The 11th annual Mohawk Watershed Symposium on Friday was devoted to clean water — an issue Congressman Antonio Delgado said is linked to the issue he feels most passionate about, addressing climate change.
“We have to address the climate crisis, first and foremost,” said Delgado, D-Rhinebeck, the keynote speaker at the day-long symposium at Union College, which was devoted to issues facing the Mohawk River, from ice-jam flooding to bacterial pollution from aging municipal sewer systems. “That includes green energy and it also includes water infrastructure.”
Climate change and the need for clean water to drink are closely linked, he said, noting that the 19th Congressional District he represents includes part of the Mohawk River watershed, but also the Catskills and the headwaters of the Delaware and Susquehanna rivers.
Those rivers have big economic impacts on their communities as well as environmental benefits, Delgado said. “What happens here in the Mohawk watershed matters enormously to the residents, but it is also felt far beyond,” he said.
Delgado, a Schenectady native, was elected to represent the sprawling Hudson Valley-Catskills congressional district last fall, defeating Republican incumbent John Faso. The district includes all of Schoharie County and part of Montgomery County.
“All these bodies of water, if not economic, have intrinsic value, so it’s imperative that we do what we can to protect that,” Delgado said in an interview. “I would say the issues that come up at my town halls are infrastructure, health care and our environment, the environment more generally, how we protect it, how we deal with climate change, how we help our farmers. It is an issue of the utmost importance throughout my district.”
Like Congressman Paul D. Tonko, D-Amsterdam — whom he described as a friend and now a mentor — Delgado is outspokenly critical of the cuts the Trump administration has proposed in each of the last three years to the Environmental Protection Agency. President Donald Trump is only skeptical about climate change.
The proposed cuts include a $900 million reduction in the EPA’s Clean Water and Drinking Water Revolving Loan Fund, which would reduce local governments’ access to funding for water treatment system and drinking water upgrades. By some estimates, New York communities need $80 billion in investment in those systems.
“We as a country are de-prioritizing the things we should be prioritizing the most,” Delgado said. “Think about that. We have a crisis — the climate change crisis — and we’re not doing anything about it at all. We are in fact deliberately undermining efforts to do something about it.”
Tonko made a similar point at a press conference earlier Friday in Albany, and said Congress will reverse the cuts.
“Thankfully this unserious proposal has no chance of passing the House, thanks to the commitment of many of our local and national environmental leaders and the impassioned votes and voices of the American people,” Tonko said, who is chairman of the House Energy and Commerce Committee’s Subcommittee on Environment and Climate Change.
Separately, the Trump administration has used its regulatory powers to reduce environmental standards, Delgado noted.
“All of it has done serious harm,” he said. “We know temperatures are rising and extreme weather events are becoming more common.”
Delgado said the PFOA drinking water crisis in Hoosick Falls — which he represents — is among the most personal of issues to him, and shows what the EPA can do. It was the EPA under the Obama administration that lead the fight to address that community’s legacy of industrial water contamination, he noted.
In answer to an audience question, Delgado said he’s seen no proof the U.S. could get entirely off fossil fuels within ten years, as some activists advocate — but he lauded the goal. “We can certainly do things that will bring down our carbon emissions,” he said. “We need to do everything we practically can to bring those carbon emissions down.”
He said he tries to avoid the partisan politics in Washington. “How I see my role is to keep my head down and do the work and try to reach some agreement to bring carbon emissions down to address the climate crisis,” Delgado said.
Delgado said he hasn’t thought specifically about the national flood insurance program, which residents in flood-prone areas like Schenectady’s Stockade say needs to be more comprehensive and less expensive — but he agreed the program is needed.
“With the extreme weather events we see happening…there’s a real need now, more than ever, to be sure we are protecting our communities,” he said. “I haven’t thought about it specifically, but it seems to me like we would want to do something like that.”