage of its residents.