Democratic candidate for governor Eliot Spitzer used President Bush as a foil Wednesday in his call for a bigger, tougher environmental policy that would include closing the Indian Point nuclear plant.
"George Bush is, hands down, the worst president on environmental and energy issues that this country has ever seen," New York's attorney general told a crowd of supporters in a campaign stop carried live over WAMC-FM public radio. "His legacy of environmental degradation will take decades to repair."
It was a natural target. The Republican Bush administration is riding low in national polls and has always fared more poorly in heavily Democratic New York.
Spitzer has also taken legal action against the Bush administration 17 times in his two terms as attorney general, often over air quality and acid rain issues.
"Leadership on environmental issues has to come first from the people and then from state and local governments," he said.
Spitzer, however, also praised other Republicans including former New Jersey Gov. Christine Todd Whitman, Arizona Sen. John McCain and President Nixon — all of whom he said represented a tradition of bipartisan cooperation on environmental issues.
He also singled out Republican Gov. George Pataki, who isn't seeking a fourth term. Spitzer compared Pataki to Teddy Roosevelt for protecting nearly 1 million acres of open space.
Spitzer, however, said he would build on Pataki's purchases of mostly wild land to include the purchase of more urban and suburban parcels for parks and open space.
Spitzer said as governor he would work with business to improve commerce while protecting the environment. And he promised to be tougher on polluters.
"So often the debate is framed as a choice between the economy and the environment, but it doesn't have to be that way — and history proves that it isn't," Spitzer said. "I'm convinced that clean and renewable energy technologies are a huge growth area for the economy and New York can be a leader in this emerging industry."
Spitzer said closing the Indian Point nuclear facility is an "environmental imperative."
"Of course, this can only happen when we are certain there is adequate replacement power, since we cannot simply take 2,000 megawatts out of the (energy) grid," he said. He called for renewal of a state law that would allow for the siting of new, cleaner power plants as well as greater development of wind, solar and other renewable power.
Environmentalists have opposed the plant in Buchanan, 35 miles north of midtown Manhattan, where there have been radioactive leaks and the killing of millions of fish by the plant's intake in the Hudson River. Many residents, meanwhile, say the plant is too attractive a target for terrorists and the region is too densely populated to be safely evacuated after an attack or nuclear accident.
Spokespeople for two of his Republican rivals were quick to respond.
"New Yorkers have a clear choice: A candidate for governor who hopes he can do a good job protecting the environment, or one who has actually done it," said Andrea Tantaros, spokesman for GOP candidate Bill Weld, the former two-term governor of Massachusetts. "Bill Weld has a proven record of protecting our air and water and preserving open space, and he did it while cutting taxes, balancing budgets and turning an entire economy around for businesses and families."
"While Eliot Spitzer talks a good game, Randy Daniels has the record to back it up," countered Robert Ryan, spokesman for Daniels, one of three GOP candidates for governor. "As (state) secretary of state, Randy Daniels led the fight to stop dumping in Long Island Sound, he's worked to improve waterfronts in Plattsburgh and Oswego."
A Quinnipiac University poll released Wednesday found Spitzer maintaining 50 percentage point leads over the Republicans and 69 percent to 14 percent lead over Democrat Tom Suozzi, the Nassau County executive. Suozzi, however, narrowed the gap slightly.
"Sound environmental stewardship," Spitzer said, "provides tremendous economic benefits."
Other elements of Spitzer's environmental platform include:
- Reducing emissions from coal and oil power plants to reduce global warming, using "clean coal technology."
- Expanding the bottle bill by including bottled water and other non-carbonated bottled drinks. He would also use the unclaimed deposits on bottles — worth millions — to pay for open space purchases and more enforcement jobs in the state Department of Environmental Conservation and Adirondack Park Agency.
- Revitalizing the "brownfield" program to clean old polluted industrial sites for reuse, often in cities.
- Improving energy conservation and energy efficiency of products and buildings.
- Help farmers take advantage of existing programs to help save their farms and restrict suburban sprawl.
- Protect swamps and wetlands from development.