The two candidates for the 1st Congressional District seat in November faced off — virtually — on their views on environmental issues Tuesday.
The event was hosted by the Citizens Campaign for the Environment, Students for Climate Action, and the New York League of Conservation Voters Education Fund.
Incumbent Lee Zeldin, 40, (R-Shirley) has held the position since 2015 and is an attorney and U.S. Army Reserve member.
He is being challenged by Nancy Goroff, 52, (D-Stony Brook), a former chair of the chemistry department at Stony Brook University.
Both candidates were recorded and were given the same five questions along with time for a closing statement. Neither candidate was critical of their opponent, for the most part, and the candidates agreed on many of the topics that were brought up.
The first question asked how each candidate would reduce greenhouse gas emissions, and also asked what they felt the federal government’s role should be in fighting climate change.
“I think it’s very important for the government to be working with the private sector in order to have a strong robust partnership to be able to make progress on this front,” Mr. Zeldin said. He said he co-sponsored a bill that provides financial incentives for industrial facilities and power plants that seek to “invest in carbon capture storage equipment.”
He also feels the federal government can play an important role in research on reducing greenhouse gas.
“This is a top priority for me,” said Ms. Goroff. “I have been a member of the Union of Concerned Scientists for many years and I serve on the national advisory board. This is a major motivation for me and getting into this race.”
The threat of sea level rise and extreme weather is a “huge threat to our way of life,” she said.
She added, “We should aim to be carbon neutral by 2035 in our energy production” and “we need to invest in research to move toward the technologies of the future.”
The second question dealt with New York’s goals of powering 6 million houses with 9,000 megawatts of offshore wind by 2035, and how the candidates would help advance the development of offshore wind.
Mr. Zeldin said he has frequently met with offshore wind companies, as well as with people who are concerned about such projects. He said it’s important that everyone’s voice is heard.
Still, he said Long Island has some of most inefficient sources of energy, and places like Brookhaven National Lab can do research to help pursue new opportunities.
“This is all really important and I think we need to start taking action as soon as possible,” Ms. Goroff said. She feels that federal stimulus money will be needed for clean energy infrastructure to help build offshore wind locations.
“I will certainly be there as a voice for how important this is,” she said.
Solar investment tax credit
The candidates were asked what they would do to ensure that the solar investment tax credit, which was enacted in 2006, remains, and were asked what else they would do to advance the implementation of solar power.
Mr. Zeldin said he was a co-sponsor on legislation to extend the investment tax credit for solar projects by five years.
“It’s so important that we get renewable energy sources expanded across the country, including here on Long Island,” Ms. Goroff said. “And tax credits are certainly one mechanism that has been very successful and can continue to be successful.”
She added, “the cost to us in our communities for sticking with fossil fuel is too high. We cannot afford that.”
Fighting fossil fuel
Federal bills have called for things like hydrofracking, and expanding offshore drilling in the Arctic, one questioner stated. “How are you going to fight back against fuel?”
Mr. Zeldin said he cosponsored the Carbon Capture Improvement Act of 2019.
That bill authorizes the issuance of tax-exempt facility bonds for the financing of qualified carbon dioxide capture facilities.
He said there are power plants and industrial facilities that are emitting carbon, and he suggested providing incentives to companies to implement carbon capture and storage equipment at those sites.
Ms. Goroff said this is an example of where having a scientist like herself can be beneficial.
“We need to take action and stop investment in fossil fuel infrastructure and use our investments in green energy and clean buildings and clean vehicles,” she said.
The candidates were asked how they would protect drinking water and how they would cleanup the contamination that’s already there.
Mr. Zeldin said he spends a lot of time and energy on this subject.
“We’ve had challenges here they go back decades and we will always be asking ourselves what more can we do to protect water quality here,” he said, citing places like Francis S. Gabreski Airport in Westhampton, the former Grumman site in Calverton and Brookhaven Lab, which have all had “water quality challenges.”
He said the federal government needs to assist local governments in the remediation of groundwater.
He said this is a problem throughout the country, especially in areas that had “massive defense installations.”
Ms. Goroff said she often hears from people on this subject.
“We need the Environmental Protection Adminstration to be doing monitoring but also helping with remediation,” she said.
She also feels the Department of Defense should be helping with remediation because many defense sites have contributed to the contamination.
“This is something that is so important to Long Island families with sole source aquifers,” she said. “People need to know that there water is safe.”
Mr. Zeldin said that he’s been successful in bringing federal money to his district for projects like dredging, the Long Island Sound program and protecting Plum Island from being sold to private developers.
He said the Lugar Center and the McCourt School of Public Policy at Georgetown University ranked him the 12th most bipartisan member of the House of Representatives this year in terms of working across party lines.
Ms. Goroff said: “I got into this race because I was frustrated and infuriated at the way our representative Lee Zelden and our president have been ignoring the facts and ignoring the evidence an issue after issue, but especially on the issues of climate change.”