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Riverkeeper to Testify at Hearing on Proposed 2015 DEC Budget

Leah Rae, Riverkeeper, (914) 478-4501 ext. 238

Calls for budget to address New York’s deepening crisis in water infrastructure spending, growing threats from crude oil shipments, and sharp declines in clean water act enforcement

OSSINING, NY – January 28, 2015 – Riverkeeper will provide testimony today at the New York State Senate & Assembly Environmental Conservation Committees’ joint hearing on the impacts of the proposed 2015 State Budget on the Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) urging, among other things, increased funding for water infrastructure projects statewide, and enhancement of funding to prevent or respond to crude oil spills associated with the stratospheric increase in shipments of such products within the Empire State.

“New York is at a crossroads on the environment,” said Riverkeeper Staff Attorney Michael Dulong, who will deliver the organization’s written testimony. “For years, we were the gold standard among state environmental programs, but annual shortfalls of $800 million in water infrastructure investment coupled with 64% cuts in enforcement of clean water laws since 2010 now place our environment deeply at risk. It’s time to reinvest in our environment and become leaders in the fight for clean water once again.”

“We thank the Governor for increasing funding for the Hudson River Estuary Management program in his proposed budget.” said Paul Gallay, Riverkeeper’s president. “And, for recognizing, as he did in remarks to the Association for A Better New York on January 20th, that the Hudson is ‘probably the most environmentally sensitive river in the country.’ However, without adequate infrastructure spending, better enforcement of our clean water laws, and stronger measures to prevent or respond to oil spills, it’s just a matter of time before the Hudson and New York’s other waterways start to suffer from the deepening pattern of neglect called out in our testimony today.”

Here are the key points addressed by Riverkeeper in its Senate/Assembly testimony:

NY Must Re-invest in Its Water Treatment Infrastructure

According to a recent Comptroller Report, “Growing Cracks in the Foundation,” New York currently suffers from an $800 million annual shortfall in wastewater infrastructure spending. DEC has documented that the statewide need for investment in wastewater is at least $36 billion, and that over 30% of our water treatment facilities are more than 60 years old, though they were designed to only last 30 to 40 years.

Despite this unquestionable need, and over $5.4 Billion in available funds from bank settlements in 2014, the 2015-2016 Executive Budget does not allocate any new funds specifically for wastewater or drinking water infrastructure.

Crude Oil Shipments

The risk created by the massive increase in crude oil transport through New York State in recent years demands immediate legislative attention. Here are Riverkeeper’s key calls to action in connection with oil spill prevention and response:

  • The State’s oil spill fund “cap” must be raised above the $40 million figure proposed by the Governor, which is simply insufficient to protect New Yorkers and their natural resources. A $97 million cap, which would simply adjust for inflation the $25 million cap set originally in 1977, should be the minimum figure considered. A significantly higher cap would be justified, given the equally significant risk of a major crude oil spill, which could wipe out the entire fund.
  • Responsibility for the Spill Fund should not be transferred from the Comptroller to DEC, as the Governor proposes. We recommend that the Spill Fund remain under the fiduciary control of the Comptroller’s office with the legislative direction that that Office seek input from state and local emergency officials to guide the creation of a separate spill preparedness fund under its auspices.
  • Major Onshore Storage Facilities, such as the Global and Buckeye oil terminals in Albany, as well as all other crude oil operators within New York, should be required to demonstrate the financial capability to pay for a worst-case scenario spill.
  • The state must close the loophole that allows an astonishing 780 to 1560 oil trains traveling through New York each year to avoid paying any Spill Fund fees, and must raise liability limits for all responsible parties involved with a spill to the maximum federally allowed to permit the Spill Fund to recover the costs it incurs for those spills.

Clean Water Act Enforcement
Enforcement of water pollution laws in New York State is in free fall. DEC data, reported to EPA and cited in a recent Comptroller’s report, demonstrate a 20% increase in significant noncompliance with clean water permits since 2010. Yet, there has been an astonishing 64 percent drop in water law enforcement at DEC since 2010. Disproportionate cuts to DEC staff have cost the agency between 25 and 30 percent of its workforce – far beyond cuts to the average state agency. This trend must be reversed, if New York is to reestablish any true balance between environmental protection and economic growth.

Read Riverkeeper’s testimony.

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