Jan 14 2014
New York State Has a Budget Surplus. Is That Good News for the Environment?
Photo credit: Wally Gobetz  via Creative Commons
January 14, 2014
New York State Has a Budget Surplus. Is That Good News for the Environment?

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“The potential for environmental progress in 2014 is greater than it has been for many years,” says the New York League of Conservation Voters.

And New York State’s projected two billion dollar budget surplus offers a window of opportunity. “Our state leaders can begin to chart a long-term course,” argued NYLCV President Marcia Bystryn in a statement yesterday.

Albany is back in session, and NYLCV is urging lawmakers to adapt the League’s 2014 policy agenda.

Facing climate change head-on is the League’s top agenda item, both in terms of converting the state to a clean energy economy, and preparing for rising sea levels and other effects. The League proposes siting wind energy facilities across New York, and “significantly” expanding the use of solar power as part of a renewable energy strategy.

The NYLCV also says that some of the state’s critical natural resources—such as Long Island’s drinking and surface waters- need greater protection, as does public health. Among other things, the League is proposing a Child Safe Products Act that “protects consumers from a broad set of harmful chemicals.”

But the thrust of the League’s policy agenda is that environmental protection can and must be linked to growing New York’s economy. To that end, the League is proposing a renewed focus on the state’s Brownfield Cleanup Program, which it maintains is a “significant catalyst for private-sector investment in the cleanup and redevelopment of contaminated properties.”

In her statement, NYLCV President Bystryn noted, “New York has long been an environmental visionary. In recent years, however, the state’s sights have been set too low…New York has been eclipsed by other states in many areas of sustainability.”

“Last year saw legislative successes in the areas of public health and local food, while important water-quality progress was made in the previous session,” Bystryn added. “Gov. Andrew Cuomo and lawmakers can build upon this foundation,” she said.

Money For The Department of Conservation?

One question for the Cuomo administration and lawmakers will be whether the state’s lead environmental agency, the Department of Environmental Conservation, will benefit from this year’s surplus after several years of staff cuts.

The DEC’s diminished size has been raised as an issue in discussions about whether high volume hydraulic fracturing can be carried out safely in New York.

The League noted that if the state were to ultimately decide to permit hydro-fracking, it must “ensure that all agencies (particularly the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation) have the staffing and resources needed to enforce the regulations and monitor compliance with permit conditions…designed to ensure that the impacts of hydraulic fracturing are appropriately mitigated and the public’s health and safety are protected.”

Photo credit: Wally Gobetz  via Creative Commons