Former Conservation Chair Richard Brodsky Versus the League of Conservation Voters

Richard Brodsky, the longtime former chair of the Assembly’s environmental conservation commission and a leading critic of the Indian Point nuclear power plant, is declining to seek the support of the New York League of Conservation voters, in the latest chapter in a long-simmering feud dating back to the group’s defense of Governor George Pataki. Brodsky has recently found himself on the opposite side of much of the state’s environmental lobby over congestion pricing.

In a letter to the group dated March 27 and released publicly today, Brodsky wrote, “For the reasons that follow I’ve decided, respectfully, to decline to fill it out, and to decline to seek your
endorsement or support.”

He goes on to write:

“[I]n 2006, LCV declined to support any Member of the Assembly, including me, and leveled direct and clear criticism of Assemblymembers and Assembly leadership for its failure to get legislation passed by the Senate, and signed by the Governor. Put aside the peculiar theory of government that holds the Assembly politically responsible for other branches of government. Put aside the strange politics of the previous twelve years, when LCV was a persistent and well known defender of Governor Pataki who raided the EPF “locked box,” reduced enforcement of environmental laws and refused to support any of the significant environmental legislation supported by LCV and passed in the Assembly. In this year’s endorsement cycle, I am simply unwilling to respond substantively and again find out that I am not being judged on my own positions, successes and failures, but solely on the actions of others. If LCV is willing to clarify why it turned its back on the only consistent group of environmentalists in state government, and will clarify what standards it will use in judging the actions of Assemblymembers this year, then the basis for further discussion exists.”

Brodsky also cites the group’s avid support of congestion pricing, and their new PAC which carries the “air of threat and punishment,” for people, like Brodsky, who oppose the program.

Here is Brodsky’s full letter.

Assemblyman Richard Brodsky
2121 Saw Mill River Road
White Plains, New York 10607

March 27, 2008
Bill Roberts
League of Conservation Voters
1920 L Street, NW
Suite 800
Washington D.C., 20036
Dear Chairman Roberts,
Thanks for sending a copy of your 2008 environmental questionnaire. For the reasons that follow I’ve decided, respectfully, to decline to fill it out, and to decline to seek your endorsement or support.

It is probably useful to restate a little history. As I hope you know, I’ve been privileged to serve as Chairman of the Assembly Committees on Environmental Protection and Corporations, Commissions, and Authorities. My Assembly colleagues, and Speakers Weprin and Silver, offered support and leadership on innumerable environmental issues during my tenures. That enabled me to author and enact into law the New York Clean Air Act, the Environmental Protection Fund, the Clean Air/Clean Water Bond Act, the Rebuild and Renew New York Transportation Bond Act, a Constitutional Amendment on the Adirondack Preserve, to direct funding to end the use of coal boilers in New York City, and to investigate and stop wrongdoing by the Pataki Administration with respect to the Erie Canal, the Olympic Regional Development Authority, the MTA and others. I similarly authored legislation that passed the Assembly only, including what EPA called the best environmental justice bill in the country, citizens suit provisions, and many others. Chairman Tom DiNapoli and Bob Sweeney, again working with our colleagues and Speaker Silver, have continued that work and brought their own excellence and leadership to the Committee since then, as the Assembly pursued an environmental agenda second to none.

Yet, in 2006, LCV declined to support any Member of the Assembly, including me, and leveled direct and clear criticism of Assemblymembers and Assembly leadership for its failure to get legislation passed by the Senate, and signed by the Governor. Put aside the peculiar theory of government that holds the Assembly politically responsible for other branches of government. Put aside the strange politics of the previous twelve years, when LCV was a persistent and well known defender of Governor Pataki who raided the EPF “locked box,” reduced enforcement of environmental laws and refused to support any of the significant environmental legislation supported by LCV and passed in the Assembly. In this year’s endorsement cycle, I am simply unwilling to respond substantively and again find out that I am not being judged on my own positions, successes and failures, but solely on the actions of others. If LCV is willing to clarify why it turned its back on the only consistent group of environmentalists in state government, and will clarify what standards it will use in judging the actions of Assemblymembers this year, then the basis for further discussion exists. But you are by no means obligated to respond to these concerns and suggestions, and my respectful decision to not seek your support can, if you chose, rest on the concerns I’ve expressed.

There is an additional matter which has arisen, and I hope I may speak about it plainly, to ensure that no misunderstandings arise. LCV has created a new PAC that has been widely viewed as an opportunity for “payback” for those who do not support Mayor Bloomberg’s congestion pricing proposal, and which has asked Bloomberg Administration stalwart Kevin Sheekey to be its’ first speaker. In the varying announcements about the PAC, and in other statements I heard and read, there seems to be a strength of view and vocabulary that troubles me. LCV unreservedly supported the Mayor’s proposal of last year, which was so defective that most of its’ supporters understood the need for reflection and change. It opposed the Assembly’s attempts to publicly debate and consider the plan in a Commission and demanded immediate action because of a putative federal deadline ( I note your 2008 questionnaire repeats the Mayor’s line this year that March 31 is another deadline. We now know that isn’t true either.) And in both private and public comment by LCV there is an air of threat and punishment that has made me uncomfortable. Congestion pricing is a matter on which reasonable people can disagree. Even LCV’s support for a repeal of SEQRA’s legal requirement of EIS first, approval second, the single most objectionable proposal made by the Mayor and a precedent which will come back to haunt the entire environmental movement, should be subject to reasoned argument. But, taken together with the recent history I recited above, I fear a repetition of LCV decisions in which the totality of one’s record will again be ignored, and the relationships with Governors or Mayors will make the endorsement decisions unfair and predetermined.

I do not assert these concerns as revealed truth. I’ve been wrong in my political and policy judgments as least as many times as has LCV. But I do think questions of fairness, transparency, and policy can sometimes be asked of the endorser, not just the endorsee. I will continue my principled efforts on behalf of the environment and public health, as will my colleagues. The relationship between elected officials and any endorsing groups are marked by the difficult choices made by both legislators and public interest groups. They have their ups and downs. I hope this letter is useful to you as we both seek a better understanding of each others politics and a cleaner, healthier environment.

Best wishes,

Former Conservation Chair Richard Brodsky Versus the League of Conservation Voters