In the past year both the Assembly and the Senate passed a number of key measures, including the Sewage Pollution Right to Know Act and another piece of legislation to boost funding for the state’s Environmental Protection Fund.
The Sewage Pollution Right to Know Act, a top priority for environmentalists, requires more frequent disclosure of sewage levels flowing into the state’s waterways, providing critical information for public recreation, such as swimming and boating.
Another top priority for environmentalists was boosting funding for the Environmental Protection Fund, which was neglected in past years.
“We don’t know what the governor’s position on it is,” said Assemblyman Robert Sweeney, who chairs the Assembly Environmental Conservation Committee. “It would increase the environmental protection fund beginning next year, 2013–14, up through 2018–19, so we’re just waiting to see what the governor plans to do on that one.”
Of course, whether or not the Cuomo administration allows hydrofracking to move forward, it will continue to be a major focus of the Legislature. Both houses looked at ways to regulate the drilling procedure and put in safeguards, but environmentalists came away disappointed with the lack of progress this past session.
“I suspect that no matter what the governor does on hydrofracking, that it will once again be a significant issue that we will be dealing with next year in one form or another, depending on what he does,” Sweeney said. “At the very least, if he does something, we’ll have to talk about the budget for DEC and ensuring enough personnel, and there are other issues with hydrofracking that we will undoubtedly be dealing with.”
State Sen. Mark Grisanti, the chair of the Senate Environmental Conservation Committee, introduced a package of bills this past session to regulate hydrofracking and protect water resources, but there wasn’t enough time to get them to the floor, said Doug Curella, the senator’s counsel and chief of staff.
But state Sen. Tony Avella, the ranking member of the Environmental Conservation Committee and a critic of hydrofracking, blamed Republicans for failing to enact basic measures to regulate the drilling process.
“Now when you get to hydrofracking, in my opinion the Republican majority refused to let through the committee and onto the Senate floor the bare minimum in terms of protections should hydrofracking go ahead,” he said. “And I think that’s a disgrace.”
Curella said Grisanti has three other top priorities for the upcoming session: prohibiting the sale of light bulbs with high mercury levels, tax credits for green home developments and tackling chemicals in children’s products.
The green homes legislation, which Grisanti sponsored, only passed the Senate last year.
“What that would do is give developers a tax credit when they build homes using environmentally friendly material,” Curella said. “Here in Western New York you’re starting to see green home developments where the street lights are powered by wind or solar and all the houses have solar paneling.”
Sweeney, like Grisanti, said he would continue to focus on toxins in children’s products. A Sept. 6 hearing will focus on fire retardants in children’s products, but the lawmaker is pushing to address the issue in a more comprehensive way.
“The problem here in New York, like in other states, is that in the past, we have been dealing with these issues on a chemical-by-chemical basis,” Sweeney said. “Last year we did a bill, which actually passed both houses, on one of the fire retardants that we’re concerned [about], called TRIS, and that was signed into law, and we became the first in the nation to ban that one particular product. But again, that’s one product out of 80,000 chemicals that are out there that are put into consumer products, the overwhelming majority of which have never been proven to be safe.”
Sweeney said he also planned to hold a hearing on brownfields, since existing legislation is expiring soon.
“Finally, I’m probably going to be putting forward some legislation to enact an environmental bond,” said Sweeney, who would like to see more funding to address infrastructure issues like wastewater and clean-water systems. “I’m not going to expect it to pass next year, because I don’t think we’re at a point where we can put up a bond act before the public. Things have to get a little better first.”
What Got Done in 2012:
Sewage Right to Know legislation
Funding for the Environmental Protection Fund
Stricter regulation of invasive plant and animal species
What’s on the Agenda:
Hydrofracking regulations and safety measures
Renewal of expiring brownfields legislation
Comprehensive bill on chemicals in children’s toys
Green homes development tax credits
Mercury in light bulbs
Environmental Advocates of New York
By Robert Moore
Environmental Advocates of New York will be encouraging Gov. Cuomo and the state Legislature to develop a comprehensive master energy plan that creates jobs while keeping our water clean, and protecting the earth where we live and the air that we breathe.
This would include:
Developing laws and regulations that would ensure that oil and gas companies would handle, transport and dispose of toxic fracking waste the same as any other hazardous waste generator in the state—instead of exempting them from these very laws.
Restoring the state’s green piggy bank for environmental projects by rededicating unclaimed bottle deposits for the Environmental Protection Fund.
Reclaiming New York State’s position as a national leader on environmental issues by rebuilding the Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) and the Department of Parks, Recreation & Historic Preservation.
And passing into law legislation that would outlaw children’s products that contain toxic chemicals.
The Nature Conservancy in New York
By Jessica Ottney Mahar
Director of Government Relations
It is undisputed that programs conserving and protecting our land, air and water generate enormous revenue for the state, provide essential support for important industries that create and sustain jobs for New Yorkers, and greatly enhance quality of life in New York. A recent study by the Trust for Public Land shows that the Environmental Protection Fund (EPF) delivers big returns—$7 for every $1 invested. EPF programs support New York’s $13 billion outdoor tourism industry and farms that contribute $23 billion to the state’s economy, protect drinking water supplies, and redevelop parks and waterfronts, making our communities more attractive places to live and work.
Nonetheless, EPF projects are chronically underfunded. Public-private partnerships capable of leveraging local, federal and private dollars are waiting to move forward because EPF resources are stretched too thin.
Maintaining the EPF in the 2012 budget was an important first step in ensuring that this critical funding would remain available. Pending legislation passed by the Assembly and Senate this year would increase dedicated funding for EPF by $56 million over the next six years. As work to define the “NEW New York” continues, we must invest public dollars in assets that create or sustain jobs, reduce costs to municipalities and businesses, and improve our quality of life. The EPF does all of these things. Now is the time to commit to growing the EPF so that we can make the most of programs that benefit the environment and the economy.
New York League of Conservation Voters
By Marcia Bystryn
Gas drilling may be getting the headlines these days, but the furor over fracking obscures a more fundamental problem facing our state leaders: New York has no energy plan.
It’s not that Albany isn’t thinking about energy; quite the contrary. There are several big projects on the drawing board, from the Champlain Hudson Power Express cable from Quebec to the Energy Highway and the potential closure of the Indian Point nuclear power plant.
But do those efforts fit into a long-term energy strategy? Are we aligning our power needs with economic development goals, like creating more jobs? And how can New York meet the rising demand for energy without further polluting our air or warming the climate? A comprehensive and concrete energy plan is essential to answer those questions.
One thing is for sure: Renewables must play a bigger role in New York’s energy future. There is a tremendous amount of untapped wind-power potential in Western New York and off Long Island’s shore. Jump-starting New York’s solar-energy sector would create jobs, and the governor’s NY-Sun initiative is a good start, but it is not enough to make our state competitive.
Natural gas will play a key role too, and New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg is correct in noting that this fuel can help wean our nation away from dirty coal. That’s why the Department of Environmental Conservation must develop and enforce the best regulations in the nation before any fracking permits are issued.
Energy, the economy and the environment are inextricably linked. The environmental community stands ready to assist our state leaders in developing a master energy plan that will make progress on all three fronts.
Tags: brownfields, Environmental Advocates of New York, Environmental Protection Fund, Hydrofracking, Mark Grisanti, Nature Conservancy in New York, New York League of Conservation Voters, right to know, Robert Moore, Robert Sweeney, sewage, Tony Avella, toxins, toys
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