Newly elected U.S. Rep. Patrick Ryan (D-N.Y.) told district residents that two of his legislative priorities are environment and veteran issues at a Beacon town hall on Feb. 2.
Ryan represents New York’s 18th District, which includes all of Orange County, the bulk of Dutchess County, and a southern portion of Ulster County.
He said he was interested in bills or projects that combine job creation with environmental protection, citing the recent expansion of Canadian battery manufacturer Zinc8 in Ulster County.
The manufacturer just chose the county to build its U.S. headquarters, promising 500 new jobs.
Ryan was appointed in late January to the House Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure, with a seat on its water subcommittee, which he said he had fought to get on.
“[The committee] not only overseas infrastructure spending and policy, but also has a huge say in water protection, water resources, and other environmental issues,” he said.
“At a macro level, the thing that I come back to over and over, as a foundation, is water—water access, water cleanliness … it is so important,” he added.
Ryan noted an upcoming Environmental Protection Agency ruling that would lower the threshold for persistent chemical contaminants in drinking water, which is likely to prompt new legislation to bring water up to the new standard.
As for veteran issues, Ryan said he would work to keep the Castle Point VA Hospital open and expand new medical services at VA hospitals in his district.
Last year, the U.S. Department of Veteran Affairs issued a report that recommends the closure of Castle Point, which has so far escaped the fate partly due to strong advocacy by veteran groups.
“I’m really worried that once [the report] is out there, it can rear its head again. So, we may call on vets again to rally to make sure we keep it open,” Ryan said.
He plans to advocate for more mental health resources, obstetrics and gynecology practices, and senior living options at local VA hospitals.
Ryan also mentioned the Promise to Address Comprehensive Toxics law that was passed last year, adding that his office would assist district veterans in getting their due share.
The law is one of the largest expansions of veteran benefits in the nation’s history.
The other House Committee that he was assigned to is Armed Services, which oversees defense budgets.
“[I will support] our military, making smart decisions about how we are spending our defense dollars, which certainly haven’t always been done, in my opinion,” he said.
Concerns of Local Residents
At the town hall, Ryan also listened to district residents about their concerns about the lack of funding for autist adults, vaccine safety, and election integrity.
One resident asked if Ryan was interested in founding and chairing a Common-Sense Caucus in Congress to bridge the partisan divide for the good of the country.
“It is at a time when we are dealing with massive issues that require real collaboration in good faith that Congress couldn’t even organize itself,” he said. “We have to figure out how to make it work.”
He said to a hundred or so town hall participants, “Thank you for caring enough to come out on a Thursday night. This makes me more optimistic about our country. I hope this is the beginning of more discussions, more conversations.”
“Hold me accountable. Please tell me how I’m doing, right and wrong,” he added.
He said he would set up field offices in all three counties and host more town halls across the district.
A fifth-generation Ulster County resident, Ryan graduated from West Point, served in the Iraq War, and owned a technology company before winning a special election to succeed Mike Hein as Ulster County Executive in 2019.
Last September, he won another special election to represent New York’s 19th Congressional District, after which he was reelected to the neighboring 18th District for a full term.