CGP Community Stories

Keith Schue, November 14, 2015

Title

Keith Schue, November 14, 2015

Subject

Environmentalism
Hydrofracking
Natural Gas
Cherry Valley, NY
Pipelines
Activism

Description

Keith Schue is an environmental activist living in Cherry Valley, New York. Mr. Schue was born in California, but grew up in Virginia. He moved to Florida and worked as an engineer after finishing college at the University of Virginia. After transitioning into environmental advocacy as a career, he and his wife Shirley moved to Cherry Valley. He works with the local advocacy organization, Otsego 2000, which has been involved in the fight against hydraulic fracturing (hydro-fracking), a hot-button issue in recent years. He is also part of the ongoing protest of new pipelines, such as the Constitution Pipeline and compressor stations, particularly ones in Madison, Chemung, and Montgomery Counties proposed by the power and energy company Dominion Resources, Inc.

As the United States struggles to develop alternatives to fossil fuels, some environmental activists, scientists, and engineers are working to turn people away from other options such as natural gas, which seem environmentally friendly, but which they argue have a negative environmental impact. Hydro-fracking is the process by which natural gas is extracted from layers of rock by fracturing it with high-pressure fluids, usually water mixed with an array of chemicals. According to critics, such as Mr. Schue, hydro-fracking is dangerous because it contributes to ground and surface water contamination and air pollution. Research has demonstrated that it also increases risk of seismic activity and earthquakes. Critics maintain that the pipelines that carry the fracked natural gas are also problematic; they require causeways through forests which suffer permanent ecological damage, and leaks from these pipelines are also a hazard. In addition, the pipelines require the construction of compressor stations. These stations serve to compress the gas in the pipeline in order to keep it moving towards its destination. According to critics, the stations create large amounts of emissions and contribute to air pollution. In New York State, efforts have been made to curtail use of fracked gas, and legal battles have occurred in several municipalities over the issue of whether or not fracking could be legally banned. In 2015, New York’s Governor Andrew Cuomo announced a statewide ban on fracking. Mr. Schue was involved in advocating for local bans and the statewide ban on fracking.

Mr. Schue has been a part of environmental activism through his work as a technical consultant for Otsego 2000, putting his degree in engineering and previous experience in that field to work. He interacts with many people, from local and state politicians and community leaders, to Amish families in areas affected by compressor stations and emissions related to fracking. Mr. Schue has a certain presence in the public eye, having testified before the State Supreme Court in Albany, as well as regularly attending environmental rallies and interacting with the media.

I interviewed Mr. Schue at his home in Cherry Valley, New York. While the majority of the conversation centered on environmental issues, we also discussed his decision to move to New York, and what it is like living here. Mr. Schue talked about the differences he has noticed between New York and Florida, namely the type of people who live here and their dedication to their homes and local communities, as well as the prevalence of history and the natural beauty of the Leatherstocking region.

Creator

Julia Fell

Publisher

Cooperstown Graduate Program, State University of New York-College at Oneonta

Date

2015-11-14

Rights

Cooperstown Graduate Association, Cooperstown, NY

Format

audio/mpeg
28.8mB
audio/mpeg
28.2mB
image/jpeg
66KB
image/jpeg
684 x 912 pixels

Language

en-US

Type

Sound
Image
Text

Identifier

15-015

Coverage

Upstate New York
1965-2015
Cooperstown, NY
Cherry Valley, NY

Interviewer

Julia Fell

Interviewee

Keith Schue

Location

9 Maple Avenue
Cherry Valley, NY

Transcription

KS = Keith Schue
JF = Julia Fell

[START OF TRACK 1, 0:00]

JF:

This is the November 14, 2015 interview of Keith Schue by Julia Fell for the Cooperstown Graduate Program’s Research and Fieldwork Course, recorded at 9 Maple Avenue, Cherry Valley, NY.

So where are you from originally?

KS:

Well, originally, I was born in California, but I grew up in Richmond, Virginia. And then we moved to Florida, after I graduated from school. Lived there for about 20 years, and then moved here.

JF:

What kinds of experiences did you have growing up that led you to be interested in science?

KS:

Well, I’ve always kind of been interested in science, I mean I guess you could call me a geek, or whatever, but yeah, that’s always been an interest of mine, even when I was a child. But, I was an engineer, I took an engineering degree, went to the University of Virginia in Charlottesville, Virginia, and worked for, 14, 15, 16 years as an engineer, mostly in Florida, and so I was an electrical engineer; that’s the kind of work I did. And it was interesting. It was challenging, but it wasn’t particularly inspiring. I got more involved in environmental work after that point.

JF:

What kinds of things led you to get into environmentalism?

KS:

Well, living in Florida, I can tell you, that’s a state that unfortunately is being overridden by development. It’s sad because it’s a beautiful place, it has tremendous natural assets; rivers, streams, landscapes, beaches. It’s a beautiful place; a natural, beautiful place. They call it the real Florida, but it’s being rapidly consumed by overdevelopment and habitat loss and habitat fragmentation, and it bothered me. I would drive back and forth to work every day passing through this beautiful ecological corridor, and over time just seeing it get consumed by development. I got involved with, I guess you could say I got involved with environmental work initially by volunteering at the zoo, actually. The Central Florida Zoo, down in, a little bit north of Orlando. As a volunteer there you get trained in how to educate kids and talk to kids and show them animals and things like that. That was rewarding, but you know, what I was just finding and realizing that, you know, I could talk to kids about how this is their planet and this is their future so learn about these animals and protect these things. But I mean, the pace at which environmental harm is happening is so fast, that before these kids that I’m talking to grow up, a lot of harm is going to be done. So, that led me to realize that I just got to get more directly involved in some advocacy work. I got involved fighting a project that was proposed in bear habitat. Reached a settlement on that one, but you know, I got involved in Sierra Club and some local environmental advocacy groups. Eventually I was realizing that I cared more about that stuff than my paying job [laughter]. So I quit being an engineer and I did volunteer work for a while for some environmental advocacy groups. And I worked for about 5 years as a paid employee of the Nature Conservancy. Nature Conservancy is a national environmental organization that does great work in buying land for preservation. And I was able to help protect some land, including the Wekiva River Basin; that’s the area I was involved in, northwest of Orlando. So that was rewarding. So that was kind of my transformation from engineering into environmental advocacy.

JF:

What was it like working with the kids at the zoo?

KS:

It was fun, I mean, it was fun. You go through a docent program where you learn how to interact and you learn the basic facts about animals and how to hold certain – they have special animals that you can take out and show people; certain reptiles and small mammals and things like that. And that was fun. The kids love that. I got a lot of that. My wife got involved in doing that too, by the way. Like I said, I was just feeling pangs of guilt as I was talking about, you know, these things, and also realizing that we’re losing the battle, environmentally. So it’s not just enough for me to talk about how they need to protect the environment in their generation, we need to do it in ours. So that’s kind of what got me involved more.

JF:

How has your engineering experience informed your environmental work?

KS:

A lot, I think, you know that actually, that’s one thing that I think I do bring to the table that I think sometimes is lacking with environmental advocacy, environmental work, is having some understanding of the technical aspects of things. In Florida, when I was with the Nature Conservancy, we were trying to get involved on a road project that was being proposed through this important ecological corridor and I helped come up with some design concepts for elevating the roadways to create passages for wildlife movement underneath. I think sometimes you do have to roll up your sleeves and look at the technical aspects of it. Here in New York, you know, same type of thing. I’ve gotten involved in some of the technical aspects of it and provided advice to other, you know, activists so that we know what we’re talking about when we’re talking about fracking or liquefied natural gas or energy issues, you know, overall energy issues and where New York State is going in terms of hopefully going towards renewables, is a big part of what I’m looking at right now.

JF:

So you talked about the Nature Conservancy a couple times. What were some of the best things about working there?

KS:

Well, I mean, it’s hard because I was an engineer first and then I did volunteer work and then I shifted into this paid position. It was good to be around people who shared my concerns. Everybody who worked there genuinely was there because they cared about the environment. That’s, you know, no debating. You know, like any other organization, sometimes there’s a bureaucratic network involved and sometimes that can be a little stifling. But it was great working with people who cared.

JF:

Why did you move to New York from Florida?

KS:

That’s an interesting question. A combination of things. My wife was frankly getting sick of Florida. She saw that I was struggling with so many environmental issues and trying to make headway, and we were making some headway but, I have to be honest with you, it was marginal. It’s a tough situation in Florida, with just everything going on. She was seeing that I was struggling with it. And she was ready for a change too. She didn’t like the massive commute through traffic everyday back and forth down into downtown Orlando, either. So, you know, it was interesting because when things kind of got to me I would get online and kind of fantasize about how I’m going to buy land somewhere, some rural land somewhere and you can get online and you can find these deals for cheap land. A lot of times they’re just hoaxes and you’ve got to be careful about that kind of stuff. But anyway, there was one piece of property in upstate New York, and when I looked at it and researched it, I said, “Well maybe this one’s real. Maybe this one’s worth checking out.” So we went up here just kind of, just out of curiosity, thinking ok, this is a piece of land maybe we’ll have as a future retirement place or something like that. Or just someplace to go away, to go to get away from things. And you know, we went and checked it out, it was kind of near the Adirondacks, just on the edge of the Adirondacks, and we checked it out. It actually probably didn’t make sense to get it. But when we were up here, we were just both really amazed at how beautiful an area it was, all of upstate New York. And so that kind of led us to think this is a place where we would really want to live. And what ended up happening was, Shirley’s dad was a big baseball fan. So we were near Cooperstown so she said “well, we’ve got to go to Cooperstown, ’cause my dad would have wanted me to go to Cooperstown.” So we did, and it was in the fall and the leaves were falling and it was just beautiful, and she was saying, “Well, if I could get a job here, I would take it in a heartbeat.” And I was kind of frustrated with my job with the Nature Conservancy at the time because I felt like I was kind of being held back in some ways. So, anyway, just kind of on a whim, she inquired at Bassett Hospital to see if there was a job opening, and as it turns out (she’s a nurse practitioner, a pediatric nurse practitioner) and as it turns out they happened to have an opening for that exact thing. They needed one right then. And so kind of, within a few weeks, we were coming back and forth and trying to figure out how we were going to make this move. And that’s what we did. I actually still have withdrawal symptoms [laughter] about leaving Florida, because I did leave a lot of work that needs to be done. I mean I can tell you that in Florida, I kind of felt that I had gotten about as far as I could in terms of making progress on things. And I did make some progress, we got some land protected for preservation, but I was also seeing that I’ve kind of reached the end of those things that were achievable, and now I’m spinning my wheels, and I don’t want to spin my wheels, I want to make sure I’m accomplishing something. So I was kind of getting ready for a change too. So it just made sense. So we came up here, and when we came up here and we were looking into whether or not to make that big move, I started to read about the fracking issue, and I said “Shirley, you know, there’s something pretty serious going on here with this whole debate about fracking, and the area you want to move to could get overwhelmed by fracking drill rigs and turn into a big ugly mess.” And she said, “Oh, great, now we can’t go anywhere!” The thing is, so we almost called it off, actually, because of that. We almost called it off. But we came up here and while we were up here on one visit, we went to a fundraiser for the SPCA as it turns out, and we met people there, and I just realized that there was a pretty strong advocacy, activist base here, that were actually doing real work to try to fight fracking, and, you know, sometimes I was kind of feeling alone in Florida on things, but I can tell up here, there’s a strong activist base. And I think there are reasons for that, by the way. But that kind of led me to realize “Ok, I can get involved in another fight if I know that I’ve got support.” And so we went ahead and did it. We came up here anyway. And we’ve had some success to stop fracking, as you know.

JF:

So why do you think there’s such a strong activist base here?

KS:

It’s because people who live here grew up here. There are generations of people, families that have lived here their whole lives. They care about this place because this is where they were born. I mean, there’s a guy on this street here who I see him every day walking down the street and he’s in his 80s and he said “yeah, I was born right over there.” I mean, people are connected to this area and you care about what you’re connected to. In Florida, everybody came from somewhere else. You know, I actually had a bad feeling about New Yorkers because a lot of the people in Florida [laughter] were New Yorkers. But they weren’t the good New Yorkers! [Laughter] The good New Yorkers are here [laughter]. Maybe I shouldn’t say that [laughter]. But anyway, so, no really, people care up here. At least more so than, unfortunately, I have to say, in Florida, where people have moved in from other places, and they don’t have a connection, a sense of place of where they are, which is sad because Florida is a beautiful place, it still is in many places, but it doesn’t have that strong base of support that I wish it did.

JF:

How did you adjust to New York after Florida?

KS:

It’s still an adjustment. Everybody asks me, “How can you stand the cold? Why did you ever leave Florida?” I said, “Well, because it was Florida.” You can choose between it being really hot most of the year or really cold most of the year. Either way, you just have to make adjustments. But I… what was the question again?

JF:

How did you adjust…?

KS:

I adjusted to the cold pretty quick, actually. That didn’t bother me. Like I said, the thing that troubled me was the stuff I left in Florida that needs to be addressed. And honestly, even being up here, I’ve gotten involved in some Florida things remotely. But I live here now and my focus is on what we’re doing here.

JF:

So what kind of work have you done for Otsego 2000?

KS:

Well, I’m their technical advisor, or one of their technical advisors. Otsego 2000 is a fact-based organization, you know. They’re a historic preservation organization, conservation organization, and when they comment on things, they want to have their facts straight, and so I’ve provided some technical advice on issues relating to fracking, relating to liquefied natural gas, energy related issues, the New York State Energy Plan, and on some, unfortunately, on some, several gas-related infrastructure projects that are being proposed right now. Like pipelines and compressor stations. So I’ve provided technical support for them. And that involves not just writing things, but it also involves speaking in public meetings and trying to meet with officials to try to influence the outcome of things.

JF:

So what kind of impact have you seen on the local area due to pipelines and fracking?

KS:

Well, the impact is happening now. We’ve had some success, at least for now, in banning high-volume hydraulic fracking, which is not all fracking, by the way, but it’s the higher volume fracking that involves larger amounts of water, ok? That’s been banned by the D.E.C. [New York State Department of Environmental Conservation] and we hope that’s going to last forever, but in the midst of all that and even prior to that, there’s been just a massive proliferation of fracked gas infrastructure. In the last decade many of the coal plants in New York have converted to natural gas, and when you look at the facts, natural gas is just as bad as coal in terms of climate change, in terms of greenhouse gas emissions. Not just because of the gas that you burn at a power plant, but also because of the leakages that occur along the way. And so, you’re seeing a big shift to gas from other forms of energy, and nuclear is shifting to gas, too. And so you’re seeing more and more fossil fuels being used and what that has translated to is more and more pipelines. And a lot of these pipelines are not just for more use of fracked gas here in New York or in New England, but also for exporting it overseas. A lot of these pipelines are passing through New York on the way to the coastline somewhere in Maine or Nova Scotia in order to ship that gas to other parts of the world. So it’s a big problem. The thing is when you build pipelines, what comes with that is also storage facilities. In Lake Seneca there’s a big storage facility that I’m sure you’ve heard about that people are protesting. When you build a pipeline you have compressor stations, those are the facilities that push the gas further down the pipe. And they’re polluting too. They have smokestacks, they’re like little mini power plants, except instead of producing electricity, they’re producing energy to push the rest of the gas further down the pipeline. So we’re seeing proliferation of that happening. The Constitution Pipeline is a project that a lot of people are objecting to. That would cut straight through the northern part of the Catskill region, south of [Interstate] 88, and rip through an important ecological corridor, with a permanent easement, clearing a million trees, or almost a million trees in the process, permanently impacting the ecology in the area, and all for the purpose of creating greater dependency, here and abroad, for fossil fuels. So it’s a shift, a move in the wrong direction. We should be pushing toward renewables, and we are, but just nowhere near enough. The renewable efforts are not keeping up with the proliferation of fossil fuels, and that’s sad. And that’s what really has to change, because the consequences of it are that this infrastructure, including the compressor stations, which are, like I said, they’re polluting, they produce emissions, they go up into the air. I can tell you here, the project that I’m working on most closely is, we’re fighting Dominion, which is a big, powerful, national corporation, with its headquarters down in Virginia, by the way. But Dominion wants to expand the carrying capacity of its pipeline, which stretches from the Marcellus fracking region of Pennsylvania up toward the Finger Lakes and up toward Syracuse and over here toward – through over to Albany. In the process of doing that, they want to move more gas through that pipeline system, so they want to add major compressor stations in Madison County and Chemung County. They want to massively expand a compressor station up here in Montgomery County, just north of Otsego, and when you look at the pollutants that are coming out of those facilities, just to push gas down the line, ok, this is not actually creating electricity or anything beneficial, this is just in order to push more gas into this pipe. The pollutants for the one up here in Montgomery County are like 22 times worse than the ones in Madison and Chemung County because of the type of equipment they’re using. So from a technical standpoint, I’ve been commenting on the type of equipment they’re using. I mean, I’d like to see the whole project stopped. In reality I think that’s unlikely; it’s probably impossible. But I would be remiss if I did not, knowing that I have some knowledge on the technical aspect of things, I’d be remiss if I did not say, “Ok, if this is approved, you need to at least bring the emissions down to protect the community around there.” And so I’ve been commenting on those things. Up in Montgomery County we’ve got a community that’s largely Amish. And Amish folks, they actually have rejected industry in many ways, so it’s ironic that they’re potentially going to be poisoned by the very thing that they’ve consciously rejected, probably for good reasons. They, you know, they use horse and buggy, that’s how they travel around, they don’t use electricity themselves, they live off the land, all the air that they breathe, all the food that they put in their mouths, comes from the land, the food that they grow right in that vicinity, so they’re most vulnerable. You know, they have generations of families that aren’t going to leave, they’re living in that area, they’re going to be exposed to these high volumes of formaldehyde, carbon monoxide, volatile organic compounds, nitrogen oxides, all of this stuff comes out of these compressor stations. And the one up here is called the Brookmans Corners compressor station, by the way, in Montgomery County, this one, like I said is projected to have levels of formaldehyde that are 22 times worse than a typical compressor station. So what I’ve been trying to do is talk to the powers that be, which include the federal government, the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, the Department of Environmental Conservation here in New York, and the company itself, Dominion, as well as the town board to try to make a case for better emission controls, so that those folks aren’t going to be harmed. But it’s an uphill battle. An uphill battle.

JF:

What kind of interactions have you had personally with the Amish community?

KS:

It’s funny cause when we first moved up here there was an Amish, a small Amish company that actually built the deck on the side of the house, here. That was my very first interaction, actually. But with fighting this compressor station, I’ve gotten to know some of the folks there pretty well, actually. And it’s unfortunate because their philosophy is that they’re passive, they’re pacifists, basically, they don’t engage with the outside world as much. And in this case it’s unfortunate because they have the most to lose. And so we’re trying to be a voice for them in some respect. But I’ve gotten to know some of the families quite well. Just yesterday I was up at one of their houses. As part of this compressor station issue, what we’re trying to do is document the air emissions now, before the expansion occurs, and the air emissions after it happens. After they build whatever they’re going to build to see what the differences are. So we can, you know, if people, so there’s a health study going on, involving interviewing of families in that area, some of which are Amish or Mennonite. Mennonite is similar, they have similar, you know, philosophies on things. And, so we’re doing health study, we’re doing particulate matter study of emissions, volatile organic compounds, other chemicals that we’re monitoring. So we’re setting up these monitoring sites around the compressor station in that area, and part of it has involved monitoring at some of the Amish families’ houses, indoors and outdoors. So we’re setting up some equipment, with their support. You know, they’ve been very supportive of us on this, to take those measurements, and also to interview their families about health conditions, you know, as time goes on. So I’ve gotten to know them in that process. One of the interesting things, which is also kind of ironic, is they don’t use electricity, ok, but some of the monitors that we have to hook up need electricity, so we’ve actually installed some solar panels at their Amish farms [laughter] to power these little devices that measure the particulate matter in the air. So I was actually up there yesterday trying to wire things up. Like I said, I used to be an electrical engineer, so my former talents came in handy a little bit on that too.

JF:

How is your work with Otsego 2000 involved with other organizations in the area?

KS:

Well, Otsego 2000 is a local or regional-based environmental group, kind of in the Leatherstocking region, the Cooperstown area, and up in this area too, and into the Mohawk Valley, obviously they’ve weighed in on this Dominion issue, and they’ve weighed in on the Constitution Pipeline issue, which is a little south of Cooperstown. But there is coordination between various environmental groups on things, on big issues, like the overall fracking issue where all of us were on the same page, were working together. You know on some of these infrastructure battles, specific pipelines, compressor stations, and gas storage facilities, there’s not as much of that coordination. I think there probably should be, that would help. So, yeah, there’s interaction between groups to try to build, I mean I can tell you, there was a really very successful rally that took place in Albany, a month or two ago, in opposition of the Constitution Pipeline. And that’s where you saw lots of groups come together, we all compressed our efforts. So we work best when we’re working in some type of cohesion and sometimes that’s a struggle to make happen.

JF:

What kind of impact have you seen on the local community as a result of Otsego 2000’s work?

KS:

Well, I think Otsego 2000 had a huge impact in the home rule fight. When I say the home rule fight, what I mean is, prior to the ban on fracking that was statewide, there were initiatives by several communities to adopt local bans on fracking, by different towns in different parts of upstate New York. And a lot of that started here in Otsego County and Otsego 2000 was a big part of that. And one of the things that the industry did is they tried to fight back by saying “you don’t have the authority to ban fracking at the local level, that’s a state decision, so you can’t ban fracking at a local level.” That’s what they were trying to say. And so there was a lawsuit that was initiated in the Town of Middlefield, by somebody who was trying to insist that she should be able to put a fracking rig on her property to drill for gas. That, along with a similar lawsuit in the Dryden area became a big legal battle. Otsego 2000 was at the forefront of that initially, and throughout, to make the case that local governments do have the right to say no if they want to. And we won that. That actually prevailed. Other bigger organizations got involved, like Earth Justice. But it was taken all the way to the highest level at the state supreme court, or the appeals to the state supreme court because it’s different in New York than what you think in the federal government. But we prevailed in that, and so right now, I mean, communities can say no to fracking and those types of things. Since then we’ve gotten the statewide ban on fracking, which is good, which is obviously even better, but the concern that’s happening now, and I guess I’m changing the subject, you were asking me about Otsego 2000’s…?

JF:

The impact that Otsego 2000 has had on the community.

KS:

Yeah. I think, well to answer that question, I think it’s had a big impact. And not just on the fracking issue but on things throughout, before

[START OF TRACK 2, 0:00]

KS:

I got involved up here in New York. I think Otsego 2000 has made a big difference. But… what was I going to say? I was starting to talk a little bit about the consequences of that decision, the home rule decision that gave communities the right to say no to fracking. I just want – as a caveat to that I just thought I needed to say, it becomes, when you’re talking about federal issues, you get into debates about federal pre-emption, where the federal government says that the federal government can permit certain things, like pipelines and compressor stations and so forth, and it becomes a tougher fight on some of those infrastructure battles. But that’s the fight we’re fighting right now.

JF:

Tell me a little bit more about the kind of opposition that you’ve faced in the fight against the pipelines and fracking.

KS:

Well, what I just said [laughter]. Basically you have an agency of the federal government called the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission. And they’re notorious as being basically a rubber stamp for every pipeline project that comes across. And when that happens it really has the effect of pulling the rug out from underneath you. And unfortunately what we’re finding is here at the state level, the state says “Well, the federal government says that, and we don’t really have authority to say no to it now.” Or that’s their claim. We actually believe that they do have authority and jurisdiction, more so than they want to admit to. But it becomes an easy excuse to say “Ok, the federal government has proved something, so we can’t really do anything about it.” So this is a problem. This is one of the biggest challenges, is there’s a federal agenda, really, to promote fracked gas. Both domestic use of fracked gas for power plants, and there are lots of gas-fired powered power plants being built all over the country, here in New York too. In fact, a lot in New York, right now. So that’s a big obstacle, is you have a federal agenda that supports the use of fracked gas, both here and abroad. There’s big efforts to build export facilities to move liquefied natural gas around the word. So it’s really outrageous if you want to think about it, because on one hand you’ve got politicians saying, “We need to be energy independent.” On the other hand, they’re approving these pipeline projects to take gas out of the country. So how is it energy independent to deplete your own resources as fast as possible and ship them somewhere else? So that doesn’t make sense even from an economic standpoint. But from a climate change standpoint it’s really devastating, because we’re not only getting ourselves more addicted to fossil fuels, we’re getting the whole world addicted to more fossil fuels, too. The global consequences are catastrophic. That absolutely needs to change. That’s our biggest challenge.

JF:

What are some alternatives to using natural gas and other non-renewable resources in this area?

KS:

Well, renewables is the alternative to non-renewables [laughter]. And there’s tremendous technological advances that have happened in the last decade or so for solar power and wind power. There’s actually cost parity being achieved between wind power right now and fossil fuels. What you don’t have right now is the political motivation to really push for those things in a dramatic way that we have to see happen. Renewables, I’m not going to say it’s going to be an easy transformation, I mean sometimes I think we activists kind of get caught up thinking “ok, renewables are easy, let’s just do it.” It can be done, it must be done, but I’m not going to say it’s easy. It’s a major transformation that needs to occur, and that requires a major commitment, major political commitment, too. Right here in New York, there’s an initiative that the governor has launched called R.E.V.— Renewing the Energy Vision—and a lot of people are thinking that’s a wonderful thing. You know, I have to tell you that when I look at the details from a technical standpoint, it promotes some nice concepts; however we need to do a lot more. We need to have real benchmarks, we need to have real goals and a strategy, a pathway towards achieving those goals. Right now the state came out with an energy plan, it’s called the New York State Energy Plan; we’ve all commented on it a lot over the past year, they finally came out with it. And we were very concerned at first because it promoted gas as a solution to replacing other forms of energy. We commented on that and one of our comments was, “You need to set a real target for renewables.” They need to show us all how we’re going to get there. The energy plan came out and it set a goal; it set a pretty aggressive goal of 50% renewables by the year 2030, that’s just 15 years from now. What it did not do, though, is lay out a strategy for how it’s going to be accomplished. That’s been my concern, is that anybody could promise something that’s in the future on somebody else’s watch. To actually make it happen you need to lay out a strategy that gets you there. And what I’m not seeing is that strategy being put together to make the goal achievable. New York actually had a goal that was set by former Governor [David] Paterson of getting to 30% renewables by this year, by 2015, and we fell far short of that. So, you know, it just goes to say that it’s easy to set a goal, it’s much harder to achieve it. To achieve it you have to have a strategy with adequate funding and policies and programs to make it happen. And that’s what’s lacking right now. What I’m trying to do is make the case for stronger policies and programs and funding so that we can actually meet the targets that we have.

JF:

What have your interactions been like with local and state politicians?

KS:

At the local level there are some folks that have been elected to office that are extremely committed, genuinely committed to renewables and to sustainable – to making a sustainable future. I know some of them personally and they’re great people. I don’t want to over-generalize, because you asked an important question and I don’t want to over-generalize because I don’t know every elected official in New York, but I can tell you that my observation is, as you climb the ladder of folks, in Albany and so forth, the genuine-ness of that commitment [laughter] gets replaced with just political posturing. And it’s sometimes hard to break through that. You know, we’ve managed, you know, to get meeting with important people; Chris Gibson, and Jim Seward and other folks. To cause them, to influence them to actually help us in some way can be a challenge because… all I can tell you is it’s easy to say something, it’s a lot harder to deliver. It’s one thing to say something, it’s another thing to actually deliver on it. And, I can tell you, we’ve talked with many folks about this compressor station up here that Dominion is proposing, and we’re still waiting to get the support at the state level or from congressmen and legislators at the state level to help us out a little bit.

JF:

What are your thoughts on nuclear -

KS:

– Although, [laughter] I do want to say, and I’m sorry for interrupting you –

JF:

That’s ok.

KS:

– Because that was an incomplete answer that I gave you. We would like to have more support at the state level on the issue I mentioned to you about Dominion. However, at the local level, we have succeeded in getting resolutions passed by 7 or 8 different communities, towns, in the region, all saying that if this project goes forward we need to have better emissions controls on it. So we have had some success at the local level. Like I said, the trouble was getting that influence higher up.

JF:

How do you deal with people who are climate change deniers?

KS:

Did we skip a question in there somewhere? [JF shakes head, no (we’d get back to the previous question later)]. How do we deal with climate change deniers…? Well, you know, it’s…. from a political standpoint there are going to be folks who are going to continue to deny climate change just as a political tactic, no matter how ridiculous it becomes. I mean, we’re at a point where we’re all actually feeling the climate change, ourselves [laughter] it’s really hard for anybody to dismiss it, yet people still are. You know, you’ve just got to talk about the facts and the facts are self-explanatory. You know, I think right now there’s kind of a shift, politically. In the past you had a certain political camp, the Republican camp, that would basically say “Ok, climate change isn’t real, it’s all a hoax, it’s just not happening,” that was their answer. And I hate to say this, but in other political camps, including the Democratic camp in large respect, you have folks that say, “No, climate change is real. It’s real, but we’ve got a solution for it, and that solution is natural gas” [laughter]. So you’ve got two forms of denial: you have denial on one hand that it’s happening at all, but then you also have denial about what it would take to fix the problem. And that’s what we’re really struggling with, because unfortunately, at the federal level, even in the [President Barack] Obama administration, too, unfortunately, is guilty of this, of promoting fracked gas, and we know it has just as many climate impacts. Methane, which is the main component of natural gas, is 86 times more of a driver of – its global warming potential, it’s GWP – is 86 times that of carbon dioxide, so just a little bit leakage of methane is equivalent to a whole lot of carbon dioxide released which is what happens when you burn natural gas. So you know, we have to get off fossil fuels, that’s the answer. The idea that fracked gas, that natural gas is a bridge fuel is total malarkey, because it’s basically just taking us, continuing us down this path that will be catastrophic.

JF:

What are your thoughts on nuclear power?

KS:

My opinion of nuclear is maybe a little bit different from other environmental activists. There’s safety concerns with nuclear power, and there always have been, and I think we need to, as quickly as possible, get to the day where we’re operating off renewable energy, meaning no nuclear and no fossil fuels. The inconvenient truth that I think is just a fact is that when you look at climate change, nuclear power doesn’t have any combustion emissions. I mean, yeah, there are emissions associated with, you know, mining for uranium, and there are emissions, well frankly there are emissions associated with solar and wind too, manufacturing of the equipment of those things. But anyway, so there’s certain emissions involved with anything. But the fact is that nuclear doesn’t have combustion emissions when, you know, at a power plant and as long as there are no accidents [laughter] there’s no radiation leaks released either. So when you look at the big picture, I think we have to be smart about weaning ourselves off nuclear. I think we should get rid of nuclear, let me just say that. But I think we need to be smart about it. I can tell you that in California what’s happened is they’re shutting down a lot of the nuclear power plants. They also have a pretty aggressive renewable program, but it’s not keeping up. I mean, their greenhouse gas emissions are now going up because they’re replacing some of that nuclear with renewables, but they’re replacing a lot of it with gas, which is a fossil fuel that gets burned and that creates combustion emissions and so their greenhouse gas emissions are not going down, they’re actually going up. So you know, you have to look at the whole thing, you have to look at the whole thing. Here in New York, there’s been a big controversy about the Indian Point nuclear power plant. And I think it should be closed, I think the power plant should be closed. But I think mistakes have been made in planning for that closure. As part of the planning for that closure the state put forward a contingency plan for where that energy is going to come from. And they talked about ramping up some of the transmission facilities and improving some of the efficiencies, but it also talked about building several new gas-fired powered power plants. And those have gotten approved and those are now getting built. So no matter how you want to look at it, when those power plants come online, the bottom line is that nuclear is getting replaced with fossil fuels. So that’s not a good trade-off. We need to replace both nuclear and fossil fuels with renewables. Again, it’s not easy. I’m not going to say it’s easy. Major Marshall Plan-type of initiative needs to occur to get us to the point where we’re fossil fuel free and nuclear free, but that’s what we need to be striving for.

JF:

What is it like to appear at public rallies and to speak in public about these issues?

KS:

What’s it like? For me, it’s nervous. I’ve never gotten over my nervousness. The words don’t flow naturally for me, at least I don’t think they do. I have to think about what I’m going to say, I have to have my notes in front of me, I need to be able to practice. So it’s good when you have others in the room that are also like-minded and you’re working as a team. It’s tougher when you’re the lone guy [laughter] saying something that no one else wants to hear. Fortunately, in a lot of the things I’m working on, there is a lot of support.

JF:

So how can your community specifically help support the environment?

KS:

Depends on how you define community, my community, Cherry Valley, or my community….? It depends on what you mean. It’s hard to get folks just like on the street [laughter] involved in something, unless it’s something that’s right in their backyard that they’re fighting. Then you can get some support. To get the support that you need on some of the bigger energy issues, things like that, you need to reach out in a broader way, and I will say that there’s a lot of work that still must be done to get the average Joe, Josephine, or whatever, interested in these issues. We have a long way to go toward building the awareness, the public awareness to make a difference. But like I said, I think we’re a little bit ahead of the curve in New York, than some other places, in terms of public awareness, but we need to do a lot more.

JF:

How effective do you think it is to speak in public about these issues and what kind of support have you gained from those experiences?

KS:

I think it’s very important to speak publically, and it’s very important for the media to be there to witness what’s happening, and to make it news. Because you can be the greatest public speaker, but if you’re speaking to an empty room it’s like it never happened. You need to have events that draw people in and for that to generate media coverage. That’s when politicians start to notice.

JF:

What are your experiences with the media?

KS:

I’ve had good and bad experiences with the media, sometimes there have been issues that I thought were very important and it’s just been like pushing on a rope to try to get any attention to it. Other times we’ve had more success. One of the things that I’ve learned since I’ve been up here is that to get the media’s attention, there’s a whole art form to do that. It’s not, unfortunately sometimes you can’t just call up a reporter. Well, let me take that back. It is an art form. Which means you have to develop relationships with the media. You kind of have to get to know them one on one and be able to engage them so that they know if you’re calling it’s something important. You kind of have to develop those personal relationships with folks in the media. What I have found here in New York, especially, is that there’s also this – part of that art is a technique that involves lobbying the media in some ways. There are P.R. firms that do this for a living. And some of the groups that have been most successful have engaged those P.R. firms, they get the media’s attention [laughter] I wish it wasn’t, I really hate the fact that it’s that way, but there almost seems to be a need to lobby the media and have lobbyists to lobby the media, and that’s been kind of eye-opening for me lately.

JF:

How do you feel that the media is or is not in support of promoting the fight that you’re fighting against pipelines and fracking?

KS:

Well, it’s bizarre and sometimes it depends on the individual reporter who’s reporting. Sometimes you can explain things, you know, ‘til the cows come home and they still get it wrong, or they misquote you, and that’s aggravating. And sometimes there’s a slant, depending on the publication, where they’re going to be pro-gas, and some of them are pro-environmental. I think that the challenge today becomes the fact that there’s so many different types of media outlets and online forms of communication. It’s incredibly different than it was in the past. Right now the public – the average person – decides what they want to listen to and they basically decide to listen to that news network Fox News, or whatever the news network happens to be that reinforces their own beliefs and stuff. And it ends up polarizing people because people end up listening to that media group or this media group and they’re just re-emphasizing their own political beliefs and you end up having some very extreme opinions, public opinions that come out of that. And you don’t have the merging of, the cohesion of people coming together to try to work out solutions. That’s what’s happening politically, I think. And unfortunately with the media that’s going on as well. Trying to remember, make sure I understood the question in its entirety?

JF:

How does the media either support or not support these issues and how they’re presented.

KS:

It depends on the particular media outlet. Some of them have particular slants. And, another thing I think that we as activists need to be aware of is that we can get things on YouTube easily enough, we can get things out to our own activist base and kind of create our own little media network, but we’ve got to make sure that we’re not just talking to ourselves, that we’re not just preaching to ourselves. Having videos that we’re just sending to each other that the outside world never sees. That getting the message out to the general public is what we need to do a better job with.

JF:

How are you involved in your community in non-environmental ways?

KS:

In non-environmental ways… I have dabbled in a couple… since I’ve been up here?

JF:

Mmm hmm.

KS:

I mean I can tell you in Florida, I got involved in several things, but up here in New York, I have dabbled here and there on some other things. It usually ties back to something that’s environmental. I’m thinking of one thing that doesn’t, that had to do with the Otsego Manor, which is a convalescence home, basically, just south of Cooperstown, on [Route] 28. And a few years back, a couple years back, it was built and paid for by Otsego County and Otsego County was finding that they were losing money on it, and they wanted to get rid of it, unload it to the highest bidder. And a lot of us had concerns about that, because we cared about the quality of life of the people who were being rehabilitated in that facility or who were living in that facility for the rest of their lives. And we were very concerned that the county was looking to just unload it. They were losing money and they were just going to sell it off to whoever. And I have to say unfortunately I think that’s what happened. But several of us were attempting to ensure that the process led to a responsible set of decisions being made about who the ultimate buyer would be. I mean actually, we were looking to figure out a way for the county to continue to own it and to operate it because we thought it was an important public investment, and there could have been ways with some more creative efforts. John Kosmer was one of the folks who was on the county board at the time who was trying to push for ways to save the manor, save the facility. And unfortunately, he was outnumbered and the decision was made to sell it off and then the questions were, how do you sell it off? And they ended up, in my opinion, making a bad decision and transferring their authority to a smaller decision making group about where it would be sold to, who it would be sold to. In my opinion, that was a big mistake because it absolved the elected officials from any responsibility. As it turns out, that other group made the decision to sell it off to the highest of two bidders, but it was the least qualified, and the quality of care in that facility has suffered because of it. Anyway, you were asking what I’ve done that’s not environmental related. That’s one of the things. And I wish I could say that it was a positive experience, but I will say it’s a learning experience.

JF:

What are some of the most interesting things that you’ve experiences since living here?

KS:

Lots of interesting things. I mean, like I said, this is just a beautiful place to live. It really is. I mean people don’t, I think, realize what you’ve got here. I mean, this is the place people come to vacation, or at least I think they ought to. And there’s so much to have in terms of, I mean, the seasons, it’s not what you experience in Florida. The park system, the Adirondacks, the Catskills, the Cooperstown area, the Mohawk Valley. It’s a beautiful area… you’re question again was?

JF:

What are some of the most interesting things that you’ve experienced or felt since living here?

KS:

The beauty of the area first and foremost, and the people too. This was unique for me to see people who lived their whole lives here and were really in touch with the community and connected to it and involved in things. The cider mills, the Glimmerglass Opera… I was amazed how a rural place could have so much culture, you know, so that’s been very interesting. And the museums, the Fenimore Museum, the Farmer’s Museum, that’s really unique, for a rural community to have something that rich in terms of cultural resources. So I’m amazed by that and I find that incredibly interesting. The history of this whole area is very interesting. When we first moved up here, you can see this historic buildings that are just… sometimes they’re hidden behind vinyl siding, but they’re these historic structures that I find personally very interesting, too. And so I guess I’d have to say that one of the most interesting things is the natural attributes and the historic attributes of this region.

JF:

Well, thank you very much for your time and for your stories.

KS:

Yeah.

Duration

30:00 - Part 1
29:24 - Part 2

Bit Rate/Frequency

128,000

Time Summary

Track 1 - 07:26 - Coming to New York
Track 1 - 12:38 - Activism in the Leatherstocking Region
Track 1 - 16:00 - Pipelines and Fracking
Track 1 - 21:28 - Amish Community
Track 1 - 25:46 - Otsego 2000
Track 2 - 07:00 - Local and State Politics
Track 2 - 12:39 - Nuclear Power
Track 2 - 18:59 - Interactions with the Media

Files

Citation

Julia Fell, “Keith Schue, November 14, 2015,” CGP Community Stories, accessed January 22, 2018, http://cgpcommunitystories.org/items/show/237.