Departing DEC chief gives himself a B+

ALBANY – Basil Seggos is leaving the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation at a time when he believes the agency is “hitting its stride”. He points out the agency now has record resources, a record staffing level (1,313 employees), and a green light from Gov. Kathy Hochul and the legislature to “do big things.”

DEC Commissioner Basil Seggos Part I

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“It’s not an easy decision (to step aside from this job),” he said. “I love this job. I truly do.”

Basil Seggos Part II

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After being appointed by former Gov. Andrew Cuomo in 2015, and spending the last eight and a half years at the top of the agency, Seggos says it’s time to let someone else come in and carry on some really important work.

“I don’t think you could do this job without the passion and appreciation for the wondrous resources we have in New York state,” he said. “I think the job does require not just the dedication to hard work, but sort of a belief in the mission.”

Basil Seggos Part III

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That mission is to oversee programs that promote a clean, healthy and accessible environment. His job is to protect New York’s air, lands, and waters, all while combatting climate change.

“I jumped into the job thinking about let’s do big things on climate or let’s come up with big policies, but ultimately comes down to people’s water, a glass of water on the table,” he explained, alluding to the Hoosick Falls drinking water disaster that feel into his lap just two weeks after getting the job. “If the commissioner of an agency can’t solve that problem, then you’re really not an effective commissioner.”

It was back in 2015 when 4,000 residents of Hoosick Falls found out their water had been poisoned.

“What do we do?” he asked rhetorically, looking back at crisis. “We had to literally, I pulled together the entire team, all of our leadership to (make sure) we’d fix the problem quickly.”

It took engineers, lawyers, community outreach, and new technology to tackle the Hoosick Falls dilemma. Eight and a half years later, the search for an alternate source of water continues for that village. The DEC response to that disaster is what Seggos is most proud of.

“It challenged me in ways I had not expected to perform,” he said. “I grew in the job very quickly. The approach that we perfected on that now characterizes everything we do as an agency.”

Seggos is also proud of the role DEC has played as a national leader combatting climate change, pointing to aggressive goals to reach 70% renewal energy level by 2030 and 100% zero emission by 2040.

“I think it’s realistic. It has to be realistic,” Seggos stated. “Climate change is not going away. We deal with the response end of things all the time. Just look around. The biggest wildfire in Texas’ history is happening right now, and it’s February in the middle of winter, and that never happens.”

No state is immune from the consequences of climate change, Seggos pointed out.

“We dealt with how many storms in the last 10 to 15 years?” he said. “Record storms and disasters here in New York state. We have to hit our target. We have to keep this on a forward path as well to protect New York businesses.”

There happens to be something that didn’t get done on his watch that Seggos says he wished it had.

“I think one big thing is I have not yet fully diversified this agency,” he said. “We are relatively a homogenous agency relative to other businesses in New York.”

Seggos says the agency has already taken steps that he hopes will create a more diverse work force at DEC, an agency that grew to a record 3,300 employees during his tenure.

It was a tenure during which Seggos criticized his former boss, Gov. Andrew Cuomo, on social media after allegations of sexual harassment began surfacing at the Capitol.

“I felt the courage of my convictions,” he said. “I had to look at myself in the mirror. I’ve got four older sisters. I’ve got three daughters. I want to set a good example for them. I’m glad I did. I was prepared to see the door if need be. Sometimes you just have to stand up for what you believe is right and suffer the consequences.”

Mindful that many people have criticized his DEC leadership, Seggos believes he is the one who is most critical of his own job performance.

“A B+ for me in this job would be an honest self assessment,” he said. “It means 90% of the time doing things well and then 10% of the time you wish you could have done something a little bit different. If you’re not critical of yourself in these kinds of jobs, then you really have to find a different line of work.”

While always thinking of the environment, Seggos has traveled to Ukraine three times, helping to deliver food and medical relief to that war torn country.

“Ukraine now is running out of ammunition, and they’ve made that clear,” he pointed out. “They’re pulling back from the front. They’ve lost a few cities in the last few weeks, and there’s a real risk that this war could turn sideways in the next few weeks and months.”

Seggos says he can’t just sit on the sidelines and watch a bullying autocrat who thinks he has a license to roll over less powerful neighbors.

“It’s one of those issues where if we don’t defend this ally, and we allow Russia to overtake this democratic nation that the consequences frankly could be startling and not just for Europe but consequences that we would feel here in the states.”