Monday, November 2, 2009

On Your Way To Vote, We Quizzically Ask: How “Green” Is Our Bloomberg?

Quiz Questions

Here is a quiz about politicians for the environmentally concerned:

First a TRUE/FALSE question:
True or False: Richard Milhous Nixon (37th U.S. President, (1969–1974) was the last great environmental president.
Mayor Bloomberg first announced a city plan to for sustainable environmental practices addressing the significant issue of global warming on or just after the earliest of which of the following dates?

A. January 1, 2002: The date Bloomberg took office to begin his first term.

B. 2004: The year that Al Gore co-launched Generation Investment Management, a company for which he serves as Chair. The company was a new London fund management firm that plans to create environment-friendly portfolios. Mr. Gore toured for several years giving the “carousel slide show”and lecture that, when filmed, became the 2006 documentary “An Inconvenient Truth.”

C. January 1, 2006: The date Bloomberg took office to begin his second term.

D. May 24, 2006: The date that Al Gore’s film “An Inconvenient Truth” was reviewed in the New York Times.

E. February 25, 2007: The date that Al Gore’s film “An Inconvenient Truth” won an Academy Award.

F. April 22, 2007: Earth Day 2007.
More TRUE/FALSE questions:
True or False: Bloomberg, just after taking office, in March 2002, in his mayoral city budget discontinued funds for recycling glass, metal and plastic as one of the first acts of his first term. (Hint: In the Spring of 2002 DSM Environmental issued a report setting forth an analysis that recycling paper, plastic, metal and glass in New York City, because it all but paid for itself, was nearly costless to the city, almost a budget-neutral item.)
True or False: Bloomberg uses his environmental PlaNYC as a justification for promoting more city real estate development.
True or False: April 22, 2009, Earth Day 2009, Bloomberg, in the last year of his second term, announced a belated program to go after some low-hanging-fruit energy use reductions that could quickly and easily reduce the city’s energy consumption by 5%, and it sounded like it was part of his campaign to get a third term as mayor.
Quiz Answers

Richard Milhous Nixon: Great Environmental President?

True: There are those who promote Richard Milhous Nixon as the U.S.’s last great environmental president. The Environmental Protection Agency was established during his administration and he signed into law both the Clean Air Act of 1970 and, in 1972 the federal amendments that constitute the major operative provisions of the Clean Water Act. The National Environmental Policy Act (“NEPA” which requires federal environmental impact statements) also became law in 1970. In 1972 he also signed the Marine Mammal Protection Act.

Under Nixon, William Ruckelshaus, the Environmental Protection Agency’s first Administrator, energetically enforced the new environmental laws. (Ruckelshaus was later the acting Director of the Federal Bureau of Investigation, and then the Deputy Attorney General of the Justice Department- a position from which he resigned in the Watergate scandal’s “Saturday Night Massacre” rather than obey a Nixon order to fire prosecutor Archibald Cox.)

There are caveats to describing Nixon as a great environmental president. Nixon was dragged along in these things (including in his appointment of Ruckelshaus) by a Democratic federal Congress spurred into action when approximately 20 million Americans participated in the first Earth Day (April 22, 1970) promoting the goal of a healthy, sustainable environment. That first Earth Day, the organizing of which began before the fall of 1969, is regarded as marking the beginning of the modern environmental movement. Nixon opposed NEPA and he actually vetoed the Clean Water Act legislation and “for the first time in the Nixon administration, he had a veto overridden, substantially and significantly” (by a bipartisan majority).

Unfortunately, as we will discuss, the environmental laws passed during the Nixon years were less effective than they should have been because subsequent administrations, under less pressure from Congress, did not have their heart in enforcing them.

Multiple Choice Question: When Did Bloomberg First Get Around to Announcing a City Plan for Sustainable Environmental Practices?

Bloomberg first announced a city plan to for sustainable environmental practices addressing the significant issue of global warming AFTER the Al Gore film (and book) “An Inconvenient Truth” had been out for more than a year and after it was awarded the Academy Award for best documentary in 2007. (This was the multiple choice answer with the latest possible date.) Bloomberg announced the plan in his second term on April 22, 2007, Earth Day 2007. This was not long before Al Gore’s years of work on the environment (his book The Earth in Balance” was published 1992) were recognized as being important enough for Gore, together with the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, to receive the Nobel Peace Prize “for their efforts to build up and disseminate greater knowledge about man-made climate change.” (October 12, 2007.)

Did Bloomberg Eliminate Recycling of Glass, Metal and Plastic from His Budget Just after Taking Office?

Yes. One of Bloomberg first official actions with respect to the environment was anti-environmental even though from a good business sense that budget cut saved the city virtually no money in the short term and was very possibly likely to cost the city in the long term as the inherent economic benefits of recycling programs become increasingly compelling. (See: Is Recycling's Future Behind It?; Bloomberg Puts Doing Well Ahead of Doing Good, by Kirk Johnson, Tuesday, March 12, 2002.)

The New York Times in evaluating Bloomberg’s records noted that it was necessary for the City Council to step in to override Bloomberg so that recycling could continue:
On recycling, the record is not as good. The city recycles about 16 percent of its residential trash, falling short of the 25 percent goal specified in its recycling law. That is also less than other cities, though Bloomberg administration officials said such comparisons were not appropriate because the city has so many large multifamily buildings, making recycling more difficult.

The City Council has also had to overcome the mayor’s opposition when pushing for more recycling. The Council restored funding for residential recycling when Mr. Bloomberg cut the program’s budget, and it overrode the mayor’s veto of a bill mandating the recycling of electronic waste.
(See: Mayor’s Environmental Record: Grand Plans and Small Steps Forward, by Mireya Navarro, October 22, 2009.)

PlanNYC 2030 as a promotion of Bloombergian Development?

Yes, the Bloomberg administration uses PlaNYC 2030 as a backdrop to promote more real estate in the city. Going to the Bloomberg website for the program it tells you that first on the list of the “top three things you should know about New York over the next 25 years” is that “we will be getting bigger” and that the population will be going from “a record high- 8.2 million” to “nine million” by the program’s “2030" date. One of the principal promoters of the program within the Bloomberg administration was the administration’s former Deputy Mayor for Development, Dan Doctoroff.
(Chart above from the PlaNYC website.)

It is not that we don’t think that growth and the environment should be linked. We expect the city to grow and it should do so in an environmentally sound manner. We also believe that city living, in preference to country and suburban living benefits the environment and that New York should be encouraged to grow as a city. But the question with the Bloomberg administration is which came first: A love of the environment or the promotion of big development? By 2007, long before PlaNYC the Bloomberg administration was well on its away to promoting megadevelopments and most of the 100 upzonings covering a fifth of the city were in place. We have also seen, in other situations, how prone the Bloomberg administration is to the cynical use of beneficial things, for instance “affordable housing” as excuses to justify otherwise indefensible mega-monopolies like Atlantic Yards.

Bloomberg’s Earth Day 2009 Campaign

Yes, seemingly as part of his campaign for a third term mayor, Bloomberg finally in the last year of his second term as mayor announced a program to go after some of the lowest-hanging fruit of possible energy use reductions that could quickly and easily reduce the city’s energy consumption by at least 5%. To this end, he appeared on Charlie Rose (Earth Day April 22, 2009) with City Council Speaker Christine Quinn, his cohort in the crime of overturning (in the middle of the campaign season) the voter referendums establishing term limit restrictions. (See:
A conversation about Green Initiative NYC .)

This latest new green initiative program/campaign has had Bloomberg out painting city rooftops white with Al Gore in grand photo-op style.

(See Richard Perry image from the Times below.)

A viewer comments on the Charlie Rose site:
Really frustrating show. All three guests talked about the program as if it’s ground breaking and revolutionary- instead, it is finally addressing issues that have already been in effect in the Bay Area, the Pacific Northwest and Chicago (not to mention many other international cities).
The third guest who was part of that Charlie Rose discussion was Carl Pope, the Executive Director of the Sierra Club. Interestingly the Sierra Club which wants to stop the Atlantic Yards mega-project championed by Bloomberg is part of the coalition of community and public interest groups that are suing in various litigations to halt the project. Among other things the Atlantic Yards project involves some false claims of environmental soundness and sustainability: In an unsound environmental move the historic Ward Bakery which should have been preserved was destroyed by the developer. (See: Thursday, March 22, 2007, The Ward Bakery demolition and environmental sustainability and Friday, March 23, 2007, Forest City embraces historic preservation, but not in Brooklyn.)
The Question of Having Environmentalism at Heart

Although excellent new laws protecting the environment were passed during the years of the Nixon administration, our environment still continued to degrade in many ways since then. That is because laws and the eyewash of having them are not enough. Administrators of those laws after William Ruckelshaus have not had at heart the purpose of those laws. Under later presidents, particularly Reagan and Bush, laws and regulations were not enforced or interpreted in a manner that would make them effective. Particularly egregious is the way that interpretations of what isn’t “point source” water pollution has resulted in more pollution than ever before killing the life in our waters. The new pollution is from the concentrated waste runoff from the kind of industrial poultry, pig and cattle farms that didn’t exist when Nixon was president and regulations were first written.

Arguing Bloomberg’s Power, Environmentalism Comes Up As Being of Prime Importance

By this time we doubt that you will be wondering why we think all this is important. Bloomberg, through his own promotion, is thought of these days almost axiomatically as an environmentalist, so much so that when this year Bloomberg was kicked off Time Magazine’s list of “100 Most Influential People for 2009” the consolation prize was for there to be two resulting mentions of his environmental “creds” in the New York Times story that covered his being dropped (emphasis supplied):
Time has left the billionaire mayor off its list of the 100 Most Influential People for 2009 — a slight for a man who relishes his status as a titan of business, politics, philanthropy, public health and environmental sustainability.

The mayor made the list in 2008, when Time called him “visionary” and praised his “boundless energy.”

In the plus column, Time said that the mayor had successfully lobbied to rewrite the city’s term limits, which may allow him, if re-elected, to “keep working on the environmental and health reforms that have defined his administration.”

In the minus column, the magazine said that “his term-limits movement struck many as a blatant power-grab.”
(See: Mayor Drops Off Time’s 100, By Michael Barbaro, May 1, 2009.)

Bloomberg, an Environmentalist at Heart?

The question of whether Bloomberg is a true environmentalist is important indeed because, contrary to Time magazine’s determination dropping him off the 100 most influential list, Bloomberg is enormously influential. At least that’s what New York magazine thought when doing its evaluations of the most powerful New Yorkers. New York magazine thinks that Bloomberg is now setting historical precedent by being in a class supremely by himself: “When it comes to power in New York City, Michael Bloomberg is the only game in town:” See: The Power Dozen: There is Michael Bloomberg, and there is everybody else. Here’s everybody else, Mike Bloomberg Owns This Town, and also the earlier appearing Bloomberg Is Richest, Most Powerful New Yorker Ever, 3/12/09. See also our own Sunday, November 1, 2009, Bloomberg vs. Thomson (54% to 29%?): It’s Not What You Think. (For Instance the “P” is Missing and What Might “P” Stand For?).)

Dragged Along or Dragging Along the Voters in the Name of Environmentalism?

Bloomberg is so powerful that, unlike Nixon, he is not going to get dragged along by others to do things he doesn’t really have his heart in doing. Right now there is an election and he knows what the polls say so he is promoting himself as an environmentalist. We just got an e-mail from his campaign today telling us to vote for him because “Our PlaNYC initiative has made New York one of the greenest, healthiest cities in the world.” (The e-mail bullet point also said that the life expectancy has gone up “fifteen months since we took office” without attributing that to the fact that new AIDs drugs now curtail the deaths of young people.)

Bloomberg’s Environmental Change of Heart?

Reportedly, according to the Times as it tried to assess Bloomberg’s environmental career, Bloomberg had a change of environmental heart in the “fall of 2006.” That would have been after Al Gore’s “An Inconvenient Truth” would have been out for a number of months. For those of us who had been tracking what Mr. Gore’s film was about long before, the “fall of 2006” may seem like a rather late date for an epiphany. Here is the Times quoting James F. Gennaro, chairman of the City Council’s Committee on Environmental Protection:
“Clearly, in the fall of 2006 Mayor Bloomberg had an environmental apocalypse,” Mr. Gennaro said. “Something inspired him.”

It was not an epiphany, but federal census data that prompted the mayor to act, aides said. The numbers suggested that the city would grow by a million residents by 2030, which would lead to heavier traffic and more use of electricity at the same time that the city would be grappling with floods and other effects of climate change.
(See again: Mayor’s Environmental Record: Grand Plans and Small Steps Forward, by Mireya Navarro, October 22, 2009.)

Notice the story's reference to the city’s growth “by a million residents by 2030," the argument also regularly used to promote real estate development.

Hints That Bloomberg’s Heart Isn’t In Environmentalism

Did Bloomberg really start caring about the environment in the fall of 2006 after Al Gore’s popularizing of the issue? There are reasons to think this may be suspect. At a April 22, 2009 New School’s Center for NYC Affairs panel discussion titled The Media and the Mayor: Michael Bloomberg’s Transformation, we heard the Village Voice’s Wayne Barrett, one of the panelists, discuss Bloomberg’s lack of interest. He noted that there had been a time in Bloomberg’s first term when Bloomberg was very personally interested in city schools and that he had then had constant contact with the city officials working in the area. By contrast Barrett said that Bloomberg had not been having any conversations at all with Emily Lloyd his Department of Environmental Protection Commissioner. Ms. Lloyd announced her resignation in September 2008 after four years of service.

(More on the panel discussion but not including this particular point is at: Thursday, April 23, 2009, Debating whether Bloomberg's changed, media panelists offer mixed but critical views of the mayor.)

Similarly, we observed in an earlier article about Bloomberg’s appearance as environmentalist on the cover of a March Amtrak travel magazine:
Bloomberg’s publicists seem to have done good work. If you were riding Amtrack this past month, Bloomberg’s face would have been staring at you from the many covers of Amtrak’s Arrive magazine, slapped onto a story about harnessing wind power that seemed to have very little to do with the expensive high-end picture portraits of Bloomberg incorporated into the magazine.
(See: Sunday, April 12, 2009, Bloomberg Update: Fire and Ice (Part I).)

When we checked, despite the fact that Bloomberg got on the cover of the magazine giving him more environmental credibility, despite the fact that he bothered to pose for a great picture, he never bothered to communicate with the author wrote that cover story.

The Cause Gets Gored?

If Bloomberg is not truly green it is a tragedy because Bloomberg has the power and influence to preempt almost everything that goes on in terms New York initiatives about making environmental advances. Why should the lead story majority of Charlie Rose’s national show on Earth Day 2009 have been entirely about a behind-the-times Bloomberg local initiative pursued as part of his campaign for a third term as mayor? At the end of segment Charlie Rose made a few disclosures: Bloomberg, L.P. had been a long supporter of his program and Bloomberg didn’t have long to walk to show up looking comfortable on the show. . . Charlie Rose’s studios are in the Bloomberg building along with the Bloomberg offices. Mr. Rose did not add to his disclosures that Mr. Rose’s reported on-again, off-again girlfriend is Amanda Burden, Bloomberg’s head of the City Planning Department and City Planning Commission. As such, Ms. Burden is intimately connected with the real estate development that Mr. Bloomberg is using his “environmental policies” to promote.
If Bloomberg is not truly green it is a tragedy because it sidetracks resources. For instance, Mr. Gore himself has been made a part of the Bloomberg campaign. His endorsement obtained by the wealthy Bloomberg campaign has been sent out as part of Bloomberg campaign literature. It is too bad if this is preventing Mr. Gore from using his energies to agitate for individuals who could do a better job of moving the environmental agenda forward.

Is He or Isn’t He? Depends on Your Definition

Is Mr. Bloomberg “green”? Maybe he is. Merriam Webster’s dictionary says that “green” can be defined as environmentalism. It can mean: “relating to or being an environmentalist political movement,” “concerned with or supporting environmentalism” or “tending to preserve environmental quality.”

“Green” can mean other things as well. It can mean:
5 : not ripened or matured
6 : fresh, new
* * *
8 a : not fully processed or treated: as (1) : not aged (2) : not dressed or tanned (3) : freshly sawed b : not in condition for a particular use
9 a : deficient in training, knowledge, or experience b : deficient in sophistication and savoir faire : naive c : not fully qualified for or experienced in a particular function.
We fear that Bloomberg is not “green” as in an being an environmentalist, but instead "green" as in being quite “fresh” and “new” to the claim of being an environmentalist and “green” as in being “not quite ready” to be an environmentalist “deficient in training, knowledge, [and] experience” and “not fully qualified for or experienced” for this “particular function.”

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