News > News > Water Quality > Coalition : Economic Recovery Should Bring Restored Funding for Clean Water, Parks, Farmland, Pollution Control

Coalition : Economic Recovery Should Bring Restored Funding for Clean Water, Parks, Farmland, Pollution Control


Contact: Tina Posterli, 516-526-9371, [email protected]

ALBANY, N.Y. – Across New York State, prominent advocates for clean water, open space and community health called on the Governor and Legislature to make restoration of environmental budget cuts and the Environmental Protection Fund (EPF) a priority.

The organizations congratulated the Governor and Legislature on turning around a $10-billion budget deficit, making available $500 million to invest in priorities while also providing tax cuts. However, they expressed disappointment that some of that $500 million and other previously dedicated clean water and clean air funding wasn’t directed to the EPF, where funding has been slashed in recent years to help balance the budget.

Without changes, the state will miss real opportunities to create jobs, enhance tourism, recreation and local agriculture, reduce water and air pollution, improve management of waterways and conserve New York’s most precious natural resources, they explained.

The organizations asked the Governor and legislature to restore the EPF to $200 million.

Under the proposed 2014-15 budget, modest increases in some areas are off-set by reductions in other areas. The Governor’s budget summary notes that total cash spending for renewable energy and environmental projects next fiscal year would drop by $17 million. The state will pay $12 million less to 1996 environmental bond holders in 2014 than it did in 2013. Rather than using this savings to further restore the EPF, this budget proposal transfers the savings to non-environmental spending.

“We are disappointed that, in a time of budget surplus, there appears to be a decrease in total environmental funding even after taking into account a modest and much appreciated partial restoration of the Environmental Protection Fund (EPF), said Adirondack Council Executive Director William C. Janeway. “That modest restoration from $153 million to $157 million was approved last year and still leaves the EPF far below the 2009 level of $250 million. We know New York can do better. We are confident that clean water, open space, parks, green jobs and the Adirondacks are a priority for the Governor and Legislature.”

“At a time when the Governor is predicting a budget surplus, a $157 million EPF is unacceptably low,” said Peter Iwanowicz, Executive Director of Environmental Advocates of New York. “Given the growth in the Real Estate Transfer Tax and reductions in state debt repayment on the 1996 bond act, the money is there. This budget proposal spends it on other things rather than investing in a cleaner, healthier New York.”

“Considering how the Governor has turned this state around economically, we had expected more from his budget, including restoration of some of the significant cuts made to environmental spending in recent years,” said ­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­Marcia Bystryn, President of the New York League of Conservation Voters. “While Cuomo’s plan includes funding for some top environmental programs, other critically important environmental priorities lag behind. A rising tide should lift all boats and a budget surplus should restore New York’s environmental spending to pre-recession levels. This proposal is not the kind of transformative vision we are seeing in education and elsewhere this year.”

“Partial restoration of the Environmental Protection Fund is a step in the right direction, but the funding level is way below what is needed to restore and protect the upstate region,” said Ramsay Adams, Executive Director of Catskill Mountainkeeper. “The Governor should be following through on his promise to help the economy of upstate New York with a greater investment in clean water, parks, farmland, and renewable energy as a way to create jobs, protect health and promote tourism and agriculture.”

“Over the past six years of New York’s economic recovery, the Department of Environmental Conservation has shouldered disproportionate cuts to staffing and funding – meaning less enforcement of pollution and less review of impending threats to our environment,” said Roger Downs Conservation Director for the Sierra Club Atlantic Chapter. “Now that the Governor is projecting a budget surplus, New York can no longer afford to keep environmental spending at austerity levels – not when our true prosperity relies upon the protection of our air, the purity of our drinking water and the health of our communities.”

Funding Sources More than Adequate

“Over the past two years, the EPF has seen a modest increase of $19 million using part of the revenues the state now collects from unclaimed bottle and can deposits,” said Laura Haight, senior environmental associate at the New York Public Interest Research Group (NYPIRG). “This barely scratches the surface of the state’s environmental funding needs. In addition to the Real Estate Transfer Tax funds, the state should be directing a far larger proportion of the more than $100 million in annual revenue it is now generating from the Bottle Bill, to fund vitally important programs like recycling, water quality improvement, and parks and open space.”

The money used to repay the 1996 bond act comes from the Real Estate Transfer Tax (RETT), which also funds the majority of the EPF. RETT revenues have increased since last year. It is currently generating more than enough revenue to make bond payments and still restore the EPF to $200 million, the organizations explained.

After funding the EPF and making bond payments, the remainder of the tax’s revenue (in some years $1 billion or more) has been diverted to other areas of the state budget. The loan payments on the bond act are fixed, but the Governor and Legislature decide how much of the tax revenue goes into the EPF – and how large the EPF becomes. Between state fiscal year (FY) 2011-12 and FY 2015-16 the state annual bond payments drop by $38 million and those funds could remain dedicated to the environment and help restore the EPF.

While the budget maintains state funding for core environmental, park and agriculture programs, it does not replace lost federal funding and the net effect is projected cut of $43 million for the Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC).

“Outside Hurricane Sandy’s path, there is little help for water infrastructure in the Governor’s 2014 Budget,” said Hudson Riverkeeper, Paul Gallay. “Think of all the people we could put to work and how much healthier New York would be if we invested in our aging water-quality infrastructure, which the state calls a ‘system in crisis.’ Recent reports demonstrate the value of infrastructure investment to local economies and the continuing need for economic stimulus, especially in upstate communities.

“Water infrastructure investment, in particular, can also drive continued growth in New York’s all-important tourism industry,” Gallay said. “Clean water and open space projects are just a few of the initiatives funded by the EPF that bring construction jobs, long-term employment and tax relief to communities, while providing obvious environmental and public health benefits to all. If augmented with long overdue surgical restoration of key priority staff positions at environmental agencies including DEC and Parks, we will have the necessary ingredients for a sustained and robust environmentally smart economic recovery.”

“Governor Cuomo has provided leadership in achieving win-win environmental and economic achievements through his innovative regional economic development councils, and his proposed $4-million increase to the Environmental Protection Fund is a step in the right direction. A $200 million EPF along with restoration of cuts to the DEC and land acquisition would support more job-creating green projects, restoration of the state farmland preservation program, and a boost to tourism, agriculture and the green infrastructure that attracts and retains jobs in the Hudson Valley and throughout the state,” said Ned Sullivan, President, Scenic Hudson.

The organizations said the $4 million partial restoration proposed for the EPF would be directed toward improved stewardship of public lands, farmland protection, and the Land Trust Alliance Conservation Partnership Program. It will come from a 2013 plan to regain unclaimed beverage bottle deposits.

Still, the organizations also cited billions of dollars in pressing environmental needs that could be addressed with a restored EPF, including managing exposure to pollution and invasive species, and creating and caring for municipal parks.

“Clean drinking water and clean, safe waterways, all strengthen and grow New York’s economy. Suppressing investments in protecting our environment jeopardizes public health and threatens the very natural assets which many of our communities highlight in order to enhance their local economy. Investing in sewage infrastructure, recycling, preserving land and eliminating invasive species are all investments of tax dollars, not expenditures,” said Adrienne Esposito, Executive Director of Citizens Campaign for the Environment. “Growing and strengthening New York can only be accomplished by preserving our land and water assets.”

The New York Works capital project program appears to be held steady at $135 million, according to the Executive Budget summary. Although state parks fare generally well in the Governor’s plan — with a capital investment the same as last year ($90 million) — there is still a long-term need to address the more than $1-billion backlog of deferred maintenance and infrastructure projects across the state’s 213 parks and historic sites. Also included in the $135 million is $40 million for a variety of conservation projects including improvements at state fish hatcheries and improved recreational access.

Support for Bond Act

The organizations said they supported a new bond act for clean water, environmental infrastructure and green jobs, which would allow the state to catch up on projects that had to be delayed under the reduced EPFs of the past five years. Legislative leaders have expressed support for a bond act.

“The Governor has demonstrated his commitment to the environment, partnerships, the protection, stewardship and improved public access to land and waters in the Adirondacks and Catskills, improved community resiliency and Parks on multiple occasions,” said Adirondack Mountain Club Executive Director, Neil F. Woodworth. “We and our environmental and local community partners look forward to working with the Governor and Legislature to restore cuts.”

“Local land trusts across the state appreciate the Governor’s confidence in the EPF’s Conservation Partnership Program which supports their efforts to engage landowners and community partners to further the state’s open space and regional economic development goals,” said Ethan Winter, New York Conservation Manager for Land Trust Alliance. “Given the pressing need for restored funding for strategic land acquisition and farmland protection across the state, we strongly support the call for a $200 million EPF.”

“State environmental funding matters to every New Yorker that cares about the quality of their drinking water, the source of their food, and their community’s ability to survive severe storms. Governor Cuomo’s budget proposal takes a small step in rebuilding state investment in the Environmental Protection Fund, but much more is needed to protect the working farms that grow our food, provide jobs in our communities, and keep our drinking water clean,” said David Haight, New York State Director for American Farmland Trust.

Prominent advocates for clean water, open space and community health across New York State who called on the Governor and Legislature restore environmental budget cuts including the Environmental Protection Fund (in alphabetical order):

Adirondack Council, William C. Janeway, Executive Director
Adirondack Mountain Club, Neil F. Woodworth, Executive Director
American Farmland Trust, David Haight, New York State Director
Catskill Mountainkeeper, Ramsey Adams, Executive Director
Citizens Campaign for the Environment, Adrienne Esposito, Executive Director
Environmental Advocates, Peter Iwanowicz, Executive Director
Hudson Riverkeeper, Paul Gallay, President and Riverkeeper
Land Trust Alliance, Ethan Winter, New York Conservation Manager
New York League of Conservation Voters, ­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­Marcia Bystryn, President
New York Public Interest Research Group, Laura Haight,Senior Environmental Associate
Parks & Trails New York, Robin Dropkin, Executive Director
Sierra Club Atlantic Chapter, Roger Downs, Conservation Director

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