Treading Water

A view of the Stony Brook house, a half a mile from the water. Photo from Donna Newman

Erratic weather patterns have become more prevalent, causing climate change believers to cite them as evidence of the declining health of the Earth. Still, for many people the changes have had no tangible effect on their daily lives. I experienced my first, rather distressing significant outcome of the climate crisis seven years ago. It had to do with my homeowners insurance.

Donna Newman. File photo.

We purchased our first — and only— home in northern Stony Brook in 1973. Major selling points for our little white cape cod house were: it was located in the renowned Three Village school district; it was on a large, beautifully landscaped piece of property in charming Old Field South; and it was not far from West Meadow Beach on the Long Island Sound.

When choosing homeowner’s insurance we selected a major company with a solid reputation. It was already providing our automobile coverage and even offered a discount if you took out multiple policies.

Over the years I only remember submitting one insurance claim, when a burst pipe damaged the wall-to-wall carpeting in our living room and dining room. Even through major hurricanes like Gloria and Sandy we never experienced any flooding in our basement.

Then in 2010 — quite out of the blue — a letter arrived from the company informing us it would no longer be able to provide us with the homeowner’s insurance we had counted on for 27 years.

What? Why?

We always paid our premiums on time. We had only one claim in all those years. I was completely bewildered.

I placed a call to the office of the president of the company and was told that, due to recent statistical data evaluations, the company had determined it was necessary not to renew coverage for anyone living within a mile of the water.

“But,” I argued, “you have insured us for 27 years. Our house is in the exact same location as it always has been. I just don’t understand.”

She explained that things had changed; that there would be no exceptions; and that I needed to look for a new insurance carrier.

“What about longevity,” I countered. “What about loyalty?”

She said it wasn’t personal and that she was sorry.

I threatened to drop the auto coverage on our two cars and to tell everyone I knew about this upsetting turn of events.

“Whatever you need to do,” she replied, and she apologized again.

So it was that, already in the year 2010, climate change was being taken very seriously by big insurance companies seeking to minimize their liability.

I began to wonder if we’d even be able to get insurance, considering that “things had changed.”

It took us some time to locate a company that would provide the same level of insurance coverage we’d previously obtained. Thankfully, with the help of a local broker, we were able to get a policy with a much smaller company that we had never heard of before.

And here we are in 2017, hoping that our policy with our current insurer will be renewed come the fall. We’re also hoping we’ll never again have the need to file a claim.

Donna Newman is a former editor of The Village Times Herald.

Ben May is a Mount Sinai High School senior student. Photo from Ben May.

It doesn’t take much to start helping the environment.

Eight-year-old me was exploring a stream with my brother and our friends. As we began heading home, I spotted a large plastic container sitting on the bank. Everyone else seemed to ignore it, but I wandered over to examine its contents. After a quick examination, I decided it contained nothing of interest and threw it back to the ground. My brother yelled up at me to ask why I was not recycling it.

I responded, “No one else is going to do that, why do I have to clean it up?”

With a stern face, he said, “For exactly that reason.”

From this quick conversation, my outlook on the world was forever changed. Humanity faces many challenges, but not everyone chooses to help confront them. The environment is in danger of destruction; it is our obligation to save it.

I began my environmental activism at Mount Sinai High School. As a sophomore, I founded the Environmental Outreach Club. This club implemented a recycling program and facilitated annual beach cleanups each year with a turnout of more than 70 students. It amazed me how many people were ready to help. Even a small group of passionate youth can make an observable difference. Then, last fall, I found myself one of three high school students on the planning committee for the first Long Island Youth Ocean Conservation Summit. This event, where participants heard from environmentalists such as Fabien Cousteau, was meant to bring about youth-driven conservation efforts. Since earning a minigrant from the summit, the Environmental Outreach Club has been pressing for the elimination of one-use bottles and cans from the cafeteria of Mount Sinai High School.

Thus far, we have installed three water bottle refill stations throughout the school and plan on selling reusable bottles at the cafeteria. We hope to later replace the vending machines with beverage fountains to eliminate the need for one-use cans and bottles. Local projects usually have the most powerful impact to someone’s community with small-scale actions creating large-scale changes; however, national endeavors bring a far-reaching aspect to environmentalism.

Last year, I had the honor to be a member of the seven-person Sea Youth Rise Up delegation to lobby President Barack Obama (D) to establish a new marine protected area off the coast of Cape Cod. We met with the Environmental Quality Council at the White House, ran a live international broadcast on World Oceans Day, filmed a documentary and visited the United Nations in New York City to bring attention to the cause. As a teenager, it is difficult to enact change at the federal level, but this opportunity enabled me to engage in debates that directly affected legislation. When Obama heard our collective voices and established the Northeast Canyons and Seamounts National Monument, which protects large sections of the Atlantic Ocean off the coast of Cape Cod, I realized change can be created by anyone — no matter their age. After returning from the Sea Youth Rise Up campaign, I was appointed communications coordinator for the national Youth Ocean Conservation Summit organization, was a guest speaker at this year’s Long Island YOCS, and have been invited to speak at an upcoming TEDx event in London this June.

From my limited personal experience so far, the world of environmentalism is composed of smart, passionate people. Today — even when temperatures and sea level are rising, fish stocks are being depleted, water is becoming scarce, petrochemicals are being added to the oceans at an exponentially increasing rate and a mass extinction is occurring — I am still extremely hopeful. After meeting other people who help mitigate these ailments of our society,  both by small-scale and large-scale actions, I am confident in our collective ability to save our world.

Over my few years of being an environmental advocate, I have learned two things: the opportunities to get involved are endless, and an open door foreshadows more doors to come. Every opportunity that presented itself to me has been the product of some previous action I had taken — all tracing back to my brother yelling at me to throw out a piece of plastic.

Ben May is a Mount Sinai High School senior and is the founder of the Environmental Outreach Club at the school.

Residents that would be affected by 1, 3 and 6 feet of sea level rise on Long Island. Image by TBR News Media

Coastal communities on Long Island face a monumental challenge in the century ahead that will determine the fate of the most inhabited island in the United States.

Sea level has risen by about a foot in the New York metropolitan region since the start of the 20th century, and the pace is accelerating, according to the New York City Panel on Climate Change in 2015. According to NASA, the last three decades are the warmest 30 years of the last 1,400. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency attributes sea level rise to global warming caused by greenhouse gases released in the atmosphere from burning fossil fuels.

Despite the fact we still enjoy four seasons in New York and have endured more than one snowfall this winter, evidence of climate change is here. While our weather may not seem to be changing significantly, our climate is, and with that comes an array of issues.

A look at Bayville, one of the rare North Shore communities vulnerable to sea level rise prior to the next century. Image by RPA

Long Island, and the New York metropolitan region as a whole, is uniquely vulnerable to the dangers presented by climate change, especially accelerated sea level rise. The New York metropolitan area has about 3,700 miles of coastline and is home to about 23 million people. In December 2016, an independent urban research and advocacy organization released a detailed study on the effects 1, 3 and 6 feet of sea level rise would have on Long Island, among other areas.

“I would say on the whole people are not responding to this as urgently as they need to or as seriously as they need to,” Rob Freudenberg, vice president of energy and environment for the Regional Plan Association said in a phone interview. Freudenberg oversaw the production of “Under Water,” RPA’s report released in December, which provides a chilling look at the future of Long Island. “It’s very hard in a way to kind of paint the picture that nobody has lived yet,” he said. “Our data and maps try to show people where these rising sea levels are going to affect them, but until people live that, it just doesn’t hit home.”

The report details the consequences for Long Island when — not if — sea levels rise by another foot, a threshold that could be reached as soon as the 2030s. More than 7,000 South Shore residents would be permanently flooded should that occur. The South Shore faces a far more imminent threat than the North Shore. However, Freudenberg said the North Shore will have similar issues to worry about around the turn of the next century. He attributed the differences in vulnerability to the North Shore’s rough highlands, which will be able to sustain sea level rise for longer, compared to the South Shore’s bays, beaches and wetlands, which could face threats as soon as in a decade.

“The South Shore will really need to start making plans to change development and how they do things today,” Freudenberg said. “The North Shore has some time but they should be thinking about it. Ideally what we’re recommending for municipalities to do is take a look at these numbers, take a look at where these areas are in the communities and start thinking about how they would plan for them as these numbers come.”

The RPA is not the only entity anticipating hazardous sea level rise around the metropolitan area in the coming decades. In February, New York State adopted official sea level rise projections based on peer-reviewed research of scientists in the hopes of helping state agencies and coastal communities prepare to fundamentally change their future plans for vulnerable lands.

“I would say on the whole people are not responding to this as urgently as they need to or as seriously as they need to.”

— Rob Freudenberg

“New York is already experiencing the impacts of our changing climate in the form of severe storms and weather events, and our sea levels are rising about two times faster than the global average,” New York Department of Environmental Conservation Commissioner Basil Seggos said in a statement.

The state’s adopted projections call for between 2 and 10 inches of sea level rise by the 2020s, 8 to 30 inches by the 2050s, 1 to 5 feet by the 2080s and up to 6 feet by 2100.

RPA’s projections follow a similar arch, though the report suggests those hurdles can be cleared much sooner. Between 3 and 6 feet of sea level rise would cause about 40,000 people living on Long Island to be permanently inundated with water. At an increase of 6 feet, about 165,000 Long Islanders would need to live elsewhere and about 20 percent of the region’s power-generating capacity would be threatened. With 3 feet of sea level rise, more than half of LaGuardia Airport could be permanently flooded.

“We built in places that in hindsight we should not have built in — low-lying areas that are meant to be temporarily flooded with water,” Freudenberg said. “The good news is that sea level rise isn’t happening at a destructive rate tomorrow. We have time to plan in places like the North Shore where geography gives us a further advantage, so we have even more time to plan. That being said, we need to be making decisions today to ensure the protection, or if we have to leave some of these areas, we have to start laying out those decisions today and planning for it. That’s kind of what we encourage municipalities to do, not to hide their heads in the sand and wait until the water is here. We need to think proactively about this.”

The report laid out a few options, though RPA expects to release another report with a wider range of potential actions and solutions in the coming months. For now, pumping more sand onto beaches or constructing higher sea walls around communities and infrastructure; elevating structures; and phasing out new development and subsequently beginning the process of relocating resident’s and business from vulnerable areas are the three responses RPA has suggested — none of which would be easy or cheap.

“I don’t think we’re making the decisions that we need to today and I don’t think we have enough reliable sources of funding to make those changes.”

— Rob Freudenberg

Freudenberg called on local municipalities to begin planning for the inevitable. He said the biggest obstacle is establishing a reliable revenue stream to begin the process of adapting the region for a soggy future.

“I think we’re not adequately prepared for that,” he said. “I don’t think we’re making the decisions that we need to today and I don’t think we have enough reliable sources of funding to make those changes. Like we say in the report, there’s 3,700 miles of coastline in our region — we are not going to be able to build a wall to protect all of that. We’re going to have to make choices about where we do protective measures versus where we do the other end of the spectrum, which is where we have to leave, or retreat areas. Either way we don’t currently have enough funding to do any of those.”

Freudenberg also warned rising sea levels will make the region more vulnerable to storm surges in the event of another Hurricane Sandy. In a 2015 op-ed in The New York Times, Stony Brook University professor of physical oceanography at the School of Marine and Atmospheric Sciences Malcolm Bowman expressed a similar concern.

“In the future, relatively modest storms riding on an ever-increasing sea level will do as much damage as rare, once-in-a-century storms do now,” Bowman wrote.

Freudenberg made sure not to understate the road ahead for those who live and work on Long Island.

“It’s going to be the biggest investment we make in our region over the next 50 to 100 years,” he said.

Image by TBR News Media.
Image by TBR News Media.

By Victoria Espinoza

Fishing is a nearly $2 billion industry on Long Island, bringing hundreds of jobs to Suffolk County annually. Rising water temperature has the potential to drastically change the business.

Water temperatures have been consistently increasing, and scientists and professionals said this trend could disrupt and permanently alter the species of fish that reside in local waters.

Lobster

More than twenty years ago, Northport and other coastal towns and villages on Long Island enjoyed a prosperous lobster fishing market. Flash forward to 2017, and that market is a distant memory. In the late 1990s, the lobster population effectively “died out” in the Long Island Sound. Kim McKown, unit leader for marine invertebrates and protected resources for the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation said at the time scientists declared it “a  commercial fishing disaster.”

“Researchers felt that it was the perfect storm,” McKown said in a phone interview. She said studies done concluded increased water temperatures led to added stress for lobsters, which affected their immune system and caused their demise. It was discovered lobsters in the Sound had suffered from hypoxia, a lack of oxygen in the water. Hypoxia is caused by warmer water, as warm water is able to hold less oxygen than cold — and this condition can also cause an increase in nitrogen levels, another harmful effect on fish. Hypoxia has occurred in the summer months in the Sound for decades, varying in longevity and density.

According to the Long Island Sound Study, “Sound Health 2012,” conducted by the NYSDEC, the area where hypoxia occurred in that summer “was the fifth largest since 1987 — 289 square miles, about 13 times the size of Manhattan.” It also lasted “80 days, 23 more than average between the years 1987 and 2012.” As water temperature levels rise, so does the duration of hypoxia in the water.

“Water temperatures were so high [then], scientists also found a new disease in lobster.”

—Kim McKown

“Water temperatures were so high [then], scientists also found a new disease in lobster,” McKown said. The disease was calcinosis, which results in calcium deposits forming crystals in the lobsters’ antenna glands. It was discovered in the remains of dead lobsters.

According to the Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission, the organization tracking lobster population in southern New England, including the Long Island Sound, the population has continued to dwindle since the late ’90s. A record low population count occurred in 2013 and the organization said the stock is “severely depleted.”

“These declines are largely in response to adverse environmental conditions including increasing water temperatures over the last 15 years,” the ASMFC said in a study.

Huntington fishing captain James Schneider substantiated the data based on his own observations, saying the lobster population has not bounced back in full since then, although he has started to see more in recent years.

Winter flounder

Lobsters are not the only species in the Sound impacted by increased water temperatures. “Ask any fisherman the last time they caught a winter flounder,” Mark Tedesco, the director of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s Long Island Sound Office, said in a phone interview. “They’ll probably tell you, boy, there aren’t too many of them out there.”

Tedesco’s claim was backed up by another captain. “Winter flounder have been diminished big time,” Northport fishing captain Stuart Paterson said in a phone interview.

He remembers fishing for winter flounder all the time as a kid in the spring and the fall. That’s no longer the case. “It’s really been a shame,” he said.

The ASMFC’s tracking of winter flounder proves the fish has had a species dip mirroring the southern New England lobster. In 1984 winter flounder landing, or total catch, was at almost 35 million pounds. In 2010 the winter flounder hit their lowest landing total — just 3.5 million pounds.

“The flounders are on the same levels as the lobsters, it’s a slow and grueling comeback,” Schneider said. He also said he saw winter flounder suffering from a familiar foe — hypoxia and increased levels of nitrate.

The reason for the disappearing fish is indicated  in its name — a winter flounder has a hard time thriving in a Long Island Sound with warming temperatures. The ASMFC cites habitat degradation as one of the reasons the population has decreased, along with overfishing and low genetic variability.

That’s not to say all flounder species are vanishing from the water. Fishermen agree flukes, also known as summer flounder, are seeing steady growth.

“There is a lot more fluke flounder than there used to be,” Paterson said. “Their stock is vibrant.”

The trend is not surprising to the Long Island Sound Study. “Many cold water species common in Long Island Sound have been declining in abundance over the last two decades, while many warm water fishes have been increasing,” its “Sound Health 2012” report stated.

“Historic sea surface temperature data…show[s] a significant warming trend along the U.S. coast… that exceeds local atmospheric temperature increases and is comparable to the warming rates of the Arctic.”

—University of Connecticut study

Lori Severino, public information officer for the NYSDEC said in an email as black sea bass numbers have increased, fish like winter flounder have dwindled.

“A number of colder water species have declined, including American lobster and the winter flounder,” she said.

Long Island Sound Study leader Tedesco said he wouldn’t rule out the possible impact of water temperatures in the shifts in population of fish species in the Sound.

“Fishermen are used to seeing changes in populations, and sometimes that’s because of fishing pressure but it can also be because of these larger changes in climate,” Tedesco said.

The future of species in the Sound is far from clear if climate change continues and water temperatures continue to rise.

“It’ll change the mix of species,” Tedesco said. “You had one species [lobsters] that were obviously important
to humans, but also helped structure the 
environment in the Long Island Sound. You lose that and there are other species that will take its place — and we’ll see that [happening] if waters continue to warm. Some species will get a competitive advantage over others.”

In a study conducted by the Connecticut Department of Energy & Environmental Protection and the University of Connecticut from 1984 to 2008, it was proven — from tracking finfish in the Sound — water temperatures were causing warm water fish species to increase and cold water fish species to decrease. It also confirmed average catch in the spring has significantly decreased throughout the years — when the water is colder — while mean catch in the fall has increased, when the water is warmer.

“Collectively the abundance of cold-adapted species declined significantly over the time series in both spring and autumn,” the study found. “In contrast the abundance of warm-adapted species increased.”

The Connecticut research also said the trend in the Long Island Sound is consistent with trends and forecasts at larger biogeographic scales.

“Historic sea surface temperature data recorded from 1875 to 2007 show a significant warming trend along the U.S. coast north of Cape Hatteras [North Carolina] that exceeds local atmospheric temperature increases and is comparable to the warming rates of the Arctic,” the study continued. “It should be expected that the warming trend along the northeastern coast will continue.”

NYSDEC spokesperson Severino agreed North Shore water is rapidly warming.

“The western north Atlantic, Long Island Sound included, is one of the fastest warming places on the earth,” she said.

And the fishermen on Long Island may be discovering firsthand what a more powerful predatory species could do to diversity among fish in the Sound.

Black sea bass

“The problem is the predation from the black sea bass, we see lobster antenna in their mouths when we catch them,” Schneider said. “They’re expanding and spreading.”

His fellow North Shore fisherman agreed. “They’re eating everything — they eat juvenile everything,” Paterson said. “I would say [black sea bass] is 200 percent above even where they were last year.”

Severino, confirmed the warming water temperature in the Sound has played a part in the black sea bass population increase.

“Black sea bass are aggressive, highly opportunistic predators feeding on everything from amphipods to crabs to squid to fish.”

—Lori Servino

“Shifts in the distribution in the number of fish possibly associated with warming waters have been seen over the last decade,” she said in an email. “Generally, fish formerly associated with the Mid-Atlantic [area] are now more prominent in southern New England, including … the Long Island Sound. Black sea bass is an example of this.”

Severino also agreed black sea bass can be a formidable carnivore.

“Black sea bass are aggressive, highly opportunistic predators feeding on everything from amphipods to crabs to squid to fish,” she said. Further upstate in New York, the same changes in aquatic life are happening.

Hemlock forests, known for the shade and cool temperatures, have been declining due to an increase of an invasive insect population that’s thriving due to warmer winters. As hemlock habitats decline, so do New York state’s fish — and the brook trout that rely on that habitat.

“The loss of brook trout will cause changes in New York’s fishing economy and may have disproportionate effects on small, fishing-dependent communities in which millions of dollars are spent by tourists who come to fish for trout,” a study entitled “Responding to Climate Change in New York State” said. The report was carried out by Columbia University, CUNY and Cornell University for the state Energy Research and Development Authority. “Hunting, fishing and wildlife viewing make significant contributions to New York state’s economy. More than 4.6 million people fish, hunt or wildlife watch in the state, spending $3.5 billion annually.”

The future of the Long Island Sound remains uncertain, but in a warming climate the one thing guaranteed is change.

Beetles, which thrive in warmer temperatures, are threatening pine trees

Residents from Cutchogue work together to place sand bags at the edge of the Salt Air Farm before Hurricane Sandy in 2012. Photo by Prudence Heston

While surrounded by salt water, Long Island is in the midst of a drought that is heading into its third year. Amid a trend towards global warming, the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation sent a letter to water district superintendents throughout Suffolk and Nassau County to ask them to lower their water consumption by 15 percent in the next three to four years.

“The primary area that is ripe for reduction is summertime watering,” said Bill Fonda, a spokesman for the DEC. The department has asked the water districts to reduce consumption, but it’s up to the districts to determine how they will reach those goals, he said.

The letter, written by Tony Leung, the regional water engineer, indicated that “results for 2015 show both Nassau and Suffolk County have exceeded the safe yield as cited in the 1986 Long Island Groundwater Management Program,” and that “a concerted effort is needed to reduce peak season water demand.”

The letter, which doesn’t cite global warming, indicates that salt water intrusion, contaminant plumes migration, salt water upconing and competing demand have raised concerns about a need to reduce peak season water demand.

Observers suggested the demand was likely rising for a host of reasons, including increased use of underground irrigation systems and a rise in the population of Long Island.

Water experts welcomed the DEC’s initiative, which is one of many steps Long Islanders can and are taking to respond to a changing environment.

“Most people have no clue how much water they use…They get their water bill, it is what it is, and then they write a check and send it in.”

— Sarah Meyland

Sarah Meyland, the director of the Center for Water Resources Management and associate professor at the New York Institute of Technology, commended the DEC for asserting control over water withdrawals.

“Most people have no clue how much water they use,” Meyland said. “They get their water bill, it is what it is, and then they write a check and send it in.”

She admitted changing consumer behavior will be challenging.

The first step in ensuring water suppliers meet this request, Meyland suggested, is to inform the public about the need for less water use, particularly during the summer months. One possible solution is for irrigation systems that turn off automatically after a rainstorm.

The change in climate has posed a threat to trees that commonly grow on Long Island.

Pine trees have faced an invasion from the southern pine beetle, which extended its range onto Long Island in 2014 and is now a pest that requires routine managing and monitoring.

Long the scourge of pine trees in southern states, the pine beetle, which is about the size of a grain of rice, has found Long Island’s warmer climate to its liking.

“We’re assuming either [Hurricane] Irene or Sandy brought it in,” said John Wernet, a supervising forester at the DEC. “Because it’s getting warmer, the beetle has been able to survive farther north than they have historically.”

Forestry professionals in the south have waged a battle against the beetle for years, trying to reduce the economic damage to the timber market. On Long Island, Wernet said, they threaten to reduce or destroy the rare Pine Barrens ecosystem.

The beetle can have three or four generations in a year and each generation can produce thousands of young.

The first step relies on surveying trees to find evidence of an infestation. Where they discover these unwanted pests, they cut down trees and score the bark, which creates an inhospitable environment for the beetle.

“If left alone, the beetle is like a wildfire and will keep going,” Wernet said. Without direct action, that would be bad news for the pine warbler, a yellow bird that lives near the tops of pine trees, he said.

Wernet added Long Island’s drought also increases the risk of
wildfires.

Farmers, meanwhile, have had to contend with warmer winters that trick their crops into growing too soon while also handling the curveballs created by unexpected cold snaps, frosts, and the occasional nor’easter.

Dan Heston and Tom Wickham survey waters that entered Salt Air Farm after Hurricane Sandy. Photo by Prudence Heston

Last year, the colored hydrangeas of Salt Air Farm in Cutchogue budded early amid warmer temperatures in March, only to perish amid two eight-degree nights.

“We lost [thousands of dollars] worth of hydrangeas in two nights,” said Dan Heston, who works on the farm with his wife Prudence, whose family has been farming on Long Island for 11 generations. “Our whole colored hydrangea season was done.”

Heston said he’s been a skeptic of climate change, but suggested he can see that there’s something happening with the climate on Long Island, including the destructive force of Hurricane Sandy, which flooded areas that were never flooded during large storms before.

“I think the climate is shifting on Long Island,” Prudence Heston explained in an email. “Farmers are constantly having to adapt to protect their crops. In the end, pretty much every adaptation a farmer makes boils down to climate.”

Changes on Long Island, however, haven’t all been for the worse. Warmer weather has allowed some residents to grow crops people don’t typically associate with Long Island, such as apricots and figs. For three generations, Heston’s family has grown apricots.

Other Long Islanders have attempted to grow figs, which are even more sensitive to Long Island winters, Heston said. This was not an economically viable option, as each plant required individual wrapping to survive. That hasn’t stopped some from trying.

“People are now finding our winters to be warm enough to make [figs] a fun back yard plant,” Prudence Heston said.

In other positive developments, the Long Island Sound has had a reduction in hypoxia — low oxygen conditions — over the last decade, according to Larry Swanson, the interim dean of the School of Marine and Atmospheric Sciences at Stony Brook University.

“The state and the Environmental Protection Agency have agreed to a nitrogen reduction program,” Swanson said. “It appears that the decline in nitrogen may be having a positive effect.”

Brookhaven Town took a similar step in 2016.

The town board approved a local law proposed by Supervisor Ed Romaine (R) last summer that established nitrogen protection zones within 500 feet of any body of water on or around Long Island. The zones prohibit new structures or dwellings being built in that range from installing cesspools or septic systems.

Ryan Madden from the Long Island Progressive Coalition leads a march calling for renewable energy in the form of wind. Photo from Ryan Madden

Scientists and politicians are relied upon to do the bulk of the work to reduce the effects and pace of climate change, but local activist organizations on Long Island are taking on the burden as well.

“I think it’s really important for grassroots and local solutions to tackle this crisis — to be at the forefront of the solutions,” Ryan Madden, with the Long Island Progressive Coalition said. “A lot of the problems we see in this country, in New York State and on Long Island, whether it’s rampant income inequality, access to education, just issues of local pollution and ailments related to the combustion of fossil fuels, all of this connects into a larger system that informs why climate change is a problem in the first place.”

The LIPC, a community-based grassroots organization that works on a range of issues related to sustainable development as well as achieving social, racial and economic justice, has a program for improving energy efficiency. The group helps low- to moderate-income homeowners take advantage of free energy assessments and obtain financial resources to be able to go through energy-efficient retrofits and ultimately help reduce carbon footprints. The organization also recently entered the solar arena.

Members of Sustainable Long Island’s youth-staffed farmers market in New Cassel. Photo from Gabrielle Lindau

“It’s part of a larger push to democratize our energy system so that communities have a say in the build out of renewable energy and have ownership or control over the systems themselves,” Madden said. “We’re pushing for constructive and far-reaching changes, which is what we think is needed in this time.”

Madden added he has fears about the future because of comments President Donald Trump (R) has made in the past regarding climate change and his previously stated belief it is a hoax. Trump signed an executive order March 28 that served as a rollback of the Clean Power Plan, an initiative meant to reduce carbon pollution from power plants. The order infringes on commitments to the Paris Agreement, a universal, legally binding global climate deal.

“We’re trying to meet that with really bold, visionary climate policy that has a wide range of economic transformative impacts, while also remaining on the ground helping homeowners and institutions make that switch through energy efficiency and renewable energy,” Madden said.

Other organizations like the Sierra Club, a nonprofit, are also focused on renewable energy, but in the form of offshore wind.

“Offshore wind is the best way to meet our need for large-scale renewable energy that can help us fight climate change and provide good jobs for New Yorkers, but we aren’t used to getting our energy this way in the United States,” Sierra Club organizer Shay O’Reilly said. “Instead, we’re used to relying on dirty fossil fuels, and our energy markets and production systems are centered on these ways of producing electricity.”

Gordian Raacke, with Renewable Energy Long Island also works on this front. He and his group advocated for and eventually convinced the Long Island Power Authority to do a study on offshore wind power.

“January of this year, LIPA agreed to sign a contract for New York’s first, and the country’s largest, offshore wind project,” he said.

New York Renews hosted a town hall to get community members together to talk about climate change issues. Photo from Ryan Madden

Deepwater Wind will build and operate the 90-megawatt project 30 miles east of Montauk Point in the Atlantic Ocean. The project will generate enough electricity to power 50,000 homes.

In 2012, the group also commissioned a study to evaluate whether Long Island could generate 100 percent of its annual electricity consumption from renewable energy sources. The study, The Long Island Clean Electricity Vision, showed that it would not only be possible, but also economically feasible.

Currently, the LIPC has a campaign to pass the Climate and Community Protection Act in New York State, which would decarbonize all sectors of New York’s economy by 2050, redirect 40 percent of all state funding to disadvantaged communities — which would decrease pollution over decades — and ensure a transition away from fossil fuels.

These topics and others are taught in classes at Stony Brook University under its Sustainability Studies Program. Areas of study include environmental humanities, anthropology, geology, chemistry, economy, environmental policies and planning. Students do hands-on and collaborative work and take on internships in the field. They also clear trails and develop businesses to help increase sustainability among other hands-on initiatives.

“Our mission is to develop students who become leaders in sustainability and help to protect the Earth,” Heidi Hutner, director of the program said. “Climate change and pollution is the most important issue facing us today. We have to find a way to live on this planet and not totally destroy it and all of its creatures. Our students are skilled in many different ways, going into nongovernmental or not-for-profit organizations, becoming law professors, lawyers, journalists, scientists, educators, but all focused on the environment. A former student of ours is the sustainability director at Harvard Medical School.”

Students from the program organized to march in the People’s Climate March in 2014, and will be doing so again April 29. The purpose of the march is to stand up to the Trump administration’s proposed environmental policies.

Students and staff at East Islip High School work with Sustainable Long Island to build a rain garden. Photo from Gabrielle Lindau

Undergraduates in the program also work closely with environmentally active local legislators like state Assemblyman Steve Englebright (D-Setauket), and county Legislators Kara Hahn (D-Setauket) and William “Doc” Spencer (D-Centerport). There is also a Sierra Club on campus.

The LIPC regularly hosts round tables to show other environmental groups what it’s up to and town halls to let community members share their stories and even visit assembly members to lobby for support. Sustainable Long Island, a nonprofit founded in 1998 that specialized in advancing economic development, environmental health and social equality for Long Island, also focuses on low-income communities through its programs.

Food equality and environmental health are the group’s biggest areas of concentration because according to Gabrielle Lindau, the group’s director of communications, the issues are tied to each other.

“There is a polarization here on Long Island,” she said. “We have extremely rich communities, and then we have extremely poor communities.”

According to Lindau, 283,700 people receive emergency food each year, so Sustainable LI builds community gardens and hosts youth-staffed farmers markets to combat the problem.

“It’s a game-changer for low income communities,” she said. “These communities gardens are great because they give people access to fresh, healthy food, and it also puts the power in their hands to find food and also, the learning skills to be able to grow that food. It’s also a paid program, so it’s giving them an opportunity to earn what they’re working toward.”

The youth-staffed farmers markets, which began in 2010, have been a real catalyst for change in communities like Farmingdale, Roosevelt, Freeport, Flanders, New Castle and Wyandanch where access to fresh food is not a given.

Children help Sustainable Long Island build a community garden. Photo from Gabrielle Lindau

“We have so much farming going on out east here on Long Island and I don’t think people who live here ever step back to look at all the food we have here in our own backyard,” Lindau said. “These markets are an incredible program because they’re not only teaching kids in communities about agriculture where they wouldn’t have necessarily had the opportunity to do that, but they’re also teaching them financial literacy skills, and, at the same time, they’re bringing in healthy food items to their neighbors.”

Shameika Hanson a New York community organizer on Long Island for Mothers Out Front, an organization that works to give women a voice for change — empowering and providing them with skills and resources to get decision makers and elected officials to act on their behalf — does specific work with climate change, also calling for the transition from fossil fuels to renewable energy. As a national organization, the topics range depending on the needs of an area from getting methane gas leaks plugged, to stopping oil trains for moving through the area, to getting involved in carbon offsets. Specifically on Long Island, women are creating a task force to ensure the drinking water quality across the island is standardized.

“Democracy doesn’t work without civic engagement,” Hanson said. “There’s a need for a conversation to happen that is united. Even though the water authorities are separate, the water isn’t.”

Sustainable Long Island also works on building rain gardens to reduce stormwater runoff into local waters.

“We’re in a dire situation here on Long Island when it comes to our aquifers,” Lindau said. “We have an intense amount of nitrogen that’s already going into the ground.”

The nonprofit works with the Environmental Resource Management Foundation and PSEG Foundation and builds rain gardens like the one at the Cove Animal Rescue in Glen Cove and others in East Islip and Long Beach.

“It’s about educating communities on the importance of the rain garden and why green infrastructure practices are pivotal for environmental health on Long Island moving forward,” Lindau said. “If we don’t have clean drinking water, we’re going to be in trouble, if we don’t have usable soil to plant in, we’re not going to have farms growing the produce we need to survive and if we don’t have that produce, then we’re not going to be able to bring food into these low-income communities for people who can’t get it otherwise. They’re all connected in a number of different ways and a lot of them root back to health.”

Students in Stony Brook University’s Sustainability Studies Program participate in the 2014 People’s Climate March in NYC. Photo from Heidi Hutner

Sustainable Long Island has done work with local municipalities following superstorms like Hurricane Sandy. They helped communities rebuild, hosted peer-to-peer education meetings to better prepare locals and business owners for another devastating storm and provided job training to bring businesses back.

“A big part of this is going into communities and educating them and helping to advocate in order to facilitate change,” Lindau said. “Working with other groups is extremely important as well. We’re not a lone wolf in the nonprofit world — we not only find it important to work with governments and other municipalities — but to connect with other nonprofits who have something unique to offer as well.”

Melanie Cirillo, with the Peconic Land Trust, reiterated the need for local organizations to team up. The Peconic Land Trust conserves open space like wetlands, woodlands and farmland. It keeps an eye on water quality and infrastructure like Forge River in Mastic, which is a natural sea sponge that absorbs storm surge.

“Wetlands are key in so many of our waterfront properties,” she said. “We have a finite amount of drinking water that we need to protect for our own health. The protection of land is integral to the protection of the water.”

She said although every organization may have a bit of a different focus, they’re all working under the same umbrella and premise, with the same goal in mind: maintaining the health of Long Island.

“I think it’s important for groups to have the ability to bring people together, especially because the impact of climate change affects people in a lot of different ways, whether it’s high energy costs, the impact of superstorms like Hurricane Sandy, sea level rise or coastal erosion, or ocean acidification that impacts people’s fishery and economic way of life,” Madden said. “We have to meet the immediate visceral needs of people — of communities and workers — but we also need to be thinking decades ahead on what it will take to decarbonize our entire economic system. It’s really important for groups to be oriented toward that long term focus, because this is an all hands on deck situation.”

This version corrects the spelling of Stony Brook University’s Sustainability Studies Program Director Heidi Hutner’s last name.

Photo by Rita J. Egan

Sills Gully Beach, Shoreham:

Sills Gully Beach in Shoreham is a prime example of erosion due to storm events, according to Brookhaven Councilwoman Jane Bonner (C-Rocky Point). “When you harden the shoreline by constructing hundreds of linear feet of vertical retaining walls or bulkheads, you create a condition where the energy stored in the waves caused by tidal surge and storm events hits up against the hardening structure and reflects back to the Sound,” Bonner said. “These reflected waves cause scour at the base of the bulkhead and a loss of sand from the beach. To minimize this impact, both the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation and the town require armor stone, big rocks, in front of any bulkhead to dissipate the reflected wave surge, reducing the impact that bulkheads have on the beaches.” According to the councilwoman, bulkheads that were constructed in the past “increased the rate of erosion but also separated the beach from its natural sand source.” The practice led to either a narrow or non-existing beach during high tide. With recent changes of bulkheads being moved landward or reducing their elevations, plus the installation of armor stones, erosive impacts have been reduced, and “the beaches tend to be wider and more resilient to storm events.”

 

Photo by Rita J. Egan

Port Jefferson Village:

Port Jefferson was originally known as Drowned Meadow because the area that now comprises most of the commercial district was a marsh that flooded every high tide, according to the book “Images of America: Port Jefferson,” written by Port Jefferson library staffers Robert Maggio and Earlene O’Hare. They wrote, “That flooding, and the steep hills and deep ravines that surrounded the marsh, made farming difficult, and the village grew slowly. In fact, by 1800, there were only a handful of houses.”

 

Photo by Maria Hoffman

Setauket Harbor:

In the last decade, Shore Road along Setauket Harbor has flooded approximately a half a dozen times a year, which is more than in the past due to astronomical tides. “All coastal communities will be increasingly impacted by rising sea level, and sea level rise goes hand in hand with climate change,” George Hoffman of the Setauket Harbor Task Force said. “One way to identify the areas that will be impacted is to look at the areas that are now impacted by storms and astronomical tides. All the low-level shore areas in the Three Village community are the most vulnerable. And, they tend to be the areas that we like to go down to, along the shore, such as beaches and docks and harbor areas. It is projected that in the next hundred years as sea level continues to rise that we will see portions of Route 25A flooding during storm events that we haven’t seen before.”

 

Photo by Rita J. Egan

Nissequogue River, Smithtown:

According to Jan Porinchak, educator and naturalist, the Nissequogue River watershed would be threatened by rising sea levels due to climate change. The river consists of two main branches that start near the southern boundaries of the town in Hauppauge, and then the water flows into the Sound. “Rising sea levels will drown out the native marsh grasses which dissipate wave action and anchor the sediments comprising the shoreline,” Porinchak said. “With the marsh grasses such as Spartina removed, areas further inland would be threatened with shoreline loss from erosion.” Erosion can also have a negative impact on marine species. “With rising sea levels compromising marsh land vegetation, salt water can reach the roots of non-salt-tolerant woody plants further inland, which kills those plant species,” he said. “This creates a domino effect, resulting in yet more erosion when the roots of those plants are eliminated. Increased sediment from these eroded areas will wash into the Nissequogue and similar ecosystems. This sediment can negatively impact shellfish and other marine species, and fuel algae blooms to the widespread detriment of the marine food web.”

 

Photo by Rita J. Egan

Long Beach, Smithtown:

Visitors to Smithtown’s Long Beach, a narrow land spit, will find an artificial berm to keep stormwater out during the winter. Many of the private roads slightly east of the town beach experience flooding when it’s high tide. Larry Swanson, interim dean of the School of Marine and Atmospheric Sciences at Stony Brook University, said the cause of the problem is the disruption of sediment due to a combination of rising sea levels and homeowners building sea walls to protect their property. “Long Beach is a spit that needs sediment supplied from the erosion of the bluffs of Nissequogue,” he said. “There are places where the supply is somewhat diminished to maintain sufficient elevation, perhaps where currents are stronger than elsewhere water can overflow.”

 

Photo by Rita J. Egan

Asharoken, Huntington:

The incorporated village of Asharoken in the Town of Huntington provides the only essential land access way contacting the Eaton’s Neck peninsula to Northport, with its Asharoken Avenue. Due to hurricanes and nor’easters, the Long Island Sound side of the peninsula has experienced moderate to severe beach erosion. In 2015 the Asharoken village board took into consideration a U.S. Army Corps of Engineers-backed proposal to replenish the community’s eroding beaches. The plan consisted of creating a berm and dune system with groins on the northwestern end of the project area. The area includes properties on the Long Island Sound side of Asharoken Avenue. However, in January Asharoken officials voted to bring an end to the restoration project after many residents rejected part of the plan that included creating public access points at certain private properties, which would leave residents liable for any injuries or mishaps that happened when the public was on the shoreline of the property.

Supervisor Ed Romaine is taking a leadership role in trying to streamline town government services. File photo by Erika Karp

Town, county and state officials on both sides of the aisle agree that climate change poses a real threat to Long Island. That’s why they’re taking serious steps to address the issue, protect the environment and work to save the region from projected devastation.

In his March 24 State of the Town Address, Brookhaven Town Supervisor Ed Romaine (R) devoted more time to the environment than any other issue, outlining measures taken by Brookhaven to reflect the growing threats of climate change, and sea level rise especially — noting the town has the largest coastline of any in the state.

Romaine said the town will continue working to restore its wetlands and limit residential and commercial development to such critical floodplain areas, among several other initiatives to prepare for the challenges ahead.

“It’s a wake up call if we don’t sound the alarm now and come together,” Romaine said in a phone interview. “Whatever I can do, I’m on board. I wish more people in my party shared that belief … but I’m absolutely dedicated to this because I’m a human being living on this planet that’s being threatened every day. Five of the past six years have been the warmest on record. It’s time to wake up.”

Building on ambitious goals set in the past — like cutting the town’s greenhouse gas emission by 50 percent by the year 2020 as proposed in his five-year capital plan two years ago — he said the town plans to replace 35,000 streetlights with energy-efficient LED lights within the next two years to save costs and reduce its carbon footprint; will continue to replace aging cars with hybrid, fuel-efficient models; has already revised its solar code to prevent deforestation and clear cutting of trees; and has instituted wind, solar and geothermal codes, requiring new residential home construction to be “solar ready.”

Resources to help make homes energy efficient 

•Free energy audit:

Long Island Green Homes Initiative is a public-private partnership that offers homeowners a professional energy audit at no cost. It provides an easy-to-use website coupled with energy navigators that help answer any questions a homeowner has and schedule a free home energy assessment providing an in-depth analysis of a home’s energy efficiency. Visit www.longislandgreenhomes.org.

•Carbon footprint calculator:

Cool Climate, a program started at the University of California, Berkley, offers a webpage to help estimate  your carbon footprint. Visit http://coolclimate.berkeley.edu/carboncalculator to find out yours.


•No-cost energy upgrades:

EmPower New York provides free energy efficiency solutions to income-eligible New Yorkers. Whether you own your home or rent, a participating contractor will be assigned to you to assess if your home would benefit from free energy upgrades such as:

-Air sealing to plug leaks and reduce drafts

-Insulation to make your home more comfortable all year round

-Replacement of inefficient refrigerators and freezers

-New energy-efficient lighting

-Plus, free health and safety checks of your smoke detectors, appliances and more. Visit www.nyserda.ny.gov/All-Programs/Programs/EmPower-New-York.

•Solar energy incentives:

The NY-Sun Incentive Program provides financial incentives to help reduce the installation costs associated with solar electric systems. Incentives are based on building sector and size (residential, small commercial and large commercial/industrial), and within each sector, there are different incentives for specific regions of NY. Income-eligible households may qualify for a program that lowers the up-front cost of installing solar for a homeowner, double incentives for certain households and free home energy improvements. Visit www.nyserda.ny.gov/All-Programs/Programs/NY-Sun/About.

Neighboring towns Smithtown and Huntington are also investing in their community’s environmental future. Smithtown was named the first town in New York State to be a clean energy community, and Huntington soon followed. This means both towns completed several high-impact clean energy actions like saving energy costs, creating jobs to improve the environment and more, and are now qualified for grants to further clean energy improvement in the area.

Suffolk County Leg. Kara Hahn (D-Setauket), who served on the county’s Climate Action Plan Committee, is no stranger to pushing aggressive energy and sustainability initiatives herself, like her seawater rise vulnerability bill introduced in 2013.

Although she feels as though there has not been a sense of immediate crisis when it comes to climate change among Long Island residents, she said it’s important for people to recognize the effects it will have on coastal communities and low-lying villages like Port Jefferson, Stony Brook and Setauket Harbor.

Hahn is passionate about increasing sewer districts and eventually switching to alternative on-site wastewater systems that remove nitrogen from wastewater altogether.

Only about 30 percent of Suffolk County uses a sewer system, she said, and the remaining 70 percent are antiquated septic cesspool systems, meaning “every time we flush, the nitrogen in most of our homes or businesses is going right into our drinking water … and eventually surface waters.”

Recently the county has followed the lead of states like Massachusetts in switching over to these new systems in pilot projects. Hahn, with the help of her colleagues and a funding stream to help with the costs, is working on a plan to make these alternative on-site wastewater systems a requirement in Suffolk.

Across the island in Huntington, Leg. William “Doc” Spencer (D-Centerport) also wants to protect clean water from contamination. As the lead sponsor of the Long Island Commission for Aquifer Protection Act — a bi-county legislation that controls drilling into the aquifer and protecting the water for the next 50 years — Spencer said further damage to the water would be a tragic event.

“We have to be aggressive,” Spencer said. “We have a program at the Southwest Sewer District, where we’re trying to reduce fossil fuels and pollution by taking sludge from cesspools and reconstituting that into the fuel oil, instead of burning so much regular fossil fuels. We’re working on reducing nitrogen pollution within the ground, as well as working with Brookhaven National Lab looking for clean forms of energy.”

Councilwoman Jane Bonner (C-Rocky Point) said as a North Shore native her main concern has been erosion and stormwater management.

“So much here has to do with erosion from Superstorm Sandy and I’m always very concerned about these intense, ferocious storms we have and the damage created from them,” she said. “When we’re able to really significantly improve our stormwater infrastructure, the trickle down effect is that improved water quality helps not only recreation but people who derive their income from the bays and the sound.”

According to state Assemblyman Steve Englebright (D-Setauket), the leading environmental voice in the Assembly, the superstorm and recent high tides gave Long Island residents a preview of what an elevated water table would look like in the North Shore’s harbor areas like Port Jefferson, Huntington and Nissequogue.

But as New Yorkers, he said, we have an opportunity to set an example for the rest of the country in demonstrating a strong push for climate change initiatives.

“New York can sometimes be relied upon as a model for our sister states to examine and, in some cases, to reflect similar initiatives in their own legislatures,” Englebright said. “If we can do it here, we can demonstrate that it’s doable. Fifty-three percent of the population of our nation lives within 50 miles of ocean water — half of the nation is coastal. Implementing a more widespread use of renewable energy is one of the strongest directions we should try to move our communities toward in order to basically save our island from the ravages of an ever-increasing level of the ocean around us and the shrinking of our shorelines.”

As chairman of the Committee of Environmental Conservation, one of Englebright’s first assignments was to organize a climate advisory task force made up of legislators and set up a series of hearings. Based on the testimonies he received, the assemblyman wrote the New York State Climate and Community Protection Act, legislation first introduced last year and re-introduced again this year.

The bill addresses and mitigates the impacts of climate change in the state. While it’s still a work-in-progress, it has already been heralded by many environmental voices as a significant national model for state action.

Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone. Photo by Giselle Barkley

“It sets out goals and objectives to begin to reduce our greenhouse gas output, track it more effectively, and establish a series of greenhouse gas emission regulations … [as well as] focuses on disadvantaged communities that have suffered from the effect of the carbon-based economy in a disproportionate way,” he said.

Englebright added residents can probably cut energy usage in the state by as much as 30 percent just with insulation and utilizing thermal windows.

“That’s a thrust I think is prominent in the vision and reach of this bill,” he said. “It sets goals to establish implemental capacity levels for going to renewable systems, be it solar or wind or geothermal. We want to move toward having a 30 percent capacity by 2020 and a 40 percent goal by 2025, and a 50 percent goal by 2030. It’s a very ambitious goal but if you don’t start to move in that direction, then the status quo is likely to be the best you can hope for … and the status quo right now will bring us rising sea levels, increased storm frequency and invasion of disease-carrying insects [like ticks that didn’t used to live at this latitude].”

Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone (D) is adamant to address the restoration of Long Island’s coastal and natural defenses, including coastal vegetation, which he said acts as a natural storm barrier. The vegetation has been decimated due to the nitrogen pollution being pumped into our waterways, the county executive said, but there is good news.

“We know ecosystems have the ability to restore themselves if you remediate the pollution,” he said. “We need to learn to live better with water and put in the infrastructure that adapts to climate change. Post-Sandy, we’ve been raising houses up so they’re not going to be vulnerable to flooding. We can no longer sustain a continual year-after-year decline in water quality in this region.”

Bellone, who has been working closely with Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D) and his team to fund wetlands restoration projects, said he’s concerned about the federal government’s retreat from addressing climate change.

“That’s just insanity,” Bellone said. “It doesn’t make sense to ignore the science on this. For all of us on Long Island, climate change can fundamentally change our quality of life and no one wants to see that happen. We need to do everything we can to address this issue.”

President Donald Trump’s 2018 budget blueprint includes less funding for the EPA than any federal budget since the 1990s. Image by TBR News Media

The United States Environmental Protection Agency was founded in 1970 to do as its name suggests; protect the environment. However, if the words and actions of the new administration in the White House are to be believed, it might be the agency that needs protection.

In President Donald Trump’s (R) 2018 budget blueprint released March 16, among many other funding cuts at the hands of a $54 billion increase in defense spending, was a proposed $2.6 billion cut to the EPA’s budget and 3,200 fewer jobs at the agency.

“The budget for EPA reflects the success of environmental protection efforts, a focus on core legal requirements, the important role of the states in implementing the nation’s environmental laws, and the president’s priority to ease the burden of unnecessary federal regulations that impose significant costs for workers and consumers without justifiable environmental benefits,” the blueprint said.

Trump’s blueprint also calls for the discontinuation of funding for the Clean Power Plan, international climate change programs and climate change research, a plan the blueprint lauds because of the more than $100 million in savings it will mean for American taxpayers. The Clean Power Plan was a 2015 Obama administration initiative that aimed to reduce carbon pollution from power plants, a decision the EPA called historic at the time. Trump signed an executive order March 28 to initiate a review of the Clean Power Plan and scale back enforcement of other climate regulations on businesses. During a press briefing March 28 by White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer, he declined to answer a question about whether the president still believes climate change is a “hoax,” an assertion he made in the past.

U.S. Rep. Lee Zeldin calls for funding for two EPA programs relating to the Long Island Sound during a press conference March 13. Photo by Kevin Redding

The blueprint also calls for the elimination of 50 EPA programs, which will save taxpayers another $347 million. Some of those programs include Energy Star, created to promote energy efficiency in consumer products, homes and businesses; Targeted Air Shed Grants, established to help local and state pollution control agencies in developing projects to reduce pollution; and the Endocrine Disruptor Screening Program, which screens the effects of chemicals and pesticides on humans’ endocrine systems. Their grants would be zeroed out in Trump’s budget. Cuts would also come in the tune of $250 million to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, targeting grants and programs for coastal and marine management, research and education.

Furthermore, Trump selected former Oklahoma Attorney General Scott Pruitt to serve as administrator for the EPA, a man who repeatedly expressed his skepticism of climate change in the past. But during his confirmation hearing before the U.S. Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works in January Pruitt denied the president’s claim that climate change is a hoax.

“As I have repeatedly emphasized in my testimony to this body and elsewhere, promoting and protecting a strong and healthy environment is among the lifeblood priorities for the government, and EPA is vital to that mission,” Pruitt said during his opening statement during the hearing. “If confirmed as Administrator, I am committed to ensuring EPA’s decisions are conducted through open processes that take into account the full range of views of the American people, including the economic consequences of any regulation.”

During the hearing Pruitt also admitted to being involved in 10 lawsuits against the EPA in the past.

U.S. Sen. Tom Carper (D-Delaware) a member of the committee, joined the rest of the Democrats on the committee in abstaining from the vote to confirm Pruitt. The Republican senators voted 11-0 to approve him.

“I have shared with Mr. Pruitt, and I will share with my colleagues today, that too much of what I have seen of his record of the environment and his views about the role of EPA are troubling, and in some cases deeply troubling,” Carper said.

U.S. Sen. James Inhofe (R-Oklahoma) was among Pruitt’s supporters on the committee.

“It is my belief that Attorney General Pruitt will return the Environmental Protection Agency to its proper role as a steward for the environment, acting within the bounds prescribed by Congress and the Constitution,” he said.

U.S. Rep. for New York’s First District Lee Zeldin (R-Shirley), a fervent Trump ally in the House, opposed proposed cuts that would slash federal funding for programs designed to protect the Long Island Sound and Peconic Estuary.

U.S. Rep. Tom Suozzi speaks during a town hall Feb. 23. Photo by Kevin Redding

“While we have made great efforts to protect the Long Island Sound and Peconic Estuary so far, there is still so much more we can do to ensure these natural treasures are safeguarded for generations to come,” he said. “We must now redouble our efforts to protect the quality of our waterways, which are depended upon by millions of people. I am committed to making sure they remain funded, supported and preserved.”

Zeldin and Third District U.S. Rep. Tom Suozzi (D-Glen Cove) were named co-chairs of the bipartisan Congressional Long Island Sound Caucus earlier this month. Suozzi responded to Trump’s Clean Power Plan executive order in an emailed statement.

“This executive order unravels important measures that are meant to keep the air we breathe clean for families and children,” he said. “Keeping our environment safe is not a partisan issue. As co-chair of the bipartisan Long Island Sound Caucus and a member of the bipartisan Climate Solutions Caucus, we need to work together to protect our ever-changing climate. Today’s actions go too far.”

In his 2016 campaign for congress, Suozzi was endorsed by the Long Island Environmental Voters Forum, a grassroots nonprofit created to identify, recruit, endorse and actively campaign for pro-environment candidates for public office.

If Trump’s plan to cut funding for the EPA comes to fruition, the agency would be operating with less money in federal funding than any year since 1990.

Rob Freudenberg, vice president of energy and environment for the Regional Planning Association, a New York-based independent urban research and advocacy organization, addressed Trump’s environmental agenda in a phone interview.

“I think the Trump administration has proposed to increase defense and safety spending at the expense of other programs,” he said. “I have to just question, is it not safety and defense to invest in climate adaptation, coastal studying, reduction of climate change? We are concerned about the approach taken in the blueprint and I think it’s really up to congress to take a stand on these issues. As the budget blueprint stands today it would deal a serious blow to any progress we’ve made in terms of climate adaptation.”

Scenes of destruction after Hurricane Sandy hit the North Shore. File photo

Climate change is going to cost us. The prohibitive costs in both dollars and loss of life for past hurricanes in the New York area might be just the beginning if recent trends continue.

According to the Natural Resources Defense Council, a New York-based nonprofit whose mission is to “safeguard” the Earth, the cost of ignoring climate change will be as high as 3.6 percent of gross domestic product — hurricane damage, real estate losses, energy costs and water costs alone could cost the United States as much as $1.9 trillion annually by 2100.

For Long Island the first two pose the greatest risk.

Sea level has been rising consistently for the past several decades and the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation predicts sea levels will continue to rise to a high projection of 10 inches by 2020 and 30 inches by the 2050s. As sea levels have been rising so have water temperatures.

Scientists have repeatedly said rising sea levels will lead to an increase of storm surge-related flooding and rising sea surface temperatures will lead to stronger and more damaging hurricanes.

This October will mark the five-year anniversary of Hurricane Sandy, which resulted in 48 fatalities and caused more than $30 billion in damage for the state of New York alone. Former President Barack Obama (D) declared a state of emergency for New York, and although it was classified as a post-tropical nor’easter or superstorm when it touched down in New York, it led to hundreds of Long Islanders losing their homes and businesses, thousands losing power for weeks, school closures and much more damage.

Scenes of destruction after Hurricane Sandy hit the North Shore. File photo

According to Suffolk County, Sandy damages cost Brookhaven Town a total of just less than $30 million, and Huntington Town slightly more than $30 million. Considerable costs came from debris removal; aid for school district repairs; repairs to boardwalks, stairs, docks and sidewalk repairs; and fire department costs.

“Even with storms of the same intensity, future hurricanes will cause more damage as higher sea levels exacerbate storm surges, flooding and erosion,” a study done by the NRDC said. The study said in recent years hurricane damages have averaged $12 billion annually and more than 120 fatalities. “With business-as-usual emissions, average annual hurricane damages in 2100 will have grown by $422 billion and an astounding 760 deaths from just climate change impacts.”

In 2013, New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D) created the Governor’s Office of Storm Recovery to manage the $4.4 billion in relief funds that was made available through the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development.

A billion dollars in aid went to assisting 1,100 New Yorkers with reconstructing their homes, more than $76 million was awarded to rebuild 750 rental properties, and at least $49 million was awarded to 1,043 small businesses to support the replacement of essential equipment and renovations.

“Superstorm Sandy demonstrated that New York as we know it faces a different reality — a reality of increasingly frequent extreme weather events that cannot be ignored,” Cuomo said upon the two-year anniversary of the storm.

Sustainable Long Island’s executive director L. Von Kuhen said Sandy helped many residents realize the seriousness of the potential future. The nonprofit works to advance sustainable development for Long Island communities.

“I think Sandy … made a lot of people wake up and realize how vulnerable our coastal communities really are,” Kuhen said in a phone interview. “People are used to periodic flooding from normal storms but never anticipated anything of what Sandy caused. It was a wake-up call.”

Scenes of destruction after Hurricane Sandy hit the North Shore. File photo

He said many communities responded to that call, reaching out to the organization after the storm to create a plan for their town or village so they’re prepared for the next storm. He said the nonprofit conducted a survey in 2015 to see how many people were prepared for another major storm and the results showed Sandy helped teach many people.

“People knew a lot more than they did before the storm because I think a lot of people hadn’t thought about the possibility of a major storm hitting Long Island to the degree of Sandy,” he said. “I think there was a lot of public education at many levels after that.”

Real estate losses could cost the United States $34 billion in just eight short years, and $173 billion by 2075, according to the NRDC study. As sea levels continue to rise, homeowners on the water are going to see their backyards disappear, and water creep closer to their front doors.

“Our business-as-usual scenario forecasts 23 inches of sea level rise by 2050 and 45 inches by 2100,” the study said. “If nothing is done to hold back the waves, rising sea levels will inundate low-lying coastal properties. Even those properties that remain above water will be more likely to sustain storm damage, as encroachment of the sea allows storm surges to reach inland areas not previously affected.”

They estimated if heat-trapping gasses continue to be emitted at the current rate, in 2100 United States residential losses will reach $360 billion per year — with states like New York and areas like Long Island being especially vulnerable.

One Stony Brook resident has already run into a real estate problem concerning her house and proximity to the water.

“I had been dealing with the same insurance company for more than 35 years,” Donna Newman said in a phone interview. “And suddenly they notified me they wouldn’t be able to offer me home insurance any more.”

Newman said when she spoke with someone at the insurance company, they explained to her they could no longer cover her because she lives too close to the water— about a half a mile from it.

“Even with storms of the same intensity, future hurricanes will cause more damage as higher sea levels exacerbate storm surges, flooding and erosion.”

“I was pretty upset by that,” she said. “We have not moved our house; the water has always been there. I was very angry.”

Newman was told many other residents in her zip code were also no longer going to be insured due to their proximity to the water.

The United States as a whole will also face an increasing demand for energy as climate change continues, as well as exploding water costs for the driest and most water-stressed parts of the country.

“Many economic models have attempted to capture the costs of climate change for the United States,” the NRDC study said. “For the most part however these analyses grossly underestimate costs by making predictions that are out of step with the scientific consensus on the daunting scope of climatic changes and the urgent need to reduce global warming emissions.” 

With all the daunting issues facing the United States, if greenhouse gas emission rates are maintained, America is far from the most vulnerable.

“The sad irony is that while richer countries like the United States are responsible for much greater per person greenhouse gas emissions, many of the poorest countries around the world will experience damages that are much larger as a percentage of their national output,” the study said.

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