SSAS Conservation Policies and Positions

Saving the Saltmarsh Sparrow and our Coastal Marshes

(Written by Brien Weiner, President, for Newsday on World Sparrow Day, March 20, 2021)

The Saltmarsh Sparrow will be the first bird to go extinct due to sea-level rise unless we protect the coastal marshes that also protect us. The Saltmarsh Sparrow is the canary in the coal mine.

Read the full article here.

Accelerating Renewable Energy Development

(Written by Jim Brown, VP and Conservation Co-Chair, for our December 2020-January 2021 newsletter)

On April 3, 2020, in the midst of the Coronavirus pandemic and as a part of the annual budget process, New York enacted the Accelerated Renewable Energy Growth and Community Benefit Act. This act established the "first-of-its-kind" Office of Renewable Energy Siting (ORES), housed in the Department of State. The primary goal of the act and the agency linked to it is to speed up the siting and development of land-based renewable energy facilities in the State. This accelerated development is designed help the State reach its renewable energy goals contained in the Climate Leadership and Community Protection Act (CLCPA), passed in July, 2019. The "Accelerated Renewable Energy Act" also has a goal of creating jobs quickly as we emerge from the severe economic downturn created by Covid-19. Accelerating the development of clean, renewable energy projects can also be seen as an important part of a Green New Deal initiative in our state.

The new law specifies that all large-scale renewable energy projects, defined as producing 25 megawatts or more of electricity, will now have to obtain construction or expansion permits from the newly established siting agency. New projects of between 20-25 megawatts can also opt in to the new permitting system. A renewable energy facility, e.g., a solar farm or a wind farm, would apply to ORES for a permit. ORES would then have 60 days to make a "completeness determination." Such a determination requires that the developer consult with the local municipalities and communities that will be hosting the facilities. ORES would then issue the draft permit conditions, which would be followed by a comment period. ORES is then required by law to issue a final decision on approval or rejection of the project within one year of the date on which the application is declared complete or "within 6 months if the facility is proposed to be located on brownfield, former commercial or industrial, landfill, former power plant, and abandoned or underutilized sites."

The "Accelerated Renewable Energy Act" tasked ORES with the promulgation of regulations to implement the new law, to be accomplished within one year of the law's passage. In early September, 2020 draft regulations and standards were released. The South Shore Audubon Society, most local Audubon chapters in our State, Audubon New York, the American Bird Conservancy and others have all officially weighed in on both the new law itself and the draft regulations and standards that have followed. SSAS recently signed on to two separate sets of comments that request significant changes in the draft regulations, changes that would strengthen wildlife and habitat protections.

The South Shore Audubon Society supports the basic goal of the "Accelerated Renewable Energy Act" to move New York State to 100% renewable energy ASAP. All states, including New York, are not currently doing nearly enough to reach necessary renewable energy targets. For example, only 4% of our state's electricity is now derived from solar and wind sources. Clean renewable energy sources such as these must be actively pursued at an accelerated rate. Realizing the extreme urgency of the climate crisis, the need to keep global warming at a maximum of 1.5 degrees Centigrade, SSAS early on joined a coalition of environmental groups supporting the Off Fossil Fuels Act in the state legislature. The "Off Act" had at its goal achieving 100% renewable energy by 2030, a significantly quicker timeline than that of the CLCPA's less aggressive goals pegged to the year 2050. Nevertheless, whether one is considering renewable energy goals of our current law, the CLCPA, or more ambitious goals that may be adopted in the future, we believe that targets can be achieved while simultaneously properly siting and designing facilities to minimize harm to wildlife and the environment.

We have expressed concerns with the new "Accelerated Renewable Energy Act," including 1) the need to address all species of birds, not just those that are endangered or threatened, 2) provision of adequate compensatory mitigation when necessary, 3) avoiding counterproductive "green-for-green swaps," 4) avoiding the placement of wind turbines in critical flyways, 5) ensuring environmental justice in the siting of facilities in low-income and minority communities, 6) incorporating technologies to reduce bird fatalities, 7) the need to provide for proper avian and wildlife surveys, which often require more than one year to complete, and 8) providing sufficient public input during the siting process.

In general, we hope the siting process for the land-based facilities covered by the new act will approximate what has been accomplished with the siting of wind farms offshore in federal waters. Under the aegis of NYSERDA (New York State Energy Research and Development Authority) possible sites for wind turbines in the Atlantic have been chosen following careful study. Multi-year surveys of wildlife have then been carried out within those selected areas. Audubon organizations, including our chapter, have actively participated in this offshore wind siting process. Although more offshore facilities, some of them already approved, must more rapidly be built and finally become operational, solid scientific work and critical public debate have already been completed. This collaborative process fosters the building-out of even more desperately needed wind farms in the chosen and studied marine sites. The same care should be given to land-based wind and solar projects, to ensure that they too are effective and minimize negative wildlife and habitat impacts.

We are experiencing a climate crisis that is accelerating at a rapid rate. Negative impacts from anthropogenic global warming are occurring faster and more often than previously predicted by climate scientists. Clean renewable energy must indeed be brought online quickly, but at the same time birds, other wildlife, and critical habitat must be preserved as we simultaneously fight climate change. We believe both goals can be accomplished, so that when we finally are able to halt runaway climate chaos and save our planet, we will still be able to enjoy a rich environment and nature's birds!

Offshore Wind Energy Siting

In 2016 the South Shore Audubon Society, along with New York City Audubon, completed work on a grant studying offshore wind energy. The grant of $10,000, made possible by the Moore Charitable Foundation and the National Audubon Society, was a joint project of the two chapters to study the possible effects of the proposed Long Island—New York City Offshore Wind Project. This offshore wind farm, then in its preliminary planning stages, was to be located approximately 14 nautical miles due south of Nassau County. In 2016 it was estimated that if constructed, it would include up to 140 wind turbines, producing enough energy for over 200,000 homes. It had the potential to be the largest offshore wind project in the country. The project, which has since evolved to expand its capacity for wind power generation, is still on track to become the largest offshore wind facility in the U.S. The entire lease area is now being developed by a partnership between Equinor, a Norwegian majority state-owned company and BP. Empire Wind, as the project is currently termed, is now being built in two phases, Empire Wind 1 and Empire Wind 2. The combined offshore wind farm is now planned to have the capacity to produce electricity for over 1.2 million homes.

Grant funds were used to analyze documents produced by the companies and agencies pursuing the wind project, and suggestions were made as to studies and analyses that should be further undertaken to protect avian species that might be affected by the wind turbines. The consultant hired to undertake the study, Wing Goodale of the Biodiversity Research Institute of Portland, Maine, completed and delivered a detailed report prepared for our two Audubon chapters. His report, Offshore Wind Energy Development and Birds in New York: Managing risk and identifying data gaps, reviews the extant scientific data on the possible impacts of offshore wind facilities on birds. Mr. Goodale’s paper, the core scientific product of our grant, should serve as a solid briefing paper useful to individual Audubon members, Audubon chapters, other environmentalists, and the general public who will be forming their opinions and positions regarding the construction of this and other offshore wind farms.

Subjects covered in the final report include: Adverse effects of Offshore Wind Energy Development (OWED) on birds, avian vulnerability to OWED, exposure of birds to OWED, New York birds and OWED, mitigating adverse effects, data gaps, and recommendations on how to fill those data gaps. The South Shore Audubon Society and New York City Audubon want to give this important paper, treating these crucial topics related to wind energy and bird conservation, wide dissemination.

It is hoped that the results of our offshore wind energy grant will spur needed conversation and action on the issue, making sure that as these facilities are built off our shores to produce desperately needed renewable energy, they are located in areas least likely to harm birds and or constructed to minimize potential harmful impacts.

For additional information on continuing news on offshore wind power being constructed off Long Island:

(Written by Jim Brown, Conservation Co-Chair on September 11, 2022)

Protecting Birds That Nest on Our Beaches

Paul Friedman is a resident of Lido Beach who has been helping to monitor the Piping Plovers and other nesting shorebirds as a volunteer with the Town of Hempstead's Department of Conservation and Waterways. He put a PDF presentation together in the hopes that it will help educate people about the Piping Plovers (and other Birds of Lido Beach) and build some empathy for them. For additional information, see Paul has also provided us with a PDF presentation about the beach plants and seaweeds of Lido Beach.

Long Island’s Water Supply

Our water supply needs help! SSAS is a member of Water for Long Island. For information, download this four-page PDF and visit their Web site.

Preserve Plum Island

SSAS and other chapters of the Long Island Audubon Council were founding members of the Preserve Plum Island Coalition, which seeks to save the 840-acre island as a National Wildlife Refuge.