Westchester County is no longer a member of ICLEI.
County Executive Rob Astorino made the decision shortly after taking office to terminate Westchester's membership in ICLEI — Local Governments for Sustainability which came to an end effective December 31, 2011. Membership dues for Westchester County amounted to $20,000 annually.
“When we came into office we reviewed all of the associations to which the County belonged," said Ned McCormack, chief spokesman for Astorino. "We determined that ICLEI was not an essential service and we dropped the membership".
This is a striking turnaround for a county that just four years ago released an ICLEI-inspired Climate Action Plan calling on all municipalities to join ICLEI.
The difference has been Astorino, a no-nonsense fiscal conservative whose stunning upset victory in 2009 over long-time incumbent, Democrat Andy Spano. Under Spano, Westchester County became the highest-taxed county in the nation. Astorino was elected with a 16-point margin largely on his promise to reign in spending and get control of property taxes.
Astorino continues to support "sustainability" initiatives but reached the same conclusion many County Executives, Mayors and City Councils have reached all across the United State. It is possible to work to protect the environment and make wise development decisions without the participation the UN Non-Governmental Organization ("NGO").
New Rochelle Council Member Louis Trangucci (R-District 1), arguably the highest elected official in Westchester County who has openly opposed ICLEI, shares Astorino's belief that Westchester can protect the environment and plan sensibly without outside influences.
"I am all for the environment," said Trangucci. "I support 'green' but we don't need people outside this country trying to dictate policy or mandate or control our way of life in New Rochelle, in Westchester or anywhere else in our country."
Trangucci has taken heat from New Rochelle Mayor Noam Branson over the past year on ICLEI. Trangucci was the sole dissenting vote for the Mayor's Local Agenda 21 called GreeNR. After a lengthy debate, Trangucci voted against the plan after calling Bramson out by offering to change his vote in favor of the plan if the Mayor would agree to vote in favor of getting rid of ICLEI. When, as expected, the Mayor refused Trangucci voted "no".
"I took an oath to the New York State Constitution and the United States Constitution not some unaccountable outside organization," added Trangucci. "It's not something my constituents want and not something I want."
The circumstances under which Astorino's decision became public is a story unto itself. "Mitch", a member of the South End Civic Club, called a talk radio show on WVOX 1460 AM on Tuesday after hearing Robert Cox give a presentation to her group on the subject of ICLEI, Agenda 21 and New Rochelle's Local Agenda 21 plan known as GreeNR. Mitch asked the show's host, Sheila Marcotte of the Westchester County Board of Legislators, why the county was a member of ICLEI. Marcotte was not aware that Westchester County was a member of ICLEI and so told the caller that the county was not a member. After the show she checked the ICLEI web site and saw that Westchester County was listed a member. She tried to contact Mitch to correct the record, also writing to ICLEI to get details on Westchester's membership in ICLEI. Later that day, Marcotte learned that while Westchester had been a member and was still listed on the ICLEI site as a member, the County had allowed their membership to lapse as of December 31, 2011. It was through this series of events that Talk of the Sound was able to determine that Westchester County was no longer a member of ICLEI.
In terminating their membership, Westchester County joins over 50 local and county governments that have terminated their membership in ICLEI since 2009 when the organization announced Oklahoma City, OK as its 600th member. Oklahoma City has since terminated its membership in ICLEI. Today, ICLEI is down to less even than the 550 U.S. members claimed. A number of localities on the list are no longer members including Plantation, FL; Irving, TX; Westchester County, NY; Sequim, WA; Las Cruces, NM to name a few.
Westchester County used ICLEI software in 2005 to conduct a study of greenhouse gases ("GHG"), joined ICLEI in 2007 and produced an ICLEI-inspired Climate Action Plan in 2008 which, not surprisingly, recommended that all municipalities in Westchester County join ICLEI.
One of the primary reasons given in the Climate Action Plan for recommending that municipalities join ICLEI is to conduct a GHG inventory.
In support of its Climate Action Plan, the Task Force has developed an inventory of its greenhouse gases for the year 2005. For this purpose, the Clean Air and Climate Protection Software provided by ICLEI—Local Governments for Sustainability was used. Through ICLEI, there is an opportunity for each municipality in Westchester to do its own GHG inventory. It is therefore recommended that municipalities join ICLEI and conduct their own inventory to establish their GHG emissions baseline. [emphasis added]
This is the same logic recently employed in the New Rochelle, NY where the city's Sustainability Coordinator cited access to the ICLEI GHG Inventory software as a benefit of membership in ICLEI.
Yet, Westchester County and New Rochelle both used the ICLEI GHG Inventory software before joining ICLEI.
ICLEI has been reeling from defections over the past three years, in part as a function of belt-tightening measures in a down economy but largely due to a nationwide backlash against what many critics see as an attempt by the United Nations and its "UN System" of Agencies and UN-certified NGOs to influence local land-use laws to limit development of unimproved property and shift the population away from low-density residential areas into high-density urban areas. Critics have raised concerns about many other aspects of the Agenda 21 plan which many see as an attempt to advance controversial policies such as zero-population growth, large scale wealth and technology transfers from developed to underdeveloped countries and limits on consumption and production in developed countries.
For its part, ICLEI has sought to dispel what it labels "conspiracy theories circulated about ICLEI and Agenda 21". Yet, in a recently published FAQ on its web site, ICLEI describes its role as part of the UN system to advance Agenda 21 in the same terms used by critics.
- ICLEI is one of many NGOs recognized by the U.N. to provide input into these processes.
- ICLEI is the "Local Authority Major Group Co-Organizing Partner" for Rio+20 and the "Local Government and Municipal Authority Focal Point" for UNFCCC climate change negotiations.
- ICLEI acts as a bridge between local governments and UN processes.
In describing its role in authoring Chapter 28 of Agenda 21, known as "Local Agenda 21" ILCEI says it "served the role of technical representative for a range of local government organizations, including the International Union of Local Authorities, the United Towns Organization, Metropolis, and others. ICLEI took input from these organizations regarding their key positions in areas pertinent to local government, such as urban development, water resources, and waste management, and presented these positions to UN representatives and national government representatives, who included them into the final text."
ICLEI proponents often attempt to present ICLEI as a benign, non-profit membership organization staffed by eager young do-gooders who distribute pamphlets on the environment, host webinars on various green initiatives and provide software for cataloguing the level of carbon emissions in a local area. Connections to the United Nations and Agenda 21 are dismissed as "conspiracy theories".
It is a fact, however, that ICLEI was founded in 1990 at its inaugural conference, the World Congress of Local Governments for a Sustainable Future, which was convened at the United Nations in New York in September 1990. ICLEI wrote what became Chapter 28: Local Agenda 21 of Agenda 21. Agenda 21, also known as the Rio Accords, is a "comprehensive plan of action to be taken globally, nationally and locally by organizations of the United Nations System, Governments, and Major Groups" which was adopted by 180 nations at the United Nations Conference on Environment and Development (UNCED). UNCED, also known as the Rio Summit, Rio Conference, or Earth Summit, was a major United Nations conference held in Rio de Janeiro in June 1992. The United Nations Commission on Sustainable Development (CSD) was created in 1992, based on Chapter 38 of Agenda 21, to serve as a high level forum on sustainable development and has acted as the preparatory committee for summits and sessions on the implementation of Agenda 21. The United Nations will convene, Rio + 20, the next UNCSD summit, in June of this year, on the occasion of the 20th anniversary of UNCED. Rio+20 is "a joint endeavour of the entire UN System" including ICLEI,a UN-certified NGO as part of that UN System.
ICLEI's web site states:
The year 2012 marks the 20th anniversary of the Earth Summit, the birthplace of the Local Agenda 21 movement. Initiated by ICLEI, it has inspired thousands of local governments and communities worldwide to put in place local strategies and actions for sustainable development. [emphasis added]
The organization was originally called "International Council for Local Environmental Initiatives" then changed its name to "ICLEI — Local Governments for Sustainability" and then, more recently to, ICLEI-USA. Critics have long contended that simply adding "USA" to its name is not going to change the fact that ICLEI is an international organization created under the auspices of the UN as the local implementation arm of Agenda 21.