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Friday
Nov242017

Maurice Hinchey, N.Y. congressman who championed environmental issues, dies at 79

As reported in an obituary in the Washington Post.

As the article reports:

Mr. Hinchey, a Democrat, retired from Congress in 2013 after 20 years there and 18 years in New York’s State Assembly, where he developed an expertise on environmental issues.

As chair of the assembly’s Environmental Conservation Committee, he led hearings into the disaster at Love Canal, a Niagara Falls neighborhood where it emerged in the 1970s that a chemical company had dumped 22,000 tons of toxic waste decades earlier. Complaints about miscarriages, birth defects and other health problems among residents made the area a symbol of environmental catastrophe and led to federal Superfund legislation to clean up the nation’s abandoned waste sites.

In the 1980s, Mr. Hinchey was the main sponsor of a New York law that was the nation’s first aimed specifically at fighting acid rain.

As a congressman, Mr. Hinchey continued to delve into environmental and energy issues, including promoting solar power, fighting a planned high-voltage power line in his district and speaking out against hydraulic fracturing, or fracking. The gas-drilling technique was at one point being eyed for parts of his district before New York banned it in 2014.

The obituary quoted his colleagues:

“The champion we all longed for, he feared no giants and stood up to every bully, in politics, in business and in all of life,” said Democratic state Assemblyman Kevin Cahill, who was among Mr. Hinchey’s first staffers in the assembly.

House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) described Mr. Hinchey in a statement as a “tireless progressive champion for American families.”

“He leaves us with a legacy of leadership and a lifetime of public service,” she said, “that embody the best of America.”

An example of Congressman Hinchey's standing up to the bullies of the nuclear power industry lobby was his vote against "screwing Nevada" by dumping the country's high-level radioactive waste at Yucca Mountain, against the state's will.

On May 8, 2002, Hinchey was one of 117 members of the U.S. House of Representatives who voted against overriding Nevada's veto of the Yucca Mountain dump. He joined 102 fellow Democrats, 13 Republicans, and one Independent (Bernie Sanders of Vermont) in doing so.

Although the House vote was a blow out in favor of "screwing Nevada," by a 306 to 117 vote, the bare majority of House Democrats (103 to 102) who stood with Nevada set the stage for a closer vote in the U.S. Senate on July 9th. Although the override of Nevada's veto also passed there, by a vote of 60 to 39, it was nonetheless close enough -- combined with unending grassroots activism from coast to coast, over the course of 30+ years -- to set the stage for President Barack Obama's cancellation of the Yucca Mountain dump project in 2009-2010.