DELMAR — In step with adopting its anticipated Comprehensive Plan Update, the Bethlehem Town Board is expected to declare a climate emergency once it meets Wednesday, June 22; the resolution will commit the Town to establish zoning laws prohibiting new gas stations and future fossil fuel expansion.
Among other actions, the three-page resolution calls for a Fossil Fuel Non-Proliferation Treaty to end new fossil fuel exploration and expansion, and to phase out existing production in the line with the global commitment to mitigate a warming climate.
In tandem with the Comprehensive Plan Update, to which town board members are expected to approve, the Town is announcing its intent to implement prohibitive policies while promoting electrificatoin “because of the inherent dangers to the public’s health and safety in extraction, transport, storage, and combustion of fossil fuels.”
“Whereas, the scientific consensus is clear that human activities are primarily responsible for accelerating global climate change,” reads the first sentence, “and that the climate crisis now represents one of the preeminent threats to global civilization.”
The declaration localizes a global effort to curb greenhouse gas emissions. The United Nations released a report from its Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change in February warning “the continued installation of unabated fossil fuel infrastructure will ‘lock-in’ [Greenhouse Gas] emissions.” It also stated that an effort to reduce emissions would require a “substantial” reduction in overall use.
In 2019, the state passed the Climate Leadership and Community Protection Act that mandates emissions be cut by 85 percent over 1990 levels by 2050. The Cuomo era law targets a fossil fuel-free New York by that time.
Bethlehem also cites the state’s mandate among several more factors as it establishes its stance, including the state Environmental Rights Amendment passed in 2021. The referendum, guaranteeing all residents the right to clean air, clean water, and a healthful environment, was approved by 70 percent of town voters last year.
The resolution follows just a month after several residents insisted board members express a stronger commitment against fossil fuel energy in its Comprehsneive Plan Update, including from Peter Iwanowicz, a town resident and state Climate Action Council member.
The plan had already established several value statements expressing six overarching principles including interwoven equity, livable built environment, harmony with nature, resilient economy, healthy community, and responsible governance and regionalism.
“It’s a good and solid document,” Iwanowicz said of the draft document in May, but one in which he suggested should outlaw fossil fuels and future installments of gas and diesel pumps.
“Between new state law and market forces, the end of internal combustible engines in passenger and other vehicles is rapidly approaching. Thus, there really is no need for additional gasoline and diesel fuel pumps than what we already have.”
James A. McGaughan, the Bethlehem Republican Committee Chairman, voiced opposition to the Comprehensive Plan Update process altogether. In an email to board members, he stated that he and the thousands of people he represented “loathe” this plan.
“The residents of Bethlehem are concerned with “kitchen table” issues,” he stated. “They want to see their freedom and privacy protected, their family succeed, their town flourish, their economic opportunities expand, their property values increase, and their economic security strengthen. Will the objectives and goals of this plan do that? No.”
Paul Heiser, who ran for town supervisor as a Republican last year, said it’s not surprising to see the Town take a “leftward tilt” against new gas stations — but it’s not to save the environment, he said.
In a letter to the editor published two weeks ago, Heiser argued that green energy initiatives were just as harmful to the environment as fossil fuels.
“Because moving to a “carbon-free” world requires massive amounts of energy and the extraction of minerals and metals — copper, lead, aluminum — at great cost to the environment and society,” he stated. “In addition, windmills, solar panels and electric batteries for cars are not biodegradable; begging the question of where those toxic pollutants would be stored.”
Town board members are expected approve both the Comprehensive Plan Update and the climate emergency resolution. However, the Town will still have to pass new zoning regulations to codify efforts to prevent the construction of new gas stations.