Gary Herzig: Bad national energy policy hurts Oneonta

President Trump’s energy policies are lining the pockets of the country’s wealthiest while putting the squeeze on those in our own Oneonta and Otsego County communities who can afford it least.

More on this in a moment, but first let me describe a meeting I attended last week at Opportunities for Otsegowith Congressman Antonio Delgado.

OFO is our local community action agency. Overseen by a board of directors (one third of whom consist of the people they serve), the staff at OFO assists thousands of families every year in dealing with issues relating to poverty, victimization, child abuse, early childhood development, housing, emergency shelter and more. Congressman Delgado came to listen and to learn — to learn about the needs and challenges facing too many people in our community who are struggling just to get by. Some are struggling due to low-wage jobs and lack of benefits; others due to illness, mental health issues, addiction or domestic violence. These problems are exacerbated by our lack of affordable housing, good paying jobs, rural transportation, day care and more. The staff members at OFO are smart, passionate, hard-working, innovative and responsible. They do a great job and achieve real results with what they have, but as they told the Congressman, they could use a little more help.

Congressman Delgado had scheduled one hour for his meeting with 25 staff, board members and clients of Opportunities for Otsego. Instead, he stayed and listened for more than two hours. Despite numerous reminders from his staff that he was late for his next meeting, he insisted that he would not leave until everyone at the meeting had a chance to speak. I sincerely thanked the congressman for his desire to listen and learn about the needs of the most vulnerable in our community — more than 25% of Oneonta’s households live below the poverty rate and many of those are children. I had to add, however, that among the many policies of the Trump administration enriching the wealthy and punishing the poor, are its policies on energy.

The morning after our meeting, I opened the newspaper to read that the Trump administration was rolling back rules requiring more energy-efficient light bulbs — rules which were passed in 2007 (under George W. Bush) with bipartisan support and which have helped to cut household energy consumption by 6% since 2010. This rollback brings to 85 the total number of environmental rules which the Trump administration has worked to repeal because the Environmental Protection Agency and other agencies consider these regulations burdensome to the fossil fuel industry and other businesses. Also repealed have been anti-pollution and fuel efficiency standards for cars; regulation of greenhouse gas emissions from existing fossil fuel powered electricity plants; and, of course, leaving the Paris climate agreement.

The Trump energy policy prioritizes investments in fossil fuels and the status quo instead of increasing the availability, and reducing the cost, of renewables. Instead of working to make renewables more affordable and competitive, this administration works to make fossil fuel production more profitable. Instead of fighting climate change, this administration denies climate change. The result, of course, is continued harm to our environment.

For many of our residents, the lack of both good paying jobs with benefits and safe affordable housing are their two greatest concerns. Job creation and housing development require the use of energy. Oneonta has a limited supply of gas and electricity. With a national investment designed to reduce the cost of renewables — making them competitive with fossil fuels — we would be positioned to lead in the transition to renewables. Lacking excess gas and electricity for jobs and housing, the obvious choice should be for us to turn to solar, wind and geothermal. However, with national policies keeping fossil fuel prices low and doing little to incentivize the use of renewables, we find ourselves in a bind. The comparatively high cost of alternative fuels drives investors and developers to go where the gas is.

Cleaning up our environment is everyone’s responsibility and requires shared sacrifice from all. Unfortunately, in this administration the rich get richer, the environment gets dirtier, and those in places like Oneonta, who need good jobs and affordable housing, are making the greatest sacrifice. It seems that those who have the most, and pollute the most, go on their merry way while those who can afford it least, are the only ones expected to sacrifice.

Gary Herzig is the mayor of the city of Oneonta. He can be contacted at mayor@oneonta.ny.us

 

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