By Stephen J. Kotz
Southampton Town’s efforts to reduce greenhouse gases and improve its resiliency in the face of climate change have been recognized by New York State, which has designated it a certified “Climate Smart Community.” The town joins 16 others with the designation, including its neighbor, East Hampton Town.
New York State Department of Environmental Conservation Commissioner Basil Seggos, speaking Thursday at a press conference at Town Hall to celebrate the designation, said of climate change, “There really should be no secret this is the defining issue of our time.”
Under Governor Andrew Cuomo, the state has vowed to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 40 percent by 2030 and by 80 percent by 2050. Mr. Seggos said the state has joined 14 others in creating the U.S. Climate Alliance. “The goal, regardless of what happens in Washington, is we are going to meet our responsibility under the Paris Climate Accord,” he said.
Mr. Seggos said New York has put its money where its mouth is, earmarking $300 million for its Environmental Protection Fund and another $2.5 billion for water quality. The state makes available $11 million in grant money for “Climate Smart” communities, he added.
“This is really ground zero for the environment, and it is imperative we do everything we can on Long Island to protect our population, to protect our amazing natural resources,” he said.
Supervisor Jay Schneiderman said the town has been working on making its operations more sustainable and cited a sustainability section that was added to its town code in 2013 and more recent efforts to reduce nitrogen pollution from septic systems, install more efficient street lighting, and promote the use of electric power equipment in a pilot program at the hamlet square in East Quogue. The town has also adopted a goal of using providing all power through renewable sources by 2025, “and we intend to meet that goal,” he said.
The town has also supported home energy audits through the Long Island Green Homes program and supported solar power through the “Solarize Southampton” program.
Assistant town Planning Director Janice Scherer said the town had gone through a lengthy process to qualify for the state honor. “When we say sustainability, we mean sustain the beauty, culture and history that makes our town among the most desirable places to live and vacation,” she said.
Dieter von Lehsten, the co-chairman of the town’s sustainability committee, said it was important the effort had a grassroots base. “All that we are doing in sustainability is what I strongly believe is work from the bottom up,” he said. “None of this would have happened today if it came from the top down. It would be years away.”
Assemblyman Fred W. Thiele Jr. praised the town for its actions. He said over the years his district has gotten smaller because its population has risen. “If we do nothing about climate change my district is going to get smaller and it’s not going to be a good thing,” he said, adding that sea level rise could have cataclysmic impacts. “I can handle the redistricting commission, but God is another matter,” he said.
“That’s why it’s so important that the State of New York, especially in the absence of federal leadership, take a leadership role here,” he added.
Mr. Schneiderman and Mr. Seggos echoed those remarks. Mr. Schneiderman said he would ordinarily be disappointed that Southampton obtained its ‘Climate Smart’ designation after East Hampton Town, but he said the failure of the United States to sign on to the Paris agreement was beyond disappointing.
“It is embarrassing that we are the only nation on the planet that is not part of the Paris Climate Accord,” he said. “Being second, I can accept it in this case with the ‘Climate Smart,’ but to be not only last but not even there is crazy.”
Mr. Seggos said Governor Cuomo “is a national, if not an international leader, on climate issues,” and predicted it would pay economic dividends for the state as private businesses step in to develop new technologies to combat the problem. “We also don’t want to lose the economic opportunity that will be inherent in adjusting to this crisis,” he said. This is a market opportunity as well.”