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NYS Legislature concludes historic session for climate, environment & clean water

Let’s take a moment to celebrate: The New York State Legislature just concluded a landmark session that made positive strides in the fight against climate change. And, under the leadership of Senator Todd Kaminsky and Assemblymember Steve Englebright, the Legislature passed bans on single-use plastic bags, the harmful pesticide chlorpyrifos and toxic PFAS in firefighting foam, to help protect the state’s environment and water. Here’s a roundup of key victories that Riverkeeper and our allies helped achieve – and the work that remains ahead.

Climate Leadership and Community Protection Act. This landmark legislation establishes aggressive mandates to ensure New York achieves a 40 percent reduction in greenhouse gas emissions by 2030 and an 85 percent reduction in greenhouse gas emissions — with 100 percent carbon neutrality — by 2050. This is a historic achievement for Riverkeeper and the climate movement, stemming from years of organizing by frontline environmental justice activists as part of the New York Renews Coalition.

The agreement codifies Governor Cuomo’s goals to achieve emissions-free electricity by 2040, along with energy efficiency, battery storage, solar, and wind energy goals. It’s the most comprehensive and aggressive climate bill ever enacted at the state level.

New York’s plastic bag ban. Single-use plastic bags will be banned by March 1, 2020. Garment bags, prescription bags, produce bags, and others are exempt.

Counties and cities can opt into a 5-cent paper bag fee, as New York City has done. Three cents will benefit environmental programs and parks. Two cents will go to county or city government for customer education and reusable bag giveaways, with priority to low and fixed income New Yorkers.

Clean Water Infrastructure Act. The 2019-2020 state budget appropriated an additional $500 million in grants to localities for water infrastructure, for a total of $3.5 billion since 2015. These investments help prevent sewage overflows and protect drinking water The funds also help protect drinking water supplies by investing in land acquisition and water quality.

Chlorpyrifos pesticide ban.* This legislation prohibits the use of a toxic pesticide in New York State. Strong evidence suggests that chlorpyrifos may have significant adverse impacts on wildlife and human health. The National Marine Fisheries Service in 2017 reported that adult and juvenile Atlantic sturgeon, which are endangered, are at high risk from exposure because concentrations of the chemical would reduce their abundance and spawning productivity.

Ban on PFAS in firefighting foam.* This legislation begins phasing out the use of firefighting foams that contain these toxic chemicals. Exposure to PFAS chemicals in drinking water has been associated with reproductive and developmental effects, thyroid and kidney diseases, and cancers. The bill includes limitations and exceptions, however. Stronger actions at the state and federal levels will be necessary to protect communities like Newburgh, where the use of PFAS-containing firefighting foam at an airport and an Air National Guard Base polluted the city’s primary drinking water source.

Protection for a vital fish species. A new law prevents the use of “purse seines” – the enormous nets being used by industrial fishing operations to harvest Atlantic menhaden, or “bunker” – in New York State waters. New York has put the fishing industry on notice: The public is stepping up to protect these fish. We need to protect menhaden and the marine life that relies on them for food.

Prohibition on offshore drilling-related activities in state waters. A new law prohibits drilling off the coast of New York and prevents state agencies from processing applications for pipelines or any other transportation / distribution services needed to facilitate offshore drilling. It came as a reaction to President Trump’s proposal to open nearly all U.S. coastal waters to oil and gas exploration.

Banning 1,4 Dioxane in household products.* Pending Governor Cuomo’s signature, NYS will prohibit the sale of cosmetics or cleaning products containing 1,4-dioxane, a carcinogen prevalent in many common household cleaning products and cosmetics, by the end of 2024.

Protecting Indian Point workers and local tax base.* Legislation from Senator Pete Harckham and Assemblymember Sandy Galef helps assure continued union jobs during the closure and decommissioning of the nuclear power plant.

*We are counting on the Governor to sign these important bills.

Looking ahead: Priorities for 2020

The 2020 legislative session begins in January. Here’s a preview of priority bills:

Expanding protections to New York’s Class C streams. Legislation sponsored by Assemblymember Sean Ryan and Senator Pete Harckham would add protections for thousands of stream miles in New York. Federal protections for small streams and wetlands have been under attack by the Trump Administration, making state-level oversight more important than ever.

Protecting New York’s freshwater wetlands. Currently, New York only protects freshwater wetlands 12.4 acres or larger if they are on a DEC-approved map. New York is the only state left in the Northeast without protections for small freshwater wetlands.

Expanding New York’s Bottle Bill. Expanding the bottle deposit program to include more types of bottles – including non-carbonated drinks – will increase recycling rates and reduce the pollution in our waterways.

Closing the fracked gas hazardous waste loophole. This proposed legislation would end the special exemption that currently allows the oil and natural gas industry to circumvent New York State requirements governing hazardous waste.

Banning toxic coal tar sealants. Coal tar sealants are a toxic product applied to roads, parking lots and even children’s playgrounds to seal asphalt. We urge the Legislature to join the ranks of other states and jurisdictions by banning them.

Oyster shell recycling tax credit. This legislation would bolster Billion Oyster Project’s work and oyster restoration efforts statewide.

Green roof tax abatement. Stronger legislation is needed to spur investment in this critical clean water technology.

Defending Indian Point’s Decommissioning Fund. New Yorkers have paid into a $2 billion decommissioning fund for the nuclear plant. Before we allow an underfunded decommissioning company to take control, the state must ensure that it will use these funds wisely to clean up the Indian Point site promptly and effectively.

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