Archive for August 2022

Voting on College Campuses Is Made Easier

Posted by NYPIRG on August 8, 2022 at 9:33 am

This November, New York voters will cast ballots for Governor, Attorney General, Comptroller, one U.S. Senate seat (senior senator, currently Schumer) and for Congressional Representatives in Washington, as well as lawmakers in the New York State Assembly and Senate.  New Yorkers also will have the opportunity to vote on an Environmental Bond Act that is critical to the state’s ability to meet its climate goals set in law.

While New York is considered a “blue” state – meaning that Democrats far outnumber Republicans – few things are a certainty in politics.  But with a 2-to-1 and growing enrollment advantage, Democrats have come to dominate New York State politics.  A Republican hasn’t been elected to a statewide position in twenty years – George Pataki’s election to a third term as governor in 2002.

But due to redistricting, elections to Congress are much more competitive than had been expected.  The new political district lines drawn by the courts for New York’s House of Representatives has resulted in what could be very competitive matches.

According to the Cook Political Report, New York State has more “toss up” House elections than any other state in the nation (four NY CDs: 3, 18, 19, and 22).  Right now, Democrats hold a small majority in the 435 member House of Representatives, meaning that these “toss-up” races – both in New York and the rest of the nation – may determine who controls that Chamber.

Given the narrow Democratic majority and the number of “toss-up” seats in New York, turnout this November could well determine overall control of the House of Representatives and the direction of the country.  No small matter.

Nationally, this is an important midterm election.  Whichever party wins control of Congress will have a major impact on the direction of the country during the final two years of President Biden’s term in office – on issues such as climate change, infrastructure, health care, voting rights, civil liberties, and more.  The actions of this Congress will likely also influence the 2024 Presidential election.

An important – and overlooked – change to New York elections may bring a large number of new and young voters to the polls.  Buried in April’s state budget agreement was language that requires local elections officials to place a polling site on virtually all colleges with dormitories.  The new law stated, “Whenever a contiguous property of a college or university contains three hundred or more registrants who are registered to vote at any address on such contiguous property, the polling place designated for such registrants shall be on such contiguous property or at a nearby location recommended by the college or university and agreed to by the board of elections.”

The deadline for those decisions was last week.  As of August 1st, colleges with dorms housing at least 300 registrants must have a polling location.  How well that process played out is still unclear, but most college students with dorms should expect to see a campus-based polling place.

As a result, college student voters have an opportunity to significantly impact the outcome of the 2022 General Election in New York.  For the first time, all eligible students who live at a covered college campus will be able to vote at a poll site placed at (or near) their college campus.  Students will not have to make travel arrangements to get to an off-campus location, or vote absentee.  The result will be likely be a significant increase in college student voter turnout, giving students a greater voice and impact in the outcome of the 2022 Election.

The location of college campus poll sites matter.  Despite the constitutional right-to-vote, students have far too often faced obstacles to voter registration and participation across the state.  The unfortunate history of student voting has been one in which local elections officials too often seek to suppress participation.  Some counties target students by further splitting campus populations into multiple election districts or removing campus poll sites and moving others conveniently located for students.

On-campus poll sites and early voting have demonstrated success in other states.  For example, when Florida implemented early voting on some college campuses in 2018, they saw significantly higher rates of voter participation by young voters and Black and Hispanic voters.

Bringing poll sites to college campuses across New York is a significant victory for young voters and will have a measurable impact on college student voting.  As the climate crisis and other pressing issues make clear, young voters have an enormous amount at stake in elections: their future depends on the decisions elected representatives make today.  In New York for the first time, significant barriers to student voting should be removed so those voices can help shape their own future.

The Summer Heat Triggers Algal Blooms

Posted by NYPIRG on August 1, 2022 at 7:52 am

Another hot summer and fresh reminders all around us of how global warming is destroying our environment.  Unprecedented heat waves, huge wildfires, once-in-a-millennium droughts, all are examples of the impacts that a rapidly heating planet is having on the world around us. 

The decades-old predictions of how climate changes would destabilize the world’s climate have turned out to be accurate – and in some ways underestimated the negative impacts.

The heat, the droughts, the fires, the famines are all obvious examples.  But there are other threats that are less obvious.

After a blistering heat wave last week, lakes across New York State are warming up.  Warmer waters make it more likely that we all will use these freshwaters for our own recreation.  But that use, as well as the use of freshwaters for drinking sources, are under threat of an insidious poison – algal blooms.

The blooms are a blue-green slimy substance that floats in water.  Harmful algal blooms aren’t your typical green surface ooze that you may see on the top of lake waters.  While ugly to look at when at the surface, a bloom can also be dangerous, so much so that the state has a blanket policy warning to stay out of the water should there be evidence of one.

The heating planet drives the production of algal blooms.  Warmer temperatures prevent water from mixing, allowing algae to grow thicker and faster.  Algal blooms absorb sunlight, making water even warmer and promoting more blooms. 

While every algal bloom isn’t toxic – some algal species can produce both toxic and nontoxic blooms – toxic blooms can cause problems for swimmers and other recreational users in the form of rashes or allergic reactions.  People who swim in a bloom may experience health effects, including nausea, vomiting, headaches, respiratory problems, skin rash and other reactions.  There have also been reports nationwide of dogs and livestock dying shortly after swimming or wading in a bloom.

Heat alone doesn’t stimulate algal blooms.  As we know, climate changes have also caused stronger, more powerful storms, storms that release much more rainwater than in storms of the past.  Those incredible downpours swiftly flush whatever is sitting on the land directly into lakes, so instead of letting a natural filtration process take place, nutrients that would benefit the soil are washed into surface waters and wreak havoc in the water in the form of algal blooms.

The nutrients these blooms primarily rely on are phosphorus and nitrogen.  The algal blooms have increased due to a rise in nutrient runoff from sources such as soil erosion from fertilized agricultural areas and lawns, erosion from river banks, river beds, land clearing (deforestation), and sewage effluent.  All of these are the major sources of phosphorus and nitrogen entering waterways.  These nutrients coupled with warm, calm water is the recipe for an algal bloom.

Usually, algal blooms crop up in late summer and early fall.  This year, they have begun showing up in lakes across New York.  The DEC has identified 77 algal blooms as of the middle of July. 

To check out the New York lakes where algal blooms are a concern, you can go to the DEC website, which has a harmful algal bloom notifications webpage that it updates regularly.  You can Google “DEC algal blooms map” to see the listings and how to file a possible bloom siting.

While much of western North America has experienced droughts and wildfires, the northeast has largely avoided those catastrophes.  But we are enduing our own crisis in the form of algal blooms.  New York State has experienced a tenfold increase in the number of waterbodies experiencing a bloom over the past 10 years and $6 billion in mitigation expenses and lost economic value.

While we all must do everything possible to reduce the world’s reliance on fossil fuels and aggressively embrace energy efficiency programs and alternative energy sources, due to the amount of CO2 in the atmosphere, the planet will continue to heat up.  There is not much that New York can do to reduce the damage that has already been done and that is fueling the current rising heat of the planet.  But when it comes to protecting surface waters and drinking water supplies, the state has to do a lot more to reduce the runoff from agriculture, landscaping and wastewater sources.  New York must be proactive about protecting drinking water supplies and recreational waters.  The costs for prevention are cheaper than the cost of remediation and illness.