Walk beside the rail lines that stretch along the Lake Erie plain from Lackawanna to Erie, PA and you’ll see trees, vineyards and underbrush bestrewn with ragged streamers of plastic and other garbage. If you walk for a bit longer, you are likely to be passed by the litterbug culprits: scores of flimsily netted railcars full of downstate garbage. Do the railroads make any effort to come and clean up this mess? Not at all. Much less the big city people who created the garbage in the first place.
But compared to what is coming, a thin strip of shredded, blow-away garbage is but a minor prelude. As rammed through in the last State budget, it is fully, legislatively and publicly the intention of our Governor Cuomo and down-state legislators to turn the hills and vales of Western New York into an industrial wasteland covered with huge wind-turbines and tens of thousands of acres of solar arrays so that our countryside and our small towns can “offset” the carbon pollution that the big cities produce and that so vexes their delicate consciousness. Never mind that the staggering subsidies to be paid by New York taxpayers will go to multi-millionaire hedge-fund investors and their Chinese equipment suppliers to erect vast solar arrays in one of the cloudiest counties in the country.
But rather than just rail against this “tyranny of the (metro NYC) majority”, let me suggest a better, win, win idea:
Instead of subsidizing these very wealthy hedge-fund investors with our tax and utility-bill dollars to import and erect these solar-panel and wind-turbine wastelands, why don’t we turn to accelerating the carbon-sequestration that has naturally and organically been going on in upstate NY since the 1920s?
A growing hardwood forest native to this area will trap between 1.5 and 2.5 tons of carbon per acre per year. Once mature, and being selectively harvested for valuable hardwoods like Maple, Oak and Black Cherry, an acre of our forests will still sequester and hold an additional 1.5 tons of carbon every year.
This is not a new idea. Already thousands of acres of forest in New York are being managed in this way and are receiving carbon credit payments from corporations moving to offset their CO2 emissions. Further, unlike wind turbines and solar waste-lands, the management and selective harvesting of these carbon-capturing forests is and can provide a continuity of rewarding, good-paying jobs that our rural residents can do now. Not only can these forests capture and store industrial carbon pollution, and create sustainable employment for generations, but they can protect rather than kill and displace wildlife, and by enhancing the scenic beauty which is already one of rural New York’s greatest assets, foster tourism and the vitality of our small towns.
I know that our State Senator George Borrello is leading the fight, now if only our State government would just listen. Listen, study what other environmentally thoughtful States are doing to facilitate carbon sequestration, and bring the best of those programs back home to us.
In the meantime, we need to make sure that our county officials and Town boards do not give the store away. Under no circumstances should they agree to any tax concessions to millionaire wind and solar developers that they would not ordinarily give to longstanding, resident businesses. Further, they need to make sure that any installation they do consider be triple-A bonded by a reputable third party for repair or removal costs. Ownership of these sites can and will change and at very least we need to be assured that if installed they are either operating as promised or being removed and the land put back to its natural condition.
Fred Johnson is the owner of Johnson Estate Winery in Westfield and is the president of the Westfield-Barcelona Chamber of Commerce and the chairman of the Chautauqua County Chamber of Commerce.