Governor Cuomo: "The pipeline, if it was approved today, Jay, would take 12 months, 18 months to build, okay? That's the best case scenario - that's if there's no lawsuit; that's if you don't hit a rock. 12 to 18 months and you'd have a new pipeline. What did you think was going to happen for the next 12 to 18 months? You were never going to have the supply from the new pipeline. Where was National Grid's plan to provide gas for the next year or 18 months? Gas doesn't just come through a pipeline - it can come on trucks; it can come by barge. How did they not prepare for this situation? And that was their legal fiduciary responsibility - and that's what the Public Service Commission has to investigate. How could you be turning off all these people when you were never going to get the gas in time anyway, even if the pipeline was built?"
Earlier today, Governor Andrew M. Cuomo was a guest on Long Island News Radio with Jay Oliver.
AUDIO is available here.
A rush transcript of the Governor's interview is available below:
Jay Oliver: As part of a spotlight segment on Long Island, plenty of decisions out there affecting all of us, here to talk about it is the Governor of the great State of New York, the Empire State. His name is Andrew Cuomo and always welcome. Governor, How are you, sir?
Governor Cuomo: Top of the morning to you, Jay. There is a lot going on. There is a lot going on everywhere.
Jay Oliver: I can't absorb it fast enough, you know? It's unbelievable, you know, you wake up in the morning early, I just don't have enough time before I go on the air. That's the full plate we all have - right? - on a daily basis.
Governor Cuomo: No, you're exactly right. It's just a deluge of information, national, international, local, you almost can't take it in, and I think that's one of the things that makes people feel so anxious and these are all big issues. Everywhere you turn there is a big issue. They are frightening times.
Jay Oliver: So let's see if we can tackle a couple of issues. Let's go. I want to go to vaping first because we've had one kid in the Bronx, I think a second one right there after, but the vaping stuff, you know, and I give you credit on the ban and everything else for flavored stuff and it's a huge problem. We had an incident where a couple of guys were arrested so you know the street, we've had experts on, Governor, you know, a lot of this stuff kids don't know, people in general don't know before getting into, but quite frankly, the vaping stories as alarming as they are keep on coming almost on a daily basis now.
Governor Cuomo: No, and Jay, it's going to get worse. You want to talk about an issue that came out of nowhere and it's frightening. This vaping, these kids, first the prevalence of vaping is unbelievable. It is the new cool thing. They're talking about something like 25 percent of 12th graders and it's an explosion and they've marketed it quietly but effectively. Many of these vaping companies by the way are former tobacco cigarette companies that just found a new way to addict a new population and it's something I'm spending a lot of time on. New York is taking a leadership role. We were the first, one of the first, to move to ban flavored vaping. But they're doing it, they're selling flavors like Scooby-Doo and Cotton Candy and Bubblegum. They're going right to young people. They're targeting young people. They're not allowed legally to target cigarette ads but they're targeting vaping ads and these kids are doing it thinking it's safe. It's safe and it's cool. Everybody does it. It's not safe and it's not cool. You know the old Italian expression: we grow too soon old and too late smart. My generation, you were cool and stupid, you smoked cigarettes. I smoked cigarettes because I was cool and stupid and at a minimum vaping is a nicotine addiction which is something you'll fight the rest of your life. At worst, it will kill you. And it's worse than a cigarette. A cigarette did not kill you in six months. This vaping product can kill you in six months. You're inhaling steam with chemicals. You don't know what the chemicals are. You don't know how the steam makes the body metabolize the chemicals. They're buying these black market, unregulated drugs with these fancy names. They fit into the Juul device which is the electronic mechanism that actually allows the vaping and that's a legal product, and it's everywhere. The federal government suggested they were going to act, but like most things they're just playing politics and the president did absolutely nothing. So, it's up to the states to lead. I proposed a ban on flavored vaping, they are suing me to stop the ban and I'm fighting them. And in the meantime I'm trying to get the word out everywhere - parents, kids - it's not cool, it's not safe, it's stupid and it can kill you. And it's a health crisis, thousands of kids have been affected, we're up to over 20 deaths I believe. So this is really serious and widespread.
Jay Oliver: Question, and it had to be done and you did the right thing and let's see what happens. You know, the problem, I said this all along, is these people don't know what they are ingesting, that's the problem. You get this on the street, the black market, the whole nine yards, this is what happens. So, steps have to be taken. So hopefully people are going to get the message. Let's move to this whole National Grid deal, restoring a natural gas hookup as of yesterday, a lot of pressure from you, the administration. You know, and you and I spoke about this before, you know it's almost like a game of chicken here Governor is being played, you know who blinks first type of thing. But the fact of the matter is when you have people that, you know, you're coming into that heating season right now, businesses, residents, you can't mess around with that. You did the right thing yesterday I thought, putting a lot of pressure on these folks.
Governor Cuomo: And I'm not going to stop. Look, these utility companies, they literally have consumers in a vulnerable position because they can turn your heat on, they can turn it off. What's happening here is National Grid is in the gas business, right? And there is a proposal for a gas pipeline that would bring more gas to Long Island. It's a very controversial proposal, a lot of people are against the pipeline, environmental reasons, policy reasons, why are we building another gas pipeline we should be moving to renewables, et cetera. And that's a political decision on the pipeline and it will probably come down to the state legislature, which comes back in January. National Grid wants the pipeline because they're in the gas business and they say, 'we have to have the pipeline and if we don't have the pipeline then we're running out of gas and we're going to turn off the gas.' And all of a sudden thousands of people get a notice, no gas supply for you, we can't build a new building, we can't build a new house, and by the way if you remodel and you turned off your gas temporarily, we're not turning it back on. And now you have this whole explosion of people, pardon the pun, saying I can't get gas. Maybe it's a coincidence, but I'm a little skeptical. The utility companies are regulated by something called the PSC, Public Service Commission, and they have to take their vitamins or eat their Wheaties, or whatever the equivalent is, because the Public Service Commission regulates them. And it's a little too coincidental , Jay, that all of a sudden National Grid ran out of gas at the same time that they're trying to create political pressure to approve this pipeline. And this what I said to National Grid, and I want everyone to hear me: how can this be? The pipeline, if it was approved today, Jay, would take 12 months, 18 months to build, okay? That's the best case scenario - that's if there's no lawsuit; that's if you don't hit a rock. 12 to 18 months and you'd have a new pipeline. What did you think was going to happen for the next 12 to 18 months? You were never going to have the supply from the new pipeline. Where was National Grid's plan to provide gas for the next year or 18 months? Gas doesn't just come through a pipeline - it can come on trucks; it can come by barge. How did they not prepare for this situation? And that was their legal fiduciary responsibility - and that's what the Public Service Commission has to investigate. How could you be turning off all these people when you were never going to get the gas in time anyway, even if the pipeline was built - do you understand what I'm saying?
Jay Oliver: It seems to me there's a violation - a clear one - as far as public service law here, without being said. I mean what kind of penalties? Can they be facing some violations, penalties, whatever for their actions here?
Governor Cuomo: They can be penalized - they can be fined. And by the way, they can have their franchise revoked. Now, they think it would be so disruptive that the Public Service Commission would never do it because you'd have to get a new utility company, but I don't care - I don't care how disruptive it is. If they believe they have an irrevocable license - that they have a franchise that cannot be removed - then the consumers are at their whim. So no, worst case scenario, their franchise could be revoked. And by the way, we went through it with LIPA and all sorts of configurations on Long Island, so it can be done. But these utility companies have this attitude that, "Well I have my license and it's from the Bible, the Old Testament and God gave me the license and therefore I can do what I want." Not in this state, you can't, and I don't care how big you are or how powerful you are and how much money you have - you're not going to abuse the people of this state. That's what I get to do - I get paid to do everything I can to protect the people of this state. That's my job in one line, and that's what I'm going to do.
Jay Oliver: You're listening to the Governor of the State of New York Andrew Cuomo. I want to move to the MTA for a second, governor, I know you're keeping an eye on it. I got to tell you - a little skepticism on my part. When I hear about a budget - I think it was about $51 and a half billion or so - you know what I'm somewhat skeptical as far as is that enough money. Is that the money that's going to be put to good use? When I read about a portion going to the LIRR, Long Island Rail Road, 5.7 or whatever it is, is that enough to fix all their problems? I'm just wondering, and I know you keep an eye on this stuff, and like me, you know, listen you're questioning a lot that is happening with the MTA and everything else - what about that aspect? Where do we see it, numbers and everything else being put to good use, those dollars?
Governor Cuomo: Yeah, well I'm with you on this, and I don't think it's skepticism - I think it's informed questioning. $50 billion is the largest capital plan in history for the MTA, and there has been a lack of investment over years because nobody wants to pay, nobody pays for maintenance, until the car breaks. So, the $50 billion is the largest investment and I think it's a wise investment for the future IF - capital I, capital F - IF they know how to spend the money well. You know, in government the answer is always more money, more money, more money. My retort is always, no. More efficiency, more efficiency, more efficiency. I run a "miracle" government. I do more in my government than has been done by any governor in modern history. I'm also, my spending increases are lower than any governor in modern history. I've reduced taxes all across the board. Make the operation work better. Efficiency, effectiveness. You know, the taxpayers money it's nobody's money so it's easy to spend. You have to bring spending discipline. So yeah, $50 billion is more money than ever. Big IF is, if they spend it well and efficiently and change their MO and build better and buy better, which they have to do. Second issue, you're also right. Will Long Island Rail Road get its fair share?
That's a very important question and it's also timely because the next approval toward this plan, the $50 billion plan, goes to a body called the CPRB but right now there's a proposal that the appointees to that body all be from New York City. Newsday did an editorial which was a little [speaks Italian] and a little complex, but if you have all representatives of New York City, Jay, then they're going to focus on New York City. That's the way it works. And the MTA is New York City transit, it's also Long Island Rail Road, it's also Metro North that goes to Westchester up. Long Island Rail Road has to get its fair share and $5.7 billion, I think is the fair share and I feel good about that because remember we're rebuilding the whole Long Island Rail Road.
Since it's been built we are doing more. Second track. Third track. Main line. East side access. Which will be a game changer. So we're putting a ton of money into the Long Island Rail Road. My challenge is to make sure it stays there because Long Island can get the short end of the stick here for New York City and Metro North. And making sure they get the money that they need and it's spent well and quickly. And I work very hard to get these construction projects actually done and done on time. I show up. I talk to the contractors. I can be a pain in the hiney. So if we get the funding and the MTA gets that they have to change their basic method of operation, I will be there pushing. And look, at the end of the day, we will have rebuilt Long Island Rail Road fundamentally. And the LIRR is very important because that's what made Long Island, Long Island.
You know when my father's sister and brother moved out, you know, the whole conversation I remember as a kid - "you know, I'm 18 minutes to get to the city," "I'm 24 minutes," right? That's how you planned off the Long Island Rail Road where you're going to move contemplating the commute. You can't get on the Long Island Expressway anymore, you can't get on that Southern State. That Southern State is a parking lot whenever you get on it. Northern State, Grand Central, the same thing. We have to make the Long Island Railroad work. It has to work. Environmentally, economically, it has to work and it has to work better than it's now working so that's the challenge. I think the 50 billion - long answer to a short question - 50 billion is more money than ever, but they have to change their game and be more efficient and more effective and Long Island has to get its fair share and that's going to be a challenge. Yes, New York City transit needs money and yes, Metro North needs money, but Long Island Railroad needs money, too, and I'm going to keep pushing as hard as I can, but I need help.
Jay Oliver: Listen, I agree with everything you say, but what scares me, Governor, on this - we'll move to another one in a second - you know, is the "s" word - strike. When I hear the threat of strike and everything else and I read about the labor cost of the MTA expected to surpass 10 billion this year, knowing that they spent 3 and a half billion or so on fringe benefits last year, I'm talking about workers, retirees, you know, the 1.3 billion going to health insurance, it bothers me somewhat that they are not mindful, you know, of the cost involved and then you go to that "s" word, the strike, and that's against the commuter and everything else, you know, it's about the innocent commuter. And then you go to the MTA and all their needs and what they have done in the past. It's a little frightening when you read about this stuff.
Governor Cuomo: Yeah, I hear you, but, Jay, look, you can't let a person put a gun to your head, right, because that then, then you have no option, right? I can't let National Grid say "if I don't get my pipeline then I'm going to turn off 3,000 people." No, I'm not going to be extorted and I'm not going to be intimidated. I'm not going let a union say, and if the MTA did this then we should have new leadership at the MTA, "well, if you don't give me the contract I want then I'm going to strike and I'm going to cause mayhem." No. You can't be intimidated, you can't be extorted in life, otherwise every decision is made before you even get to the table. So, this is hard earned tax money, commuters already think they're paying too much for too little. I'm paying tolls, I'm paying fares, and the service stinks. That's what commuters feel and there's truth to it. So, yes, we want to have a fair contact for the workforce, but the MTA leadership can't be extorted and we need fairness from everyone here and we expect fairness from everyone.
Jay Oliver: Hopefully people are listening. I know you have that wonderful announcement, the launch of the new pilot project Governor to combat the algal blooms. What do they call them? HABs, I believe. And the clean water and everything else, talking about Agawam Lake in the Village of Southampton, and really directed by the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation. Talk a little bit about that for the folks.
Governor Cuomo: You want to talk about frightening, on the list of horrible, which is a long list, we have these HABs - Harmful Algal Blooms. Toxic algae which grows from the nitrogen and the runoff, etc. But it is out of control Jay. In some places, it affects drinking water. And this is water where it literally turns green, bright green. It has killed pets that have gone in it. It makes human being sick and nobody knows how to fix it. Long term, yes stop the nitrogen and stop the runoff. But short term, because we have it in lakes literally that are being used for drinking water now. There is a technology that they are using in Lake Okeechobee in Florida. That we brought up to test, which basically sucks up the algae, treats the water, separates the water from the algae, and we are testing it in Lake Agawam. It's a nationwide problem but I want to get ahead of it and find out what technology there is, because in this constellation of climate change issues, this is an immediate crisis. You could have no fresh drinking water in some communities if you can't control these algal blooms. And this could happen, next year, the year after. So, we are testing it in Lake Agawam in Southampton but that is just a demonstration of it. Lake Agawam, it is in Southampton, it is like a green tub. It smells and it is horrific, and it has been for years. So, we are using Agawam because if it works in Agawam, it works anywhere. Agawam has different issues also but we are testing this technology which we brought up from Florida because I want to find out what we do and then bring it to scale, and let's have the best minds in this nation work on this issue because it is here and it is now.
Jay Oliver: Without question, water quality is one of the biggest issues that we are all facing on Long Island. Governor, thank you so much. I know you are going to be keeping an eye on the Yankees today. Four o'clock first pitch. Very important game. I know you are keeping an eye on that right?
Governor Cuomo: Oh yes. We keep our fingers crossed. I love the Yankees. I was a Queens boy so I got the Mets and the Yankees. But all New Yorkers are rooting for the Yankees today.
Jay Oliver: Important stuff here. Thank you again sir.
Governor Cuomo: Thank you.