- Budget Lays Framework for Environmental Initiatives

For Immediate Release: April 1, 2015

Travis Proulx: 518-462-5526 x238

Budget Lays Framework for Environmental Initiatives

Statement from Executive Director Peter Iwanowicz

“This year’s state budget improves New York’s environment, particularly efforts on clean water infrastructure investments, brownfields reform, and protecting residents from the dangers of crude oil transshipment. Work remains on all of these issues – and many more – but we thank Governor Cuomo and state legislators for recognizing that changes and reforms were needed, and that’s what this budget provides.  

Regrettably, Governor Cuomo and legislators also agreed to two terrible policies, a raid of the state’s only climate action program, and yet another delay of the Diesel Emissions Reduction Act of 2006. The additional delay in diesel vehicle clean up means another year of illness and some premature deaths because dirty vehicles remain on our streets.

The raid of funds collected under the carbon pollution reduction program known as the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative (RGGI) is especially egregious. It provides climate deniers with a new opportunity to challenge the validity of the program and could very well lead to its demise. Since the impacts of our changing climate are all too real for so many New Yorkers, the last thing we should be doing is raiding funds intended to reduce the pollution that is fueling climate change. The President has called climate change the most pressing challenge facing the next generation. It is time for New York leaders to accept the moral obligation we have to our children and take action on climate change.

Drinking water and sewer infrastructure. This budget provides $50 million in matching funds available to municipalities for their upgrades, and $75 million in each of the next two budgets. Now that the program for including drinking water and sewer investments is part of the state budget, it should be standard operating procedure every year to identify need and invest in our communities’ drinking and sewer systems. Our needs are enormous and growing, and next year municipal leaders and advocates will be urging investments at the levels needed to protect public health, our environment, and facilitate true economic development.

Oil Spill Fund. In the last six years, crude oil shipments through our state have increased more than 4,000 percent. By all measures, New York is now part of the oil patch. Due to the lack of oversight and accountability imposed on this industry by state and federal governments, one of the few safeguards that New Yorkers have is the Oil Spill Fund. Industry fees pay for this program, and rates haven’t increased since 1977. This year, fees will finally go up and the cap will increase from $25 million to $40 million. Additionally, the Legislature listened to advocates and municipal leaders and rejected the Governor’s attempt to shift the fund from the Comptroller to an already understaffed Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC). Raising the cap on the Oil Spill Fund is not a silver bullet, but it’s a good start in recognizing the enormous dangers and risks that this industry has forced upon our communities. When a disaster happens  — and that time will come — it is only right that the costs of cleanup be shouldered by the industry, not our communities.

Brownfields reform. The current brownfields program is a boondoggle, having cost taxpayers more than $1.4 billion to clean up just 170 sites. The program, while well-intentioned, has become a giveaway due to structural problems that encourage large-scale, high-value development in already competitive real estate markets, while thousands of brownfields in communities that need public incentives languish. There are several positive reforms incorporated into the program, including greater incentives for cleaning up sites in the neediest of communities. Unfortunately, they only apply to New York City. To be sure, many of the most egregious abuses of the program have occurred in New York City – but certainly not all of them. In fact, many of the most costly projects have occurred in places like Westchester County and Syracuse, areas where the current program will largely remain as-is. Environmental Advocates will continue to review data in the years ahead, and we do hope these reforms lead to progress not only in New York City but across the state, otherwise the Upstate communities that have not benefitted from this program will continue to be left out in the cold. And that will hasten the need to expand this year’s reforms to the entire state.

RGGI Raid. In September, over 400,000 people converged on New York demanding action on climate change. Governor Cuomo responded by teaming up with the legislature on an unprecedented raid of RGGI, the state’s only climate action program. Governor Cuomo proposed a $36 million raid from this successful program, and both houses agreed to up the raid to $41 million. Some will be swept into another environmental fund, thereby cannibalizing the state’s environmental programs, while most of it will go to the General Fund.

DERA Delay. Diesel emissions hurt kids with asthma. Diesel emissions are bad for our communities and environment. It’s science, and that’s why Governor Pataki and state legislators enacted the Diesel Emissions Reduction Act of 2006, a common-sense measure to begin the retrofit of the state fleet to create less pollution. It was a win for communities with high asthma rates, and a win for the manufacturing sector upstate. And yet, in 2015 – five years after implementation was to be complete – many of the very same legislators who passed this bill are preventing it from becoming law. There is no other way to say it – their actions are hurting kids and causing some premature deaths in seniors, and the Governor and Assembly cannot accept another delay to this program.”