Is the state’s lead environmental agency adequately resourced? Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) Commissioner Joseph Martens says that after a series of severe cuts in which the agency lost 20 percent of its staff, he does not expect to be hiring in the foreseeable future.
Referring to the condition of the state’s finances, Commissioner Martens told the Gotham Gazette, “We are trying to adjust to that new reality. I don’t think we can think about adding resources anytime soon.”
Commissioner Martens stressed that the DEC has not lost additional staff since Gov. Andrew Cuomo has been in office, and that this year’s budget added resources for badly needed DEC capital projects.
Sixteen months ago, representatives of some of the state’s leading environmental organizations wrote an open letter to then New York gubernatorial candidates Carl Paladino and Andrew Cuomo. The letter referenced “long-standing problems that are now endemic to New York State’s efforts to protect public health, provide stewardship of our lands, and prevent our air and water from being polluted.”
It described the condition of the DEC as “dire” due to disproportionate budget cuts and the loss of almost 800 agency scientists, engineers and enforcement officials in less than four years. The letter also discussed the “slashing” of the state’s Environmental Protection Fund by 40% in 2010.
According to the signers, the Fund’s diminishment left “municipalities and non-profit groups waiting for payments to support ongoing efforts to protect drinking water, reduce solid waste, and improve the quality of life in New York’s communities.” State support for the Fund has remained at the 2010 level of $134 million.