O'Mara: Business and environmentalists can agree on clean energy
Although business interests and environmentalists are often at odds, state Senate Environmental Conservation Committee Chairman Tom O’Mara said the two don't have to be mutually exclusive when it comes to the state's move towards green energy.
“I consider myself very environmentally-minded, but I’m also very pro-business. And that doesn’t mean one goes forward without concern for the other,” O'Mara said Thursday during the Business Council of New York State’s 2015 Environmental Conference. “It has to be a balanced approach that recognizes the needs of businesses and industries and work towards ways to mitigate and lessen environmental impacts.”
O’Mara sought to downplay the political differences over climate change, for example.
“I don’t think there’s any real dispute that there’s climate change going on, it’s just a matter of how much is human influence,” the Republican state senator said. “There’s been climate change over the centuries that has taken place. The real issue is what are we doing to add to that or what can we do to not further add to that.”
However, the lawmaker didn't gloss over the sharp disagreements on high-volume hydraulic fracturing, or hydrofracking, the biggest environmental issue in New York in recent years. The state officially banned the controversial gas drilling practice this year after more than seven years of study.
“The governor likes to talk about the Regional Economic Development Councils and how reach region needs to build on its own natural resources," said O'Mara, who represents the Southern Tier, which lies on top of the gas-rich Marcellus Shale. "Well, I kind of take that literally, but we’re not allowed to use our natural resources in the Southern Tier. I think we’re fighting in the Southern Tier with at least one arm tied behind our back with not being able to pursue that.”
O’Mara added he believed the state’s ban on fracking would be revisited in the future, but not while Gov. Andrew Cuomo is still governor.
Apart from environmental topics, O’Mara weighed in on the 2016 elections and what it would mean for the state if Democrats gained control of the state Senate.
“The governor would really have his hand full, I think, with a lot of stuff that could happen that would be extremely anti-business,” he said. “I think you would see, in my political opinion, dire consequences ... constraints on spending would completely go away.”
Mike Murphy, a spokesperson for the state Senate Democrats, fired back.
"What Tom O'Mara said is 'interesting,' but the fact is Republicans have controlled the Senate for over 50 years and that has resulted in higher taxes, a crippled upstate economy, out-of-control mandates and a State Senate that has lacked transparency and accountability,” Murphy said in statement.