I slowed down to pass Dave Clegg as he biked the last stretch of Route 9 into the Village of Kinderhook a couple minutes after noon this Friday.
“Hey, DAVE!” I bawled out of my window, narrowly avoiding striking the congressional candidate.
In retrospect, this sounds like something a motorist would shout before throwing an empty beer can at someone’s head, and drive-by shoutings were common at Clegg’s destination: Faso Friday, a weekly progressive protest held in front of Republican Rep. John Faso’s Kinderhook district office. In fact, a few minutes later, a man in a pick-up swung by the event and started arguing with a protestor, saying proudly he was “red, all the way through.”
The man looped back a couple minutes later, yelling that the group should “go south of the border,” as though he had come up with this gem right after we were out of hearing range, cursed himself for not thinking of it sooner, then elected to pull a U-turn.
Dave Clegg, who is facing six other democrats in the 19th District primary to see who will take on Faso in November’s midterm elections, was 160 miles through a 200-mile bike journey meant to cast light on environmental issues in the district. In three days, he had visited three fossil fuel infrastructure sites and a brownfields site, and would end his journey in Hoosick Falls, the Rensselaer County town that had its water supply contaminated with the carcinogen PFOA from a former plant that produced Teflon products.
After some well-deserved water, Clegg spoke to TOHV about fracking, the Hudson River clean-up, and a lack of corporate responsibility with regards to the 19th District’s environment.
“Corporations putting profit over people is what has ruined our environment to a large degree,” he said.
Clegg referenced a class-action lawsuit he worked on in the 1980s, where the residents of East Kingston, a factory town on the Hudson River, sued the Hudson Cement Company for polluting the town’s air with deleterious dust for years.
The company’s factory workers lived in the town, and Clegg questioned the corporate mindset that made it permissible to “pour toxic dust on your own employees.”
Clegg described what the company did as part of the “mindset of the corporate world” — “disengaging the harm [they’re] doing from the profit [they’re] making” — and said this mindset led to the abuse of the environment.
A large part of Clegg’s environmental stance is getting America off fossil fuels. He supports the Off Fossil Fuels for a Better Future Act, an ambitious bill introduced to the House of Representatives last year that now has 35 co-sponsors.
The bill’s goal is for 80 percent of all electricity sold in the U.S. to come from clean energy sources, such as solar or wind, by 2027, and for 80 percent of cars sold in the county to be emissions-free by the same date. All cars and electricity produced in the U.S. would be “clean” by 2035 under the bill, which also seeks to stop issuing permits for major fossil fuel projects and end fossil fuel subsidies.
The bill would have to pass through numerous bi-partisan congressional committees to make it to a vote.
When asked if he would accept a less ambitious bill, Clegg declined.
“Ideally, you set these stringent goals,” he said. “If you keep watering things down, they’ll be watered down more…so no, I’d want keep it right where it is. Let’s make those goals as stringent as we can.”
Three of the sites Clegg visited — the Millennium Pipeline Compressor in Tusten and proposed natural gas power plants in the towns of Ulster and Dover — are related to fracking.
Hydraulic Fracturing, or fracking, is a controversial way of extracting natural gas and oil by shooting pressurized liquid into shale formations deep underground. Opponents of fracking say the process releases large amounts of methane into the atmosphere, pollutes drinking water and causes earthquakes, as well as delays a switch to clean energy.
After a lengthy moratorium, New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo made fracking illegal in the state in 2014 after the state Department of Environmental Conservation recommended he do so.
However, fracked gas can still be transported through the state, processed in the state, and used in state power plants.
When asked if Cuomo did not go far enough, Clegg said the country was not “moving fast enough into the clean-energy world.”
“We don’t just want to be a conduit for natural gas to other places and bear all the brunt of it, and the risk of exposure to it, should there be a pipeline breakage,” he said.
Clegg also spoke about the need to “fully fund” the cleansing of Superfund sites.
Superfund sites are federally-designated areas with severe pollution, often on the grounds of former industrial sites. There are 116 Superfund sites in New York state, according to the EPA, including sites in the 19th District municipalities of High Falls, South Cairo, and Nassau.
The polluters of these sites should be more financially responsible for their clean-up, Clegg said, suggesting cleaning up the toxic sites would be a good job-creator of the district.
Clegg also slammed current Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Scott Pruitt, saying the controversial Trump appointee is “a fossil fuel lobbyist, basically” and was “dropping down regulations on air pollution and water pollution and whatever else he can get his hands on.”
At the end of the interview, Clegg pulled it all together, saying the profits of corporations often uncut the felicity of citizens, whether it is though campaign finance, for-profit healthcare, or the environment.
“So, as I say, it’s like a big circle,” he said. “Profit over people is the corporate mantra…I’m not saying that there’s not a place for profit in the world, but it shouldn’t be at the expense of the health and well-being of the people.”