Part of a White House bid? Gov. Cuomo takes lead on environment after Trump pulls U.S. from Paris pact

Posted at 8:34 PM, Jun 02, 2017
and last updated 2017-06-02 20:35:10-04

SOUTHAMPTON, Long Island — Minutes after President Donald Trump announced that he's withdrawing the U.S. from the Paris climate accord, New York's governor made clear that the Empire State intends to abide by the accord's standards or surpass them.

Gov. Andrew Cuomo continued to show his commitment Friday, which gratified many of his constituents but also resurrected speculation about him looking to hold national office in 2020.

Cuomo was in the Hamptons to tout his administration's commitment to clean the ocean and bay waters of Long Island, but that subject easily lent itself to him promoting his commitment to the standards of the Paris accord, as well, in stark contrast to another New Yorker: the president of the United States.

"We see things differently," Cuomo told PIX11 News, contrasting his administration to that of Donald Trump. "We believe protecting the environment is a top priority."

He said he rejects the president's rationale for pulling out of the accord, namely that doing so would protect endangered American jobs.

"You can grow the economy and protect the environment," Cuomo said.

The governor's specific reason for being in the Hamptons was to plant clams and oysters into Shinnecock Bay with researchers from Stony Brook University. The shellfish filter harmful bacteria out of sea water, which in turn allows greater access to waterways and beaches.

Harmful bacteria in the water have shut down dozens of beaches throughout the tri-state this coming weekend, including at Tanner Park Beach in Copiague.

That's where Leslie Barreto was having meal at the snack bar, but was not going in to the water.

"How can you not believe there's a problem with the environment?" she asked.

She said that the closed beach and the governor's stated commitment to Paris accord standards underscore how important it is for government to take action on the environment.

"I hope [Cuomo] does what he says," Barreto told PIX11 News.

In the wake of Trump withdrawing the U.S. from the accord, Cuomo has announced a climate alliance with California and Washington state, which have also pledged to abide by or exceed Paris accord standards.

Within minutes of Trump declaring the U.S. withdrawal, Cuomo announced a new $1.65 billion commitment to renewable energy sources and on Friday he touted the state's recent $2.5 Billion Clean Water Infrastructure Act.

Christopher Gobler, a marine scientist at Stony Brook who'd directed Cuomo on board the research vessel from which the governor distributed oysters and clams for shellfish bed seeding, said that efforts like those of the governor are integral to the revival of Great South Bay and other south shore waterways that had, up to 40 years ago, been teeming with shellfish.

The Paris accord withdrawal, Gobler said, could hit home hard.

"When decisions are made to not address that issue (of the environment), they need to be made in full of the consequences," he told PIX11 News, adding that those consequences "going to be negative here on Long Island."

He praised Cuomo's efforts, which also include a $2 million grant to South Shore communities to help them establish new oyster and clam hatcheries. That effort, along with the climate alliance and the multi-billion dollar initiatives for renewable energy and clean water are in stark contrast to efforts so far from the Trump administration.

It all adds to a list of other subjects on which Cuomo has made himself a foil to Trump, including immigration, in which Cuomo declared New York a sanctuary state for undocumented immigrants who haven't been arrested for violent crimes.

Local residents, however, told PIX11 News that they're less focused on the political aspects of the contrast between New York's activism and the Trump administration's policies, and are more interested in everyday citizens taking more action to which politicians have to respond.

"You have to have the public help," said Lisa Schwarz, who was sunning herself on Copiague beach. "They have to fight and say, 'This is what we need.'"