June 27, 2006
It's time to see some action in Albany
With the legislative session drawing to a close, issues critical to protecting New York’s waters and its communities are at risk of going unaddressed. While three of the environmental community’s priority "Super Bills" have passed the Assembly thanks to the leadership of Assemblyman Tom DiNapoli and others, not one has made it to the floor of the Senate for a fair up and down vote despite enjoying enough support to pass.
Lawmakers in Albany can’t point to a lack of support for these bills among their constituents. The environmental community’s Super Bills have widespread support in both houses of the legislature and among New Yorkers from Niagara Falls to Montauk Point, from the Adirondacks to the mouth of the Hudson.
So what’s the hold up? Politics as usual.
The Community Preservation Act would allow municipalities to put preservation funding to a local vote, without first receiving the permission of the legislature. No more, no less. It would give New York’s cities and towns the option of voting to create a small real estate transfer fee of up to two percent to support efforts to protect their heritage. The legislation enjoys support from municipal governments, the farming community, historic preservationists, and conservation groups, but has been bottled up by some members of the Senate and pro-sprawl development interests. However, several senators in areas most affected by poorly planned development are pushing to see this bill become law, but they need the support of leadership to make it happen.
The Clean Water Protection/Flood Prevention Act would close a gaping loophole in wetlands protections across the state. The bill would ensure that wetlands less than 12.4 acres in size are protected. These small wetlands are important for filtering pollutants and runoff from our drinking water supplies and for buffering us from flooding. The majority of senators support protecting our drinking water supplies and preventing flooding, but a powerful minority fail to see the importance of doing so.
The Bigger Better Bottle Bill would update New York’s most effective recycling and litter prevention program to include non-carbonated beverages like bottled water, iced tea, and sports drinks. It would also require beverage companies to return unclaimed deposits to the State’s Environmental Protection Fund to support recycling and other environmental programs. According to the Container Recycling Institute, expanding the bottle bill would capture about two billion bottles and cans per year that would otherwise end up clogging our landfills or polluting our communities. It would also generate as much as $179 million a year to protect New York’s environment.
The Environmental Protection Fund Enhancement Act would increase the dedicated fund for conservation and land preservation efforts to $300 million by 2009. The Fund is the principle manner in which state funds are made available to meet environmental needs. Estimated unmet need for environmental protections in New York’s urban, rural and suburban communities tops $10 billion. But debate on this bill has stalled, as the legislature and governor have come to a stalemate on approving this year’s Environmental Protection Fund. While there is agreement by all parties to invest $200 million this year, the deal has not been closed. So environmental funding for this year and future years is at an impasse because of politics in the Capitol.
The environmental community’s Super Bills are not just about protecting New York’s waters, lands, and our families’ health. They’re about protecting our communities and our quality of life. They’re about protecting New York’s history and heritage. The health of the environment is larger than one issue. The health of the environment affects our health and the health of our families. It provides us with jobs and revenue. It is the water we drink and the places we choose to call home.
New York lawmakers have a little more than two weeks to take action and stop playing games with our heritage and our families’ health. It’s time to see some action in Albany. Environmental Advocates of New York is asking the governor and state lawmakers to get to work before it’s too late and the places we cherish are lost forever.