Environmental Issues in the NYS 2017 Budget
April 10, 2017 Rich Schrader for the NRDC
Environmental Protection Fund (EPF)
Last year Gov. Cuomo just about doubled the EPF, a hodgepodge of land preservation, ocean conservation, clean water, park improvements and other programs, increasing the fund to $300 million. This year the EPF will be funded at the same level, including:
Ocean and Great Lakes – which will again receive $15 million (this program started in 2006 at $2 million). These funds will help sustain the state's cutting edge ocean and Great Lakes conservation work and advance important scientific research, management planning and restoration projects, including those found in the state's new Ocean Action Plan.
Catskills – in the EPF Land Acquisition and the Stewardship lines, the Catskills will receive $5 million for a variety of projects including trail maintenance and infrastructure upgrades, much needed now that the Catskill trail sites have became explosively popular with downstate hikers in the era of social media.
Pollinator Protection Plan implementation--$500,000 from the EPF will be provided to improve pollinator habitat across the state and research the impacts of the neonicotinoid class of pesticides on pollinators. Both loss of habitat and neonicotinoid pesticides have been linked to dramatic declines in bee populations nationwide.
Beyond the EPF and speaking of upgrades, this year's budget is highlighted by a $2.5 billion Clean Water Infrastructure Act that will provide funding for municipalities throughout the state to upgrade their drinking and wastewater facilities over five years. A broad coalition of environmentalists, labor unions, construction firms and business organizations have been successfully advocating for substantial funding for these projects. This is a dramatic leap forward from previous years. Undoubtedly part of the drive to get more dollars into these upgrades is the looming prospect of dramatic cuts to these programs at the federal level.
Some of the projects which will be funded from the Act include:
$1 billion for grants to localities for water infrastructure improvements
$200 million for New York City for projects located in the New York City watershed, some amount of which presumably will assist in further funding for the Catskills
$110 million for land acquisition for source water protections
$75 million for upgrades and replacements for septic systems and cesspools
$20 million for replacement of lead drinking water service lines
$50 million for Green Infrastructure grants, an item that was aggressively sought by the environmental community with some pushback in the budget-making process. In the end, more money came into this line than had initially been proposed.
Empire State Trail – The Cuomo Administration also got $77 million for the initial phase of his Empire State Trail into this year's budget deal. The Trail will run 750 miles, from Battery Park to Canada and east-west along the Erie Canal from Buffalo to Albany (there was much consternation among legislators that the trail didn't reach even more communities, though some concern over the final cost, estimated at $200 million, was also expressed).
Climate & Clean Energy – Building on his recent strong joint statement with California Governor Jerry Brown pushing back on the Trump administration's attempts to roll back progress on climate and clean energy at the federal level, Governor Cuomo stood strong in budget negotiations to ensure that Clean Energy Standard implementation stays on track. New York's continued leadership in this space is now more important than ever, including pushing for a stronger RGGI program to continue cutting carbon from the region's power plants, aggressively scaling up renewable energy from sources such as solar, land-based, and offshore wind, and helping to build clean energy capacity in New York's local jurisdictions.
Two other important environmental policy matters were decided at the end of the budget cycle, one inside the budget, one out:
Farm to Food Bank Tax Credit – While 14% of the state's population lack access to adequate food options, over 100 million pounds of fresh fruits and vegetables go unharvested annually. New York farmers sell over $750 million worth of edible food annually, but most of the state's small farmers earn little or no income. The Farm to Food Bank Tax Credit, included in this year's budget, will reimburse farmers for 25% of the wholesale cost of their contribution up to a maximum $5,000 tax credit to help alleviate expenses for labor, transportation and other costs of donating food. Since each maximum credit equals $20,000 of fresh produce, a state expenditure of $1 million would result in $4 million worth of food going to New York's emergency food programs. The Governor's proposed Food Recycling and Recovery Act did not make it into the final budget but we will continue to advocate for its passage as a critical step in addressing food waste across New York. The Food Recovery and Recycling Act would require the state's largest food waste generators to donate excess edible food to local food rescue organizations and to recycle food scraps, rather than sending them to pollution-generating landfills.
A crucial decision was made by the Cuomo Administration this week outside the hectoring budget process. On April 7, the Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) declined to grant a 401 water quality certification to the Northern Access Pipeline. This gas infrastructure project put several dozen DEC-designated protected trout streams at risk, largely endangering trout populations and general water quality in upstate New York. This is an important and much appreciated show of leadership by Gov. Cuomo and Commissioner Seggos.
Public Lands in Private Hands?
The Senate's confirmation this week of the former Montana congressman Ryan Zinke as secretary of the interior has revived concerns about the future of public lands in the Trump administration. While Mr. Zinke has branded himself as a Teddy Roosevelt-style conservationist -- and resigned as a delegate to the Republican National Convention last year to protest the party's support for transferring federal lands to states or private groups -- his record is spotty.
Just weeks ago, in early January, in one of his last acts as a representative, Mr. Zinke joined fellow House Republicans in voting for a rules package for the new Congress that makes it much easier for the federal government to transfer to state, local or even private control the public lands that rightfully belong to all Americans. According to The Hill, the new rules do this by prohibiting "the Congressional Budget Office from taking into account lost federal revenue from energy production, logging, recreation or other uses" when it analyzes the budgetary implications of proposed legislation.
By this move, Republicans essentially announced that they see zero value in the lands that this nation has paid and labored to protect for more than a century. They are greasing the skids to dispose of our collective property one chunk at a time.
These common lands are the glory of the continent. For three summers in my mid-20s, beginning in 2011, I worked on trail crews in the wild and rugged national forests of Idaho and Montana. Each morning, my crew would rise at dawn; we'd lace our boots, shoulder backpacks and go to work.
As Forest Service workers, we had a simple duty: to build and repair our country's public trails. Armed with picks, axes and saws, we spent our days chopping trees, hauling rocks, cutting brush, cleaning drains and constructing bridges.
We received little pay or praise, slept under the stars and labored in the sun. Our reward was fresh air, wildlife sightings and campfire camaraderie. When the day was done and we sat down to dinner, our calloused hands and aching backs testified to the exertions of our public service.
Those summers in the woods were the best of my life, and they have left me firmly dedicated to the roughly 600 million acres of national forests, grasslands, wildlife refuges and more that make up this country's conservation heritage. Many of my trail worker friends, meanwhile, still work for agencies like the National Park Service. Public lands conservation is a calling, and young Americans heed it. But for how much longer?
In January, Representative Jason Chaffetz, Republican of Utah, introduced legislation that called for the sale, or "disposal," of 3.3 million acres of public land in Arizona, Colorado, Montana and other Western states. He later withdrew that bill, under pressure from hunting and fishing groups, but another he introduced would eliminate hundreds of law enforcement personnel in the federal land agencies.
These actions are no anomaly. Senior Republicans are equally eager to gut the 110-year-old Antiquities Act, which President Obama used during his tenure to protect important L.G.B.T. and civil rights landmarks, secure sacred Native American sites and conserve vast areas of desert and ocean.
This anti-conservation agenda does not represent the interests of ordinary Americans but the desires of the wealthiest Republican donors. With their constellation of think tanks and advocacy groups, these donors have promoted the so-called land transfer movement, an effort to give Republican state governments control of most, if not all, of our national forests, wildlife refuges and Bureau of Land Management parcels. This effort, if successful, would destroy our conservation system and hand over huge tracts of priceless natural habitat to powerful private interests, particularly the fossil-fuel industry.
On Thursday, March 2, Mr. Zinke, wearing jeans and a cowboy hat, rode in to work at his new job in Washington on a horse named Tonto. He looked the part of the great outdoorsman. Now he must act it.
THIS IS A REPRINT OF AN ARTICLE WRITTEN BY JIMMY TOBIAS WHICH APPEARED IN THE MARCH 3RD EDITION OF THE NY TIMES
If you have questions or want to know more about conservation issues, please contact David Pisaneschi at: email@example.com or 459-5969.
Back to top