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Surprise environmental victories in the NYS Legislature’s Special Session


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Surprise! In a mid-July NYS Legislature Special Session, lawmakers got back to work on a surprisingly robust environmental agenda. These are dark times and we are all in need of some good news. Let’s start with the six bills that made it through the arduous journey of passing both the Assembly and Senate. In an upcoming article we will look at the legislature’s unfinished business that we hope they will take up in a potential August special session.

  • Protecting headwater streams. Peekskill HollowbrookSome 41,000 miles of “Class C” streams at risk from Trump’s Clean Water Act rollbacks could see new protections that also have big environmental justice implications. New York State not only protects Class A, B, and C(t) streams from course modification, bank disturbance and infilling, but also extends required permitting considerations for impacts to the headwater streams that feed these water bodies. Until the Trump Administration’s roll back of the Clean Water Rule, Class C streams –which do not receive the same level of state protection – had their head water streams protected by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. With the roll back, the ACOE can no longer require a 404 permit for disturbances to the waterbodies that feed class C streams. That is why we need to enhance state protection for class C streams to fill that void left by the new Trump policy. Senator Pete Harckham and Assemblyman Sean Ryan championed this legislation
  • Closing the frack waste loophole. New York State’s oil & gas waste loophole, which has enabled more than 608,000 tons of solid waste and 23,000 barrels of liquid waste shipped from Pennsylvania to New York landfills and wastewater treatment facilities for disposal — all of it exempt from hazardous waste regulations may close for good thanks to legislation sponsored by Senator Rachel May and Assemblyman Steve Englebright closing the loophole for good.
  • Debris, Sawmill River, YonkersPunishing illegal dumping. Illegally dumping or disposing of hazardous waste or construction and demolition waste will now risk facing higher classes of felonies if caught by the authorities under this new law sponsored by Senator Todd Kaminsky and Assemblyman Englebright. In Columbia County, construction and demolition waste were dumped on a property with wetlands that are hydrologically connected to the Hudson River. Despite Court orders to do so, the violator has failed to remove 18 years’ worth of dumped debris. The town spent over $250,000 fighting this individual to no avail. If signed, this new law will increase the cost of doing business for those who want to pollute our environment.
  • Toxic TCE Ban. The Grumman Plume on Long Island detailed by Newsday is one of the state’s worse environmental challenges. Legislation sponsored by Senator Kaminsky and Assemblyman Englebright would prohibit the use of trichloroethylene (TCE) as a vapor degreaser, an intermediate chemical to produce other chemicals, a refrigerant, an extraction solvent, or in any other manufacturing or cleaning process or use beginning December 1, 2021. TCE is an industrial cleaning and degreasing agent that readily evaporates into the atmosphere and is easily transported into groundwater. TCE is extremely toxic, carcinogenic and long term exposure is strongly linked to various types of cancer including kidney, lymphoma, testicular, and leukemia.
  • Ban on PFAS in Food Containers. Riverkeeper strongly supports legislation sponsored by Senator Brad Hoylman and Assemblywoman Pat Fahy to ban intentionally added perfluoroalkyl and polyfluoroalkyl chemicals in food packaging such as take out containers by December 31, 2022. Per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances are a class of toxic man-made chemicals used in consumer and industrial products. Perfluorooctane sulfonate and perfluorooctanoic acid are two of the most well-known chemicals of the more than 4,500 PFAS in the class PFAS chemicals have contaminated drinking water and fish at hundreds of locations, including in and around Newburgh. Exposure to PFAS chemicals in drinking water has been associated with an array of health concerns, including reproductive and developmental effects, thyroid and kidney diseases, and cancers.
  • Adirondack Road Salt Task Force. The Hudson Valley’s Cary Institute for Ecosystem Studies has conducted extensive research on the impacts of road salt application on water quality across New York State and determined that new technology and management practices are a critical component of addressing this growing crisis. The Adirondacks are home to the source of the Hudson River at Lake Tear of the Clouds on Mount Marcy and Riverkeeper is supportive of any effort to reduce road salt inputs into the Hudson River watershed. In the Adirondacks, twenty-five percent of the roadways within the park are managed by the NYS Department of Transportation. This legislation will create a task force charged with offering recommendations for best practices and levels of service that will accomplish reductions in road salt contamination of waterways and groundwater, in addition to maintaining road safety. The legislation will allow for NYS DOT to utilize recommendations from the task force in various pilot programs to test the efficacy of recommendations to accomplish the dual goals of the task force.

What’s next for these six bills? Well, they will head to Governor Cuomo’s desk for either his signature or a veto. With your help, we will see these important bills become law in New York.

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