Rep. Lee Zeldin is calling on Congress to approve funding for the Long Island Sound Program and the National Estuary Program and to pass the Long Island Sound Restoration and Stewardship Act.
Zeldin called a press conference this morning in Mattituck to announce his continued support for funding to restore and protect the L.I. Sound and the Peconic Estuary, both designated estuaries of national significance.
The press conference comes after reports of leaked information about President Donald Trump’s alleged plans to cut the budget of the Environmental Protection Agency and the elimination of a list of programs, including the Long Island Sound Restoration Program.
Zeldin, who this year was appointed co-chairperson of the House Bipartisan Long Island Sound Caucus, said it’s important to remember that Congress — not the president — holds the federal government’s purse strings.
“Regardless of who is in the White House, the Constitution puts government funding in the control of Congress through the appropriations process,” Zeldin said.
“This week we’ll see at least portions of the public drafts of the administration’s budget request. That’s all it is — a request,” Zeldin said. “It has no force of law or legislation.”
Zeldin, a Republican who in November won re-election to a second term by a landslide, said during the last session of Congress he worked “on a bipartisan basis” to pass legislation authorizing $10 million for the L.I. Sound Restoration Program and $26.5 million for the National Estuary Program. He successfully worked to restore a 22-percent cut in the L.I. Sound funding that had been proposed by former President Barack Obama.
“We must now redouble our efforts,” he said today, flanked by Southold and Riverhead town officials at Veterans Memorial Park in Mattituck.
The funding for the L.I. Sound Restoration Program was not passed by the Senate during the 114th Congress. The measure authorizing funding for the National Estuary Program was passed.
“Congressman Zeldin is in a pivotal role here to be able to rescue the L.I. Sound Program,” Citizens Campaign for the Environment executive director Adrienne Esposito said in a phone interview today.
“Press conferences are nice, but we need to see results,” Esposito said. “He has to make it clear to the president and his Republican colleagues that the L.I. Sound Program is a necessity, not a luxury item.”
Esposito said she was among a number of representatives of L.I. Sound advocacy groups on a phone call Friday with Zeldin’s staff to discuss their concerns about rumors they’ve heard indicating not only the reduction in funding for the L.I. Sound Program but the elimination of the program entirely.
Ongoing, decades-long efforts to promote restoration of the Sound has resulted in real progress, she said.
“Water quality has improved, hypoxia has diminished, sewage plants have been upgraded and whales and dolphins have returned to the Sound,” Esposito said. “We have come too far to go backwards.”
The president’s appointment of Oklahoma Attorney General Scott Pruitt as EPA administrator, has environmental advocates up in arms. Pruitt has spent the last seven years suing the EPA to block various regulations he argues were adopted outside the scope of the agency’s statutory authority, advancing a variety of pro-industry positions such as opposition to standards for toxic mercury, arsenic and acid gases from power plants, and opposition to regulations aimed at protecting waterways against pollution.
Zeldin was greeted by a small crowd of sign-bearing protesters outside the park, where the congressman was holding a press-conference in the community room.
The protesters said they were there to demand continued funding for the restoration efforts for local waterways and also for the EPA in general.
Ruth Cohen of Lake Ronkonkoma said although Zeldin supports funding for the two national estuaries in his congressional district, his record on environmental issues is “dismal.” She pointed to the League of Conservation Voters ratings, which said Zeldin voted pro-environment only 8-percent of the time last year.
“He’s not a friend of the environment and he’s certainly not a friend of the EPA,” Cohen said.
Calista Bookout of Riverhead said she came to protest but decided to ditch her sign and attend the press event.
“It was obvious they weren’t going to let any protesters in there,” she said. “I would rather hear what he had to say.”
Bookout said she was very happy to hear Zeldin supports the funding the estuary restoration programs and “he would definitely not support getting rid of the EPA.”
The 20 or so protesters who remained outside the fence at the park said they were hoping to talk to the congressman. Zeldin has rebuffed requests to hold a town hall meeting in his district — he held a telephone town hall Feb. 23 and mobile office hours at the Hagerman Fire Department March 3 and has met with individuals and small groups by appointment at his district offices in Patchogue and Riverhead.
When Zeldin exited the park, he did so by way of a locked gate on the far western end of the site, which was opened by a park official, allowing his SUV, escorted by a Southold Town Police cruiser, to leave without driving past the knot of protesters gathered near the regular park exit.