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Climate, MTA negotiations turn hostile

In this May 14, 2019 photo, Senate Minority

In this May 14, 2019 photo, Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., speaks to reporters at the Capitol in Washington.  Credit: AP/J. Scott Applewhite

Daily Point

Schumer heats up climate debate

Negotiations over a state climate change bill are among the more delicate conversations happening in Albany these days.

That was before U.S. Sen. Chuck Schumer lobbed a grenade into the talks with a letter to lawmakers dated Tuesday that supported the most far-reaching version of the bill — the one that calls for the state’s entire economy to be carbon-free by 2050. That debate — carbon-free vs. carbon-neutral — is the most contentious issue in the negotiations.

Environmentalists were stunned to learn of Schumer’s letter, and several called his office, seeking an explanation. It’s not every day that a U.S. senator gets involved in state legislation. Some also were miffed given he has not expressed full-throated support for the federal Green New Deal pitched by fellow Democrats Sen. Ed Markey and Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez.

“It’s difficult to understand why the senator would take a stand on a state bill which he cannot influence rather than the federal Green New Deal which he can influence,” Adrienne Esposito, executive director of Citizens Campaign for the Environment and a participant in the Albany negotiations, told The Point. “We understand the senator wants a bold action but he should do that on the federal level where he can use his considerable influence to advance the Green New Deal.”

Schumer’s Green New Deal stance has drawn protests — last month, about 75 climate change activists blocked the entrance to his New York City office. But Schumer’s spokesman says the senator’s motivation for writing the letter was his well-established concern about climate change and, as he refs in the letter, the fact that New York always has been a leader on national issues like same-sex marriage and has another chance to be out in front.

“Because meaningful national policy is being blocked by climate change deniers in the White House and Republican Senate majority, it is critical that states like New York take bold action to lead the way to transitioning to a clean-energy economy, reducing fossil fuel, and protecting vulnerable communities in a way that creates countless good-paying jobs,” Schumer spokesman Angelo Roefaro said in a statement.

Environmentalists would agree. But it’s worth noting that Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo has been wary about the practicality of setting an emissions-free goal by 2050. And now Schumer’s letter has put the state’s two alpha dogs into opposite corners of this fight.

- Michael Dobie @mwdobie

Talking Point

Both sides now

Wednesday morning, a familiar face returned to the Metropolitan Transportation Authority board room.

More than a decade ago, Elliot “Lee” Sander was chief executive of the MTA. In that role, he oversaw the troubled and delayed East Side Access and Second Avenue subway projects.

Now, he’s on the other side of the table talking about another delayed, troubled project.

Sander is president of Bombardier Transportation’s Americas region, a position he took on last November. And Bombardier just happens to be one of two MTA contractors tasked with implementing new safety technology known as positive train control on the Long Island Rail Road and Metro-North.

Bombardier and its partner, Siemens Mobility, have faced the wrath of MTA executives and board members in recent months as the implementation of positive train control has been beset with problems.

Wednesday, board members were angry that they didn’t even get to confront the man they had hoped to meet with -- Siemens global chief executive Joe Kaeser. Instead, they faced off with Sander, Bombardier President Danny di Perna and two Siemens executives.

When di Perna made his introductions, he noted, “I think many of you know Lee.” But Sander left most of the talking to di Perna. Sander did, however, step in at one point to explain how the consortium was trying to be open about the work in which it is completely confident, as well as the problem spots.

“We’re being just totally transparent about areas where we need to focus on, and those that, you know, we have nailed,” Sander said.

Sander led the MTA for just more than two years -- between 2007 and 2009. Just before his resignation, Sander said the MTA’s finances were in a “dire” state. Then-Gov. David A. Patterson signed an MTA bailout into law the same day as Sander’s resignation.

Sander’s work as MTA chief included attempting to address high construction costs. At the time, he formed a “blue ribbon panel” to look into the problem. Among its areas of focus was finding ways to increase competition, improve project management, and develop strategies to complete big projects “on time and within budget.”

Clearly, despite Sanders’ intentions then -- and now -- not much has changed.

- Randi F. Marshall @RandiMarshall

Pencil Point

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Bonus Point

No surprise that President Donald Trump blew up Wednesday’s scheduled meeting with Democrats about an infrastructure plan. With her earlier comment about Trump engaging in a cover-up related to Congressional investigation, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi had already burned some bridges.

- Michael Dobie @mwdobie