- Cuomo Urged to Back Down from Clean Water Raid for Tappan Zee

For Immediate Release: June 26, 2014Travis Proulx (Environmental Advocates): 518-462-5526 x238Laura Haight (NYPIRG): 518-588-5481

Cuomo Urged to Back Down from Clean Water Raid for Tappan Zee

Federal Government Concerned Plan Could Undermine Clean Water Act

Albany – Environmental and public interest groups have called on the six members of the state Environmental Facilities Corporation (EFC) board to reject – and Governor Cuomo to completely back down from – a dangerous plan to raid more than $500 million meant for clean water projects (like sewage system upgrades) to pay down the costs of his Tappan Zee Bridge replacement.

In a newly released letter to the Cuomo Administration, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) cites significant concerns with the unprecedented attempt at diverting clean water funds, and is seeking information that, to date, the Administration has been unwilling to fully disclose to the public and decision-makers.

The EPA provides the seed money ($4.1 billion since 1990) that has enabled the EFC’s Clean Water State Revolving Fund to exist.

Governor Cuomo’s unilateral raid despite an ongoing EPA review sets a dangerous precedent for how states nationwide can use these much-needed funds; New York alone is grappling with more than $36 billion in unmet clean water and wastewater treatment demands over the next 20 years.

Facing increased criticism over the lack of a funding plan for the new Tappan Zee Bridge and potential Thruway Authority toll increases, the Governor secretly sought to rush his very costly plan through with virtually no oversight from the public or the state and no green light from the federal government.

Brian Smith, associate executive director of Citizens Campaign for the Environment said, “From Buffalo to Bay Park, communities across the state are suffering from untreated sewage polluting local waterways, closing beaches, and backing up into homes. Governor Cuomo’s short-sighted proposal to raid the CWSRF for a transportation project flies in the face of efforts to address the state’s sewage crisis, and should be rejected outright.”

Peter Iwanowicz, executive director of Environmental Advocates of New York said, “The decision to barrel ahead with this dangerous loan even as the federal caution has told them to hit their brakes reflects the arrogance around financing this new bridge. Not only will Governor Cuomo’s actions negatively impact our state, it could undermine support for clean water programs nationwide.”

Marcia Bystryn, president of the New York League of Conservation Voters said, “Clean-water funds have never been used for a transportation project before – and we shouldn’t start now. If approved, this would set a very bad precedent, especially considering the huge backlog of wastewater projects across the state. We urge the Environmental Facilities Corporation Board to reject this proposal.”

Laura Haight, NYPIRG’s senior environmental associate said, “The Governor’s proposed use of clean water funds for bridge construction is a complete distortion of what the program was intended for. Calling this a ‘minor modification’ to the state’s plan is like calling the Pulaski Skyway an ‘access road to the Lincoln Tunnel.’  The EFC Board has a fiduciary responsibility to ensure that the questions raised by this action are thoroughly addressed before moving forward.”

Paul Gallay, president of Riverkeeper said, “Using funds meant to repair aging water treatment plants for basic bridge construction expenses is a desperate move designed to help pay for a transportation project without a proper financing plan. So vote away, if you must, Governor.  This loan simply won't stand up on independent, objective, outside review.”

Veronica Vanterpool, executive director of the Tri-State Transportation Campaign said, "Using clean water funds to keep tolls low is an environmental aberration. The best toll relief is transit, which gets people out of their cars and reduces toxic pollutants that threaten our water and air resources. Furthermore, if this was indeed a legitimate use of funds, it should have been included in the financial plan submitted to the federal government at the onset of the project.”

###