Everything posted by Senator Tom O'Mara
It is fast becoming one of the most anticipated days on the State Legislature’s spring events calendar.I’m talking about the New York Wine Industry Association’s (NYWIA) annual “Sip and Sample” tasting event in Albany, which, since 2014, I have been proud to host with Assemblyman Phil Palmesano and several other legislative colleagues. This year’s fifth edition on May 7 featured wineries, cheese producers, restaurateurs and food manufacturers from the Finger Lakes, Long Island, the Hudson Valley, and Central and Western New York.A group of grape growers, winery owners and other industry professionals established the NYWIA (www.nywineindustryassociation.com) in 2009 as an advocacy, public awareness and education organization. NYWIA President Suzy Hayes, of Miles Wine Cellars in Yates County, said, "’Sip and Sample’ has become one of the favorite events for legislators and their staff because they get the chance to try wonderful New York products while meeting the producers themselves in a festive, informal setting. It is a showcase of New York's finest....the products and the people that make New York a ‘grape’ place to be!"The event has steadily grown over the past several years. It is now one of the Legislature’s primary tools to help keep our incredible wineries, cheesemakers, food manufacturers and other producers at the forefront of state government’s attention. It has become a rite of spring at the Capitol. (Visit my Senate website, www.omara.nysenate.gov, for a full list of this year’s participants.)Assemblyman Palmesano and I are proud to promote the excellence and quality of these sectors of the Empire State’s agricultural economy. They represent amazing and interesting stories of culture, history and economic growth. These industries are indeed economic engines for communities right here at home, of course, but throughout the state as well from Long Island to the Hudson Valley up into the North Country and out into Western New York. In every region of the state, they are providing good, sustainable livelihoods for thousands of New Yorkers. The New York Wine & Grape Foundation (https://www.newyorkwines.org/) estimates the state’s grape, grape juice and wine industry annually generates upwards of $13 billion in overall economic benefits to New York State. It directly employs more than 62,000 workers. It encompasses 450 wine producers and more than 11,000 acres of vineyards.I have long noted that the rise of New York wines to secure their place on the national and international stage is one of this state’s greatest of all success stories and, with the heart of the industry right here in the Finger Lakes, we should be proud to take every opportunity we can to celebrate it.On the cheese front, the New York State Cheese Manufacturers’ Association (http://www.nycheesemakers.com) was founded in 1864 – in other words, it remains one of our oldest and proudest industries. New York is the fourth leading state in America in total cheese production. I am proud to recall that my grandfather was a cheese maker who operated the Colosse Cheese Factory in Oswego County in the early 20th century, where he helped produce award-winning cheeses. Again, our region is prominent. The Finger Lakes Cheese Trail was established in 2010 to establish what has become a highly successful and vibrant partnership between small family farms and cheesemakers. According to the Finger Lakes Cheese Alliance (http://www.flxcheese.com), you would put 500 miles on your car if you visited each of the farms on the trail. Amazing.By the way, the Alliance’s signature event, the Finger Lakes Cheese Festival, takes place this year on Friday, July 28 at Sunset View Creamery in Odessa, Schuyler County. Visit the Alliance website for additional information and tickets.These industries are cornerstones. They represent some of the best of New York. "From The Capitol" is a weekly column distributed to local media by Senator O'Maras office for publication.
In a recent commentary for the Times Union, the state capital’s hometown newspaper, I welcomed the opportunity to comment on one of today’s most pressing energy challenges. In part, I wrote: There was a time not long ago when environmentalists hailed natural gas as a cleaner energy solution. During his first Earth Day speech as President, Barack Obama lauded domestic natural gas as a critical bridge fuel to a renewable energy future. Near the conclusion of his presidency, he credited the use of natural gas for reducing greenhouse gas emissions and reminding us “we've got to live in the real world.” That message got lost somewhere along the line. If we do not start remembering that we live in the real world, the cost of heat and electricity will be unaffordable for most New Yorkers. In the real world, demand for natural gas is at an all-time high. That fact has been good for the environment and the American economy, including in our neighboring state of Pennsylvania. Since 1990, U.S. natural gas production is up 37 percent and greenhouse gas emissions are down 17 percent. From 2005-2015, natural gas consumption increased 24 percent – contributing to dramatic drops in a number of air pollutants, including sulfur dioxide (down 66 percent), fine particulate matter (down 34 percent), and nitrogen oxide (down 20 percent). One of the important benefits of natural gas is the way it works in concert with renewable forms of energy. The main challenge with relying on renewable sources of energy, such as wind or solar, is their inherent unreliability. Storage capacity simply is not yet ready for prime time and cannot meet our energy demands. Continued innovation and investment in this area is critical to the future viability of renewables. Electric power needs to be used when it’s generated. If the sun’s not out or the wind isn’t blowing, a wind turbine or solar panel isn’t much use to the electric grid. Natural gas is a strong complement to renewables because it can be brought online quickly, ensuring reliability in systems when renewables are not producing. The Business Council for Sustainable Energy highlights this important link between domestic natural gas and renewables in a recent report. According to the report, natural gas and renewables together generated 50 percent of U.S. electricity in 2017, up from 31 percent in 2008. At the same time, greenhouse gas emissions in the U.S. power sector fell to their lowest levels since 1990. Furthermore, while we have made some gains in renewable electricity supply, our heating fuel remains at about 95 percent fossil fuel-based and natural gas is by far the cleanest of that heat source. Unfortunately, a group of vocal activists refuses to accept the very real limits to renewable energy. They aggressively work to strangle the development of much-needed energy infrastructure. New York State policymakers block projects that are essential to supply energy to the entire New York and New England region – with very real world consequences for consumers cut off from access to affordable energy. The zealots may be successful in assuring that we don't freeze to death in the dark, but ignoring natural gas may mean that we freeze to death with the lights on. This past winter, New England was faced with constraints to its energy supply caused in part by the blockade of domestic pipeline construction, which Governor Cuomo has singlehandedly blocked. Faced with a harsh winter and limited access to domestic natural gas, New England imported liquefied natural gas from Russia just to meet basic heating and electricity needs. In New York, the Governor has laid out a set of very ambitious renewable energy goals. I agree that we should be leading the way in renewable energy development. But we also have to make sure that residents and businesses have the energy they need right now to live and thrive in New York. We can keep the lights and heat on, and emissions down, but only if we stop this senseless opposition to natural gas and critical energy infrastructure. "From The Capitol" is a weekly column distributed to local media by Senator O'Maras office for publication.
As communities and organizations around the globe celebrated Earth Day on April 22, it’s worth noting that the recently enacted state budget continues a series of critical actions that bode well for the short- and long-term future of environmental conservation in New York. Or, as the Nature Conservancy in New York stated, “The budget includes several landmark achievements for New York's environment, including maintaining the Environmental Protection Fund ... Additionally, the continuation of funding for the Water Infrastructure Improvement Act will ensure communities experiencing health risks from declining water quality due to inadequate or outdated wastewater and drinking water systems will have access to funding for upgrades and repairs, as well as conserving the sources of drinking water to prevent them from becoming polluted in the first place.” I agree that this year’s budget is highlighted by the continuation of a fully funded Environmental Protection Fund (EPF), something many conservation advocates spent years fighting for, and that they have rightly hailed as a great victory. The EPF supports critical environmental initiatives including clean air and water projects, flood control and restoration, and open space preservation. It makes great environmental and economic sense. The EPF, for example, helps create local jobs. Studies have shown that for every dollar of EPF funds invested in land and water protection, the state and localities get back seven dollars in economic benefits -- a solid investment by most measures. The EPF enjoys an impressive record of government investment. It strengthens a broad segment of New York’s citizens and communities like very few governmental programs ever have. In short, strengthening the EPF within the context of the entire state fiscal plan covers a lot of common ground in order to achieve a great deal of common good. It continues to help us achieve, in the words of former President and legendary conservationist Teddy Roosevelt, “the great central task of leaving this land even a better land for our descendants than it is for us.” On the EPF, the Business Council of New York has said: "The programs contained in the EPF are incredibly diverse and touch every New Yorker’s life in some manner through land conservation, urban forestry, sustainable waterfront planning, agricultural sustainability, pollution prevention programs and more.” The fully funded EPF is surely a highlight, but this year’s budget does even more. It continues, for instance, the state’s multi-year, major investment in drinking water infrastructure and source water protection. This action helps localities undertake vital and long-overdue water infrastructure improvement projects, such as sewer and municipal water line repairs. It has become particularly timely as drinking water quality concerns and crises regionally, statewide and across the nation have become increasingly acute. Other highly praised actions will assist local parks, trails and waterfronts; help step up the fight against invasive species; enhance farmland conservation; encourage smart growth communities, including renewable energy initiatives; and boost farm-to-school strategies to connect local schools to local farmers. On the environmental front, we have had and will continue to have differences, and face controversies. With this Earth Day, we must remember that the challenges and crises we face are more difficult than ever. It’s equally true that the governmental and political context in which we have to confront these challenges and crises is more complex and highly charged than ever -- a fact that often does not make the task easier. Nevertheless, we have a responsibility to stewardship and conservation. We have a responsibility to do our best to address the challenges, to work through them, and consider and negotiate them in a balanced, deliberate, fair, serious and sensible way. That is the great hope of Earth Day. "From The Capitol" is a weekly column distributed to local media by Senator O'Maras office for publication.