The “Magic” That Moves Environmental Legislation

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Tompkins Weekly      1-26-22

By Mothers Out Front Tompkins

New York food growers will soon be able to take advantage of the provisions of a new law, the Soil Health and Climate Resiliency Act, which will provide farmers with the tools and resources to be active partners in New York’s efforts to mitigate the climate crisis. The bill was passed by both houses of the State Legislature last spring and was recently signed into law by Gov. Kathy Hochul.

The Soil Health and Climate Resiliency Act puts state resources to work to educate and aid farmers in adopting practices that improve long-term soil productivity, efficiency and profitability while sequestering carbon in the soil. Agencies including the New York State Soil and Water Conservation Committee, the Soil and Water Conservation Districts, Cornell Cooperative Extension and others will participate in implementing this plan.

The bill amends the Agriculture and Markets Law to establish New York Soil Health and the Climate Resilient Farming Program. It creates a statewide network of experts or peer leaders to support soil health stewardship. By assisting farmers in planning and adopting management practices that promote soil health, it will also enable them to take advantage of new and existing grants and incentives.

Photo provided.

The programs will address improved water management to control erosion, improve water holding capacities of soil, minimize nutrient run-off and enhance downstream water quality. They will encourage best farming practices that enhance crop yields while capturing and storing carbon in the soil. These practices include cover cropping, no-till farming, incorporation of biochar, increasing carbon storage in soil and reduction of nitrous oxide emissions.

As evidenced by our previous two articles in this column, “Farming From the Heart” and “Farming for Our Community, Climate Change,” Mothers Out Front Tompkins (MOFT) enthusiastically supports the practice of regenerative farming for its potential to help prevent climate catastrophe as we are passionate about all efforts that protect the environment and mitigate climate change.

One of the strategies we employ to support regenerative farmers is to evaluate state legislation pertaining to farming, such as the bill described above, and to do whatever we can to ensure that those supportive bills move along and are successfully implemented.

As this bill moved through both houses of the Legislature and made its way to the governor’s desk, MOFT, along with other environmental groups and concerned citizens, had ongoing interactions with various officials including State Assemblyperson Anna Kelles, representing District 125, who co-sponsored the bill.

In a recent conversation with Jen Lyons, the communications director for Kelles, we celebrated the passing of this legislation into law. She agreed wholeheartedly that concerned citizens had played a significant role in ensuring that the bill had passed using various strategies to contact the governor and other officials, including tweeting, calling (and, yes, it’s effective to leave a voice message) and old-fashioned letter writing. Lyons called this the “magic” that environmentalists can do.

Clearly, the signing of this bill into law is one example of a successful effort by activist groups and other citizens concerned about climate to shape legislation in New York to protect the environment. The election of representatives like Kelles, who prioritize environmental protection, is the first step.

Partnering with those legislators as they work with their staff to write, propose and promote bills that effectively support environmental causes is critical. Following through to beneficially impact the implementation process, as we will now be doing for the Soil Health and Climate Resiliency Act, solidifies our efforts to create reform that will move New York toward climate mitigation.

Recent events in Tompkins County have led MOFT along with several other local environmental groups to shift focus to another bill that has been sponsored by Kelles, bill #A07389, which “establishes a moratorium on consolidated operations that use proof-of-work authentication methods to validate blockchain transactions.”

Media reports have revealed that the owners of the Cayuga Power Plant (CPP) on the shore of Cayuga Lake in the town of Lansing intend to convert the plant to this type of proof-of-work Bitcoin mining operation, similar to that now functioning at the Greenidge plant on Seneca Lake.

The bill would instate a moratorium on all cryptocurrency mining in the state for three years so that the environmental impact can be studied. In Dresden, the site of the Greenidge plant, many local residents have significant concerns regarding the impact that the plant is having on the health of their lake and the local ecology.

In a report prepared for the Town Board of Lansing by the Lansing Advisory Committee on Power Plant Future (LAC-PPF), a local citizens advocacy group, environmental issues that have arisen at two other communities impacted by Bitcoin mining operations — Plattsburgh, New York, and Missoula County, Montana — are outlined. They include excessive energy use, potentially adding to climate warming, noise, electronic waste and warming of nearby waterways, which can greatly harm the ecosystem.

When our conversation with Lyons shifted to this issue, she took the time to make it clear that Kelles is not opposed to cryptocurrency entirely but, rather, primarily concerned with these proof-of-work types of cryptocurrency that require exponentially increasing amounts of energy.

“It is critical that we pass my legislation (A7389B) to institute a three-year moratorium on proof-of-work cryptomining in New York,” Kelles said. “We must hit pause until we understand the steep cost of this energy-intensive and highly polluting emerging industry to our climate and consumers. In 2019, New York state passed the Climate Leadership and Community Protection Act (CLCPA), the most ambitious law in the country to combat climate change. The CLCPA goals include an 85% reduction in GHG emissions by 2050, 100% zero-emission electricity generation by 2040, 70% renewable energy sourcing by 2030, significant increases in offshore wind, solar, and energy storage capacity and significant reductions in CO2 emissions. New York cannot meet our CLCPA climate goals if we allow cryptocurrency mining to continue to expand in the state.”

In the report cited above, the LAC-PPF includes a variety of ways that the difficulties encountered by the other two communities might be avoided. The technologies that create and sustain cryptocurrency are relatively new and rather complex. It only makes sense to move cautiously in allowing these processes to become established in our communities.

The moratorium provided by bill #A07389 allows time for that caution. Now is the time for activists and all concerned citizens to support this bill, lobbying as necessary to ensure its passage and then monitor the implementation as with the Soil Health and Climate Resiliency Act. Let us all work toward a successful outcome for this bill as well.

To contact Hochul and Kelles:

125th District NY Assemblymember
Anna Kelles:
106 East Court Street,
Ithaca, NY 14850
(607) 277-8030
@annakelles on Twitter

Governor Kathy Hochul:
The Honorable Kathy Hochul
Governor of New York State
NYS State Capitol Building
Albany, NY 12224
(518) 474-8390
@GovKathyHochul on Twitter

For a comprehensive explanation of cryptocurrency, see the online presentation “Bitcoin, Cryptocurrency, Blockchain: The Promise and the Peril” by Irene Weiser, Coordinator of Fossil Free Tompkins, sponsored by LWV of Tompkins County and LWV of Cortland County.

Mothers Out Front Tompkins (MOFT) is the local, volunteer-led chapter of a national grassroots organization of mothers, grandmothers and others working in our communities and states to preserve a safe and livable climate for our children, grandchildren and all life on earth. The MOFT Regenerative Agriculture Committee focuses on regenerative agriculture’s potential for alleviating the disastrous effects of climate change.

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