Members of the New York State Legislature can keep their summer vacation plans, as they have yet again finished the legislative session on time. Here’s a quick look back at some highlights (and lowlights) of the session that was:
Speaking of being on time, the legislature passed an on time budget for the second year in a row. That may not seem like much for those of us that have to be on time, well, every day, but this is the NYS Legislature we’re talking about. CCE and our partners in the Friends of New York’s Environment successfully advocated for the NYS Environmental Protection Fund (EPF) to be funded at $134 million, which is level with last year’s allocation. In a difficult economy, and a significant deficit to contend with, maintaining funding for environmental programs was far from a guarantee. Not only does the legislature deserve praise for getting their work done on time, they deserve praise for ensuring that EPF programs will continue to benefit every community from Buffalo to Montauk this year, supporting programs that protect our land, air, and water.
Sewage Pollution Right to Know
The Sewage Pollution Right to Know Act passed the on the very last day of the legislative session. Not only did this dramatic, last minute passage nearly give me and others at CCE a heart attack, it also provided CCE with a victory on our top legislative priority of the year. This legislation will provide the public with the right to know when raw or partially treated sewage overflows into our waterways, so that New Yorkers can avoid exposure to dangerous sewage pollution. CCE strongly believes that a trip to your favorite beach or fishing spot should not unknowingly become a trip to the emergency room. The bill will soon be sent to Governor Cuomo for his signature.
Environmental Protection Fund Enhancement
One of New York’s most successful environmental laws is the Bottle Bill, which puts a 5 cent deposit on certain beverage containers, thus increasing recycling and reducing litter. When New York expanded its Bottle Bill to include bottled water a couple years ago, it also began putting the unclaimed deposits into the state’s general fund, instead of becoming windfall profits for corporations like Coke and Pepsi. CCE has advocated that the unclaimed deposits, which add up to more than $100 million annually, should be used to support environmental programs. Legislation was passed this session that would phase Bottle Bill revenue into the state’s Environmental Protection Fund over six years, beginning with $10 million next year, up to $56 million in six years and years after. This bill has yet to be sent to the Governor.
Work Left Undone
While the session did bring some significant environmental success, the legislature did fall short on a number of pieces of important legislation. The Solar Jobs Act, which would establish a long term commitment to solar that would allow the solar industry to thrive in New York, failed to pass. New York has vast untapped solar potential, and CCE and our partners in the Solar Jobs Coalition will continue to push for a long term solar policy in NY (and the clean energy, jobs, and economic development that come along with it) next session.
News surfaced recently that the NYS Department of Environmental Conservation had given the natural gas industry exclusive access to fracking regulations before the public or environmental groups, which may have resulted in watering those regulations down in the process. Not only does this raise significant ethical issues and a breach of the public trust, but it also elevates the importance of the legislature’s role in ensuring that our land, air, water and people are protected from fracking. Unfortunately, however, the legislature failed to pass any meaningful legislation dealing with fracking this session. The Assembly deserves praise for passing a bill that would require an independent health impact assessment on fracking, although the Senate failed to act. Despite inaction from the legislature, CCE will not let up and will continue to demand that Governor Cuomo protect New York from the inherent dangers of fracking.