Friday, December 30, 2011

Constantine Sidamon-Eristoff ... Prince, Conservationist

Back in 1990, after five years of research had made it clear that nitrogen in treated sewage was responsible for Long Island Sound's hypoxia problem, the U.S. EPA and the states of Connecticut and New York were taking their first steps toward doing something about the problem.

It was hardly a radical idea -- they would freeze the amount of nitrogen flowing into the Sound from sewage plants at 1990 levels. They called it a nitrogen cap. It wasn't a reduction. They weren't prepared to actually begin cleaning up the Sound yet. But they didn't want it to get worse either.

And yet that recommendation freaked out people in Westchester County, in particular real estate developers, the trade groups they paid to represent them, and elected officials who were beholden to them. They had influence in Albany and for a while it seemed as if they might stop the entire Long Island Sound cleanup effort.

Among the people who would not let that happen was Constantine Sidamon-Eristoff. He was the EPA administrator in the New York region, an appointee of President George H.W. Bush, and he decided the nitrogen cap was important -- and he said so, publicly, in a way that made it seem completely sane and rational (which of course it was):

"I, at this point, think it would be wise to go ahead. I think time is of the essence. Why not take steps now if you know what you can do and it's doable?"

His EPA counterpart in New England, Julie Belaga, agreed, and their position became policy, as both EPA regions and both states approved the nitrogen cap.

I didn't know Connie Eristoff well. He was gentlemanly the few times I met him and when I asked him questions, either in person or on the phone, he answered them (which is how I got the quote above). There's not much more a reporter can ask for.

I was reminded by his obituary, in today's New York Times, that he also strongly fought to allow New York City to keep its drinking water clean by protecting its watershed rather than by building a filtration plant, a decision that seems as common-sensical now as it was controversial 15 years ago.

Connie Eristoff got his start in government under John V. Lindsay. He was actively involved in Audubon New York. And he was a prince "whose family nobility dates to the 15th century in the Eurasian kingdom of Georgia."

I always assumed he was a Republican. That matters only because we need more like him.


Anonymous Robert Funicello said...

"I always assumed he was a Republican. That matters only because we need more like him."

My thought exactly when I read his obituary.

12:47 PM  

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