Beinecke: Long Island is right place for Barack Obama and Mitt Romney to talk about the environment
When it comes to debating America's future, there might not be a more appropriate setting than Long Island.
From pollution to energy production, from transportation to climate change, President Barack Obama and challenger Gov. Mitt Romney on Tuesday night need only to look around Long Island and talk to its residents for examples of the very real issues that Americans everywhere are facing.
Fittingly, the economy will likely remain center stage at Tuesday's debate at Hofstra University. But thanks to the town-hall style debate, everyday Americans -- students and parents, business executives and factory workers, doctors and retirees -- will get the opportunity to directly question the candidates on the wide range of real-world issues affecting them and their children. We can only hope we'll get some answers.
For starters, here are five questions pertinent to Long Islanders that we all need answered:
* Suffolk County continues to have the worst ozone pollution in the state, according to the American Lung Association. Nationwide, 127 million Americans -- about 41 percent of our population -- live in counties like Suffolk that have unhealthy pollution levels. Is it really in our country's best interests to dismantle EPA clean air protections, or should our government continue to work to guarantee citizens have clean air and water?
* Since 2008, U.S. production of renewable energy from wind, solar and other sources has doubled. Projects like the 350-megawatt wind farm the Long Island Power Authority and others are planning off the coast of the Rockaway Peninsula will deliver even more clean energy, reducing the need for power plants that run on coal and other fossil fuels. Do we really want to return to a national energy policy that increases our dependence on oil, coal and other fossil fuels, just as we're making real headway delivering clean, new energy sources and the jobs that come with them?
* We've all experienced record temperatures, unprecedented natural disasters and other climate-change related problems in recent years. Forecasts show this is only the beginning. A recent NRDC study shows that The Fire Island National Seashore faces the very real risk of being completely submerged by rising sea levels, for instance. Other scientific studies show that rising sea levels combined with storm surges could result in floodwaters regularly rushing through the streets of Manhattan's Lower East Side and in homes from Brooklyn to the Hamptons. Can our country and its leaders afford to continue dismissing global warming with a smirk and a shrug, or should we address climate change and prepare for its consequences?
* With 7.5 million residents and a population density of 5,400 residents per square mile, people in Nassau, Suffolk, Brooklyn and Queens understand sustainability and smart planning issues better than most. Just two days after Election Day, in fact, Hofstra University is scheduled to host a major sustainability conference that will focus on water, energy, transportation and other issues. How should we as a country address pressing sustainability issues such as these, amid a growing population and limited natural resources?
* Recent efficiency programs are saving money for consumers and reducing our energy needs, from Long Island to Los Angeles. New 54.5 m.p.g. fuel economy standards, for instance, will save American consumers $1.7 trillion, cut our oil imports by one-third and reduce carbon pollution by the equivalent of 85 million cars. New lighting efficiency standards will save Americans $12.5 billion in electricity costs annually and eliminate the need for more than 30 large power plants. Weatherization programs and other building efficiency measures will save consumers even more money. Should our government promote energy efficiency programs such as these, or should it rescind them?
The first presidential debate was marred by Mitt Romney's hyperbole, half-truths and outright falsehoods -- including his charges that the government is trying to put the coal industry out of business and that we wasted $90 billion in one year on solar and wind companies, and that "about half" of them went out of business. In truth, three of 26 companies that got government loan guarantees went bankrupt, and only about $21 billion have gone into renewable energy projects. The overall success rate of clean energy companies, it turns out, is actually quite good.
Tuesday's debate gives the candidates an opportunity to come clean and talk straight to Americans.
Let's hope this time the truth prevails, the hyperbole fades, and the choice for our future becomes clear.