In this ‘Green Mile,’ the Island has a healthy head start

Let's make a deal: Whether or not the Green New Deal -- an ambitious legislative package introduced by U.S. Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY) and U.S. Sen. Edward Markey (D-Mass.) -- gains steam, it offers a blueprint to move Long Island forward, accordiong to political commentator Jeff Guillot.

It’s been roundly embraced by progressive presidential candidates and panned by conservatives as a pipe dream dripping with bongwater. But regardless of your position on the package of legislative initiatives collectively known as the Green New Deal, Long Island’s longstanding commitment to environmental protection could put us in a unique position to reap the benefits of this dialogue.

Jeff Guillot: Green with ambition.

Regardless of whether or not this idea ever finds its way to the President’s desk (spoiler alert: not anytime soon), it’s not going anywhere.

For the next 11 months or more, an ever-growing cast of Democratic presidential candidates is poised to make climate change one of the top issues in the coming campaign. There is unprecedented collective energy around the notion that climate change presents a massive existential threat to our national security and our economic stability.

The elevation of this issue means that state and local political actors will want to join the fray, and Long Island is already well ahead of most comparable areas nationwide. But as we begin this long slog toward the 2020 elections – to borrow from Stephen King, we could call it “The Green Mile” – there are numerous ways this region can capitalize on the hyper-awareness around the economics of climate and enact forward-thinking, sustainable policies.

New York State has already acted in defiance of the Trump Administration and pledged to honor the Paris Climate Accords. Governor Andrew Cuomo has set a goal of making the state totally carbon free by 2040. These bold pronouncements give us a chance to roll up our sleeves and get creative.

For starters, we should cut through the red tape and build Caithness II in Brookhaven. By 2030, Caithness II promises to meet 30 percent of New York State’s carbon-emission targets all by itself and will save Long Islanders an estimated $75 million in energy costs. And once completed, it projects to pay more than $190 million in property taxes, nearly two-thirds of which will go into local communities and school districts.

Caithness, combined with existing plans to build offshore wind facilities off East Hampton and south of Jones Beach, can help the state meet its 2040 goals and allow it to scale down less-efficient power plants in Northport and Port Jefferson.

The region is also uniquely positioned to create a generation’s worth of jobs in a manner prescribed in the Green New Deal. With every planned expansion of sewer infrastructure in Suffolk County, high-paying jobs in the pipe trades will follow. Simply put, Suffolk must be fully sewered in order to be regionally competitive.

Further, if we are going to embrace wind power, these turbines shouldn’t be assembled overseas or in other states – they should be assembled here. Places like EPCAL in Riverhead and the former Dowling campus in Shirley are terrific places to create this kind of infrastructure.

We should also begin making our own energy. A company on Long Island is working on a product to turn water into fuel-grade hydrogen. This is an incredible sustainable energy source that can transform our transportation infrastructure and dramatically lower greenhouse-gas emissions. Not only should government embrace this technology, but it should be built on Long Island.

New York State is headed in another kind of green direction. With the legalization of recreational adult-use marijuana certain to pass in Albany this session, Long Island cannot afford to let NIMBYism get in the way. We should embrace the jobs and revenue that has always come when states legalize pot.

Suffolk County could once again become the state’s No. 1 agricultural county if cannabis growing were embraced and smartly regulated there. Our vineyards are already taking steps to become more sustainable, and many of those practices could be cross-pollinated into this industry.

For years, stakeholders have bemoaned the decline of the aerospace industry on Long Island and have been in search of a new industry to jumpstart the economy. Some have said it could be biotech, or cancer research.

These are both terrific ideas, but if anything comes from the Green New Deal, it should crystalize that one possible way to turn Long Island into a globally competitive region is to make it an epicenter of public-private partnerships, aimed at fighting climate change and transforming our economy.

Jeff Guillot is a political science professor at Suffolk County Community College and a founding partner at Huntington- and New York City-based political consulting firm Millennial Strategies.