President and CEO, New York State Environmental Facilities Corporation
Q: What does the Environmental Facilities Corporation do?
MD: It is the arm of the Cuomo administration that helps communities finance drinking water and wastewater infrastructure.
Q: What is your top priority?
MD: My top priority is to help municipalities take advantage of our low interest rates to finance infrastructure that is critical to ensuring sustainable communities. Creating an efficient wastewater system or a reliable drinking water supply can be an expensive undertaking. But this infrastructure is the backbone of any community. These projects not only protect public health and the environment and immediately create construction jobs; they also provide the basis for a community to support economic development and more jobs in the future.
Q: What are you most proud of during your time at the EFC?
MD: While some states have allowed their state revolving funds to languish, our loan programs have never been more aggressive. In fact, last year EFC led the nation by issuing more than $1.05 billion in bonds for the financing and refinancing of local drinking water and wastewater projects. It was more than twice the amount issued by any other state, and it will save municipalities in New York more than $260 million.
Q: Are you involved with the recovery and rebuilding work following Superstorm Sandy?
MD: EFC anticipates offering a robust financing package of zero-percent loans, as well as grants, to mitigation and resiliency projects in the communities hit by Sandy. The Sandy Recovery Act enacted on Jan. 31 appropriated funds to protect wastewater and drinking water systems. EPA has determined that 60 percent will go to New York—roughly $342 million—and 40 percent to New Jersey. Both states await EPA guidance to decide how these funds can be expended.
Q: Has the slow economic recovery made it a challenge to fund environmental projects?
MD: The recession and slow recovery have kept many communities from undertaking capital expenditures. Ironically, the economy has produced record-low interest rates—so, in that regard, this is an excellent time to undertake long-term financing. The federal government’s response to the economic downturn—the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act—brought a little over $500 million to New York, which allowed EFC to advance 79 wastewater projects and 29 drinking water projects to construction in the state.
Chair, New York State Senate Environmental Conservation Committee
Q: Were there any significant environmental measures included in the state
budget? Any that you wanted to see in it that were left out?
MG: This year’s budget included significant reform to New York’s bottle bill law to help eradicate fraud and abuse in the system. Directly tied to this reform was an additional $19 million in funds for the EPF for this fiscal year, as well as an additional $4 million for the next fiscal year. Last year I sponsored similar legislation that was vetoed that would have increased the EPF as well, and this legislation helped draw the governor’s attention to the need to do more for the EPF. Increasing funding for the EPF was my top environmental budget priority since I have taken office, and it will continue to be as we fight to fully fund this important program.
Q: What will your top environmental priority be in the rest of the legislative session?
MG: Going forward this session, my top priority is to remove the harmful chemical TDCPP from children’s products. This legislation would build upon landmark legislation that I sponsored which was signed into law in 2011. I am also aggressively pushing legislation this year to improve fire standards in upholstered furniture while removing their toxic chemicals, and looking to remove mercury from our waste stream.
Q: New York City has made strides in developing its waterfront over the years. Are there similar efforts in Buffalo?
MG: Developing the waterfront is a top priority for us, and the revitalization of it will bring thousands of jobs to the city. Right now the development is in its infant stages, with the expansion of the Buffalo Naval Park and the retransformation of the Donovan state building, and there are also a few other projects on the horizon. In addition, I will be holding a roundtable discussion with state Sen. Chuck Fuschillo, the chairman of the Senate Transportation Committee, and other stakeholders to discuss the future of Buffalo’s Skyway, which is impeding some of the development and transportation issues we currently have in Buffalo. We have a beautiful waterfront, and the next steps are to have access to it and develop it in a way that will attract people to the region.
Chair, New York State Assembly Environmental Conservation Committee
Q: Were any significant environmental measures in the state budget? Any that you wanted to see in it that were left out?
RS: New York’s Environmental Protection Fund has been increased $19 million to a total of $153 million, a 14 percent increase for the 2013–14 fiscal year. At least $4 million will be added to the EPF in next year’s state budget. This type of funding is crucial to protecting and enhancing the quality of our environment. The EPF protects our parks, beaches and bays, forests, farms, open space and water quality. This program also assists our communities by providing funding for storm resiliency, recycling programs and pollution prevention. The Assembly had proposed extending New York State’s most successful recycling program: the bottle bill. At present, deposits are charged for beer, sodas and bottled water. We wanted to add iced teas, sports drinks, energy drinks and water with sugar added. This increases the number of containers covered in the law by more than 14 percent, according to the Container Recycling Institute, and increases EPF funding by $14 million.
Q: What are the prospects for the Long Island Water Protection Bill, which the Assembly passed this session?
RS: This needs to happen. Long Island’s sole source aquifer is being assaulted by pesticides, pharmaceuticals and the by-products of human waste. If this does not change, the end result will be additional contaminants in greater concentrations in our groundwater, and increased costs—in the form of health impacts and the cost of increased water filtering needs. Children have a greater exposure to contaminants than adults because they drink more water, eat more food and breathe more air relative to their size. Diseases of environmental origin are increasing for children. Environmental links have already been established for many health issues, and research is continuing to provide new evidence each day. The Suffolk County Water Authority has had 28 wells removed from service due to pesticide-related contamination. All but two of those wells have since been returned to service with treatment added. These costs and others due to pesticide contamination are passed on in the form of higher water bills. Long Islanders should not have to figure out whether or not our contaminant exposure for the day will be below the Clean Water [Act] guidelines. The calculation is simple—increasing amounts of contaminants do not belong in drinking water.
Chair, New York City Council Environmental Protection Committee
Q: The City Council recently passed your geothermal bill. What was in it?
JG: As a geologist, I believe geothermal energy is the city’s next big advance in renewable energy, but its potential is not widely understood. My bill will literally “write the book” on geothermal in the city by mapping the areas in the city where geothermal energy is most appropriate, analyzing the viability of large scale geothermal deployments to serve clusters of buildings and creating technical standards and guidelines. Approximately half of the energy from sunlight is stored just beneath the ground as heat, at a constant year-round temperature of 57 degrees. Through relatively simple heat-exchange technology, the earth just below our feet can provide energy to heat buildings in the winter, and act as a “heat sink” in summer to cool them. This law will transform the renewable energy landscape in our city.
Q: You have also had success in passing bills on storm water management, biodiversity and a renewable energy Web portal.
JG: Those laws are a result of the new environmental paradigm demonstrated by Superstorm Sandy, which highlighted, in most dramatic fashion, the real dangers our city faces in terms of climate change, rising sea levels and flooding. But even before Sandy hit, we as a city acted to counter the threat posed by those forces. For example, Local Law 42, which became law in August of 2012, created the “New York City Panel on Climate Change” and a “Climate Change Adaptation Task Force” to assimilate all relevant climate science, assess all feasible adaptation strategies, and commence planning, financing and implementation of climate adaptations. This panel and task force are already engaging leading climate scientists with city engineers and policymakers to protect the city’s infrastructure, buildings, natural areas, public health, vulnerable populations and economy.
Q: What is your top priority now?
JG: I’m currently working with the Bloomberg administration to make comprehensive changes to New York City’s air code that will be very significant in terms of air pollution reductions. It is a challenging endeavor, but will yield clean air benefits for generations to come. It will be a fitting capstone to my 12-year tenure as chair of the Committee on Environmental Protection, during which I’ve made every effort to put science before politics in facing the clear and present danger of climate change.