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Dick Amper: Voters should prioritize environment

Long Beach residents voting at Lindell Elementary School

Long Beach residents voting at Lindell Elementary School in Long Beach on Nov. 5, 2013. Photo Credit: Newsday / J. Conrad Williams Jr.

It's no secret that environmentalist Dick Amper has long been at odds with New York's League of Conservation Voters.

Once a league board member, Amper, executive director of the nonprofit Long Island Pine Barrens Society, left years ago. Today, he says, the Manhattan-based environmental group is facing a wider rift because it seems preoccupied with access rather than getting environmental bills passed and is backing some candidates whose environmental records are far from stellar.

Amper also is part of the Long Island Environmental Voters Forum, a political action committee that balked this year at backing any local Senate Republicans because the state's upper house refused to act on a Long Island water bill, even though veteran state Sen. Kenneth LaValle (R-Port Jefferson) was its chief sponsor. The bill would have required the state to set drinking water standards and put the state Department of Environmental Conservation in charge of enforcement.

He also criticized Senate Republicans for failing to vote on the Child Safe Products Act -- to bar use of toxic chemicals in toys -- though the bill had 40 sponsors and only needed 32 votes to pass.

"Long Island has an unprecedented water quality crisis; the nitrogen in our water is up 200 percent in 13 years," said Amper. "But they didn't make our water cleaner or make our children safer."

The league, meanwhile, backed LaValle and state Sens. Carl Marcellino (R-Syosset) and Jack Martins (R-Mineola).

Upstate, the league has not only backed GOP Sen. Mark Grisanti, chairman of the Environmental Conservation Committee, but took in $350,000 from former New York City Mayor Mike Bloomberg and earmarked it for the campaign of the Buffalo lawmaker. Grisanti is struggling to survive on the Independence Party ballot line after losing a Republican primary. Bloomberg's backing is not based on environment, but because Grisanti was a key vote for the gay marriage law.

However, Grisanti, according to the EPL/Environmental Advocates, an environmental watchdog group, scored only a 67 rating in the 2014 legislative session and "not only voted for bad legislation," but used his post as chairman "to advance giveaways to polluters and to stall . . . priority bills."

Dan Hendrick, league vice president, defended the group's endorsements, saying they are based on a "very rigorous screening process," adding that when it comes to making endorsements, "we look to people who help us."

While the Child Safe Products Act never got to a Senate vote, Hendrick said Grisanti helped get it out of his committee after several years of effort. He also said the league is bipartisan, also backing three Democratic Senate candidates, including Long Island environmentalist Adrienne Esposito in the 3rd District.

Hendrick also said the group has to set statewide priorities. "We look across the board to work on a collective agenda, not just the agenda of one group," he said. Some critics maintained the water bill surfaced late, had only one Senate sponsor and needed more work.

But Paul Iwanowicz, executive director of EPL/Environmental Advocates, said, "What is damaging is when groups endorse politicians that don't have a great record. It lowers the bar."

Erin Heaney, executive director of Community Power for Health and Justice, a group in Grisanti's district that deals with environmental issues in neighborhoods around factories, said the GOP senator did not even return their questionnaire. While her nonprofit does not endorse, she said, "We were surprised the league was spending so much money given his voting history and nonresponse."

What concerns Amper is that such divisions muddy the waters: "When voters are confused, the public and the environment suffer."

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