After imperial Japan swept into China in the 1930s, the warring Chinese Communists and Nationalists managed a semblance of unity against a common enemy, even if it took some arm twisting. When Hitler’s Germany imperiled Europe, the United States and the Soviet Union set aside mutual hostility to defeat the Nazis.
So is it too much to ask the mayor of New York City and the governor of New York state to work together in the face of a crisis bordering on the existential for their citizens?
This is about fixing the doddering subways. Should they collapse, which on any given day does not seem a preposterous thought, the city would come treacherously close to having to put up a “going out of business” sign. The state might as well then summon the clergy to perform last rites on its own economy. But instead of desperately needed unity, we have two leaders and their surrogates engaged in a fruitless back and forth over who is historically responsible, who owes how much money, and who got us into this mess.
Warring between mayors and governors is as natural in New York as jaywalking. But the tough-guy act performed, each in his own way, by Gov. Andrew Cuomo and Mayor Bill de Blasio is singularly corrosive because the welfare of nearly 6 million daily subway riders is at stake. It is shocking how little progress on bridging differences has been made since the governor declared a state of emergency seven months ago. It feels like “Groundhog Day,” only far less entertaining, with the same points made over and over.
Each side seeks to bolster its case by hauling out documents so old and long-ignored that they are about as relevant to this emergency as the Dead Sea Scrolls. Each also has a knack for getting under the other’s skin, needlessly so.
De Blasio’s representatives stopped the MTA board from approving, for now, a billion-dollar plan to spruce up 33 subway stations with countdown clocks, better lighting and other amenities. Frills, the mayor implied. Spoken like someone who doesn’t appreciate how tired riders are of stations that look like the ruins of Stalingrad.
For his part, Cuomo has elbows sharper than Freddy Krueger fingers, and he keeps swinging them. He proposed creating special tax districts in neighborhoods where property values go up because of new transit projects like the Second Avenue subway. The goal would be to “capture” increased property tax revenue to benefit the MTA.
The concept is not without merit: If real estate is worth more because a subway is nearby, why not peel off some of the wealth to keep the rails in shape? But in typical fashion, the governor went off on his own, suggesting this without first clueing in the mayor and his aides, who need that same revenue for their own budget. Naturally, they pushed back.
Ultimately, it is the governor who bears responsibility for the transit system and its governing board, which for too long sat by while money dribbled wastefully away. That was underlined by a recent Times series showing, for example, how a single mile of new track cost seven times the global average. How do we know Cuomo is where the buck stops? Because he said so himself, pointing to No. 1 when he asked, “You know who runs the MTA?” That was at the end of 2016, when he basked in the limelight as the man officially opening brand-new Second Avenue subway stations.
But de Blasio has an important role to play as well. It is past time for the two of them, governor and mayor, to get it together on transit. They managed a united front in reassuring New Yorkers after a truck attack in October killed eight people in Manhattan. Really, gentlemen, will nothing short of a terrorist act get you to find common ground?
“We have ended the war on American energy,” President Donald Trump boasted in his State of the Union address, “and we have ended the war on beautiful, clean coal. We are now, very proudly, an exporter of energy to the world.”
Those two sentences were about all Trump devoted to his energy policy in his message. Brief as they were, they encapsulated nearly everything that is shallow, dishonest and just plain wrong with that policy, as well as his approach to environmental issues generally.
Here’s what’s deceptive: There has been no war on energy. American oil, gas and renewables like wind and solar flourished under President Barack Obama. Coal was the exception, but Obama was not its enemy; the market was. “Beautiful, clean coal,” meanwhile, remains a mirage, at least for now; the affordable technology isn’t there. And the United States has always exported energy. In recent years — the Obama years — the amount of energy the country has sent abroad has begun to catch up with the energy it brings in.
Trump’s false narrative on coal is particularly cruel, since it offers empty promises to Appalachian coal miners who are suffering grievous job losses and myriad health and economic ills. It’s true that the last two Democratic presidents — Bill Clinton and Obama — cracked down on power plant emissions like soot and mercury with rules that imposed real costs on producers; and Obama’s Clean Power Plan, aimed at cutting the carbon emissions that fuel global warming, would have pressured the industry more.
But these regulations did not kill coal-fired plants, and rolling them back, as Trump is doing, will not stop the unforgiving forces of the market, chiefly the switch to cheaper natural gas, and renewables’ increasing competitiveness. These are the forces that have been largely responsible for the decline in mining jobs and the closing, or conversion to natural gas, of hundreds of coal-fired plants.
What miners need are real programs to help transition them to new jobs, not promises of “beautiful, clean coal.” That, incidentally, is not a new promise. Clean coal technology involves turning coal into a gas, then stripping out the carbon dioxide and burying it so it cannot pollute the atmosphere. Many environmental groups (and this board) hoped it would work. It hasn’t. In 2015, the Obama administration finally pulled the plug on a clean coal experiment called FutureGen; then the Southern Co. gave up on a clean coal venture in Mississippi after spending billions of dollars.
America’s leverage in world markets has indeed improved, due largely to a spectacular surge in domestic oil and gas production from big shale deposits in Texas and North Dakota. Domestic production recently hit 10 million barrels of crude oil a day, a figure not seen since 1970. Oil imports have steadily dropped. This has helped change the old dynamic in which the United States was forced to rely too heavily on unstable parts of the world for its oil supply.
All this production, however, has a dark side, rarely mentioned in the huzzahs about the 10-million-barrel milestone: the continued carbon-loading of the atmosphere as global temperatures rise, as one extreme weather event follows another, as almost all mainstream scientists say that to avoid a climate catastrophe, the world must leave a big chunk of its fossil fuels in the ground and spend heavily on more benign forms of energy. That is one reason Obama and his secretary of state, John Kerry, did not approve the Keystone XL pipeline from Canada’s oil sands.
Such concerns are nowhere to be found in the playbook of a man who says that climate change is a hoax. Hence, full speed ahead, at the Environmental Protection Agency and the Interior Department, with Trump’s “energy dominance” agenda, and with the overturning of rules that seek to balance conservation and commercial exploitation, and the opening up of nearly all of America’s offshore waters to drilling — whatever the risk, and however small the need.
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