By Justin Sondel
Niagara Gazette — Mayor Paul Dyster joined local environmental groups on Tuesday in their call for further investment into renewable energy sources from Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s administration.
Dyster accompanied representatives from Sierra Club Niagara and 11 other groups during a press conference at Dug’s Dive restaurant in Buffalo’s outer harbor. The mayor and area environmentalists spoke to reporters with giant, white, wind turbines spinning in the background as they stressed the importance of investing in renewable energy sources while hard winds drove in rain from Lake Erie.
Dyster said renewable energy – specifically hydroelectricity generated by the Niagara River – has played an vital role in the area’s history and needs to play an important role in the future of Western New York as well.
At the beginning of the 20th century Niagara Falls was a “global leader in renewable energy” and that energy drove the economy of the region, Dyster said.
“Some of the most brilliant scientists in the world ... were working in the Western New York area,” Dyster said.
Thomas Edison, Nikola Tesla and George Westinghouse all developed advances in hydroelectricity while working to harness the power of the Niagara River.
Dyster said the discovery of large deposits of fossil fuels made renewable energy less important, but with those resources dwindling it is time to again look to renewable energy.
“I think, today, with leadership from President (Barack) Obama and leadership from Governor Andrew Cuomo, it is time to put a greater emphasis on renewable energy and get ourselves back on the right road once again,” Dyster said.
The Sierra Club’s initiative, which they have dubbed “Turn, Don’t Burn,” is part of a state-wide effort. Branches of the organization will be holding events and running advertisements in Buffalo, Rochester, Binghamton and Auburn to urge Cuomo to make New York state a leader in clean energy, Lynda Schneekloth, a Sierra Club Niagara board member, said.
Schneekloth, who is a professor in the University at Buffalo’s planning department, said governments need to act quickly to mitigate the effect burning fossil fuels have on the earth’s climate.
“We have to do it now,” Schneekloth said. “We can’t wait 10, 15, 20 years to do it. We actually have to do it now.”
Erin Heaney, the director of the Clean Air Coalition of Western New York, said renewable energy can also help eliminate the air pollution associated with fossil fuels that has caused greater rates of disease in parts of the region with higher concentrations of pollution.
“We’re here to call on Governor Cuomo to give his support for renewable energy, because as we develop more renewable energy we’re going to be creating healthier communities,” Heaney said.
Robert Howarth, a professor in Cornell University’s department of ecology and evolutionary biology, said the state can create a healthier environment for its citizens through the development of renewable energy sources, but it can create jobs as well.
“The thing to keep in mind is that it won’t cost the state more for energy,” Howarth said. “Fossil fuels, as an industry, make a lot of profits for people. They don’t make a lot of jobs.”Contact reporter Justin Sondel at 282-2311, ext. 2257