Gov. Andrew Cuomo announced his 2020-21 budget proposal Tuesday, outlining a number of environmental initiatives and earning the support of several local organizations.
Expanding on the ban on single-use plastic bags, which will take effect in March, Cuomo is now calling for a ban on polystyrene. Other goals include banning hydraulic fracturing, known as fracking, and establishing a $33 billion initiative specific for reaching environmental milestones.
“New York’s leadership on hydraulic fracturing continues to protect the environment and public health, including the drinking water of millions of people, and we must make it permanent once and for all,” Cuomo said Wednesday.
Fracking is a technique used to extract natural gas from rock. When used in conjunction with horizontal drilling, there can be adverse impacts, according to governor.ny.gov.
“In 2014, a review by the state Department of Health found significant uncertainties about health, including increased water and air pollution and the adequacy of mitigation measures to protect public health,” according to governor.ny.gov. “Given the red flags raised by existing research and absent conclusive studies that disprove health concerns, DOH recommended that the activity should not proceed in New York state.”
The state Department of Environmental Conservation officially prohibited the practice in 2015, concluding a comprehensive seven-year review that examined potential environmental and health impacts associated with fracking, according to governor.ny.gov.
DEC Commissioner Basil Seggos voiced his support for the ban in a statement Wednesday. “Gov. Cuomo has detailed the biggest and boldest environmental agenda in the nation, and the permanent ban of hydrofracking is a critical part in ensuring the protection of water quality, transitioning from fossil fuels and continuing our role as a climate leader.” Seggos said.
Local environmental watchdog Riverkeeper commended the governor for his efforts.
“We applaud Gov. Cuomo for proposing to make the ban on fracking permanent in law,” Riverkeeper Legislative Advocacy Manager Jeremy Cherson said. “This proposal, if approved in the final budget agreement, will protect New Yorkers and our environment from the actions of a future administration. Riverkeeper is excited to support this proposal to ban Styrofoam packaging in food service and notorious packing peanuts,” Cherson said. “Styrofoam packaging is one of the most common items Riverkeeper finds along the shores of the Hudson River. New York City and other communities in the state have already phased out the environmentally damaging packaging, which is derived from fossil fuels, polluting our water and climate.”
The budget proposal included the most aggressive climate change plan in the nation, Cuomo said.
“Setting goals without the means to achieve them is b...you know what,” Cuomo said Tuesday. “That’s right, it’s baloney. That is a big bologna. But I digress. We have to do it faster. It currently takes five to 10 years to begin constructing a new energy project. You can’t have the goals we have and then have a system of bureaucracy that takes five to 10 years to start a new energy project, it just does not work.”
The $33 billion will be distributed over a five-year period, with $3 billion for the Restore Mother Nature Bond Act, $740 billion for resiliency and environmental conservation, $9 billion for offshore wind, $6 billion for land-based renewables, $1.9 billion for clean energy research, $1.1 billion for the green bank and $1.5 billion for electric transit buses and charging stations.
Riverkeeper was pleased with the ambitious agenda set forth by the governor.
“We’re over the moon at the $33 billion plan over five years to address climate change including a $3 billion Restore Mother Nature Bond Act,” Cherson said. “In addition to the bold clean energy initiatives, the Restore Mother Nature Bond Act can give New York’s animals stressed by the climate crisis and years of exploitation a fighting chance to recover and thrive. Nearly all the Hudson’s iconic fish are in serious long-term decline including the ecologically and economically important striped bass. State investments protecting vulnerable animals and their habitats also help communities across the region at risk from sea-level rise and increased flooding through projects such as wetland restoration.”
Cherson also noted the proposed $145 million increase for the DEC and the additional $500 million proposed for the Clean Water Infrastructure Act.
Cherson said he believes additional staffing is necessary at DEC and hopes that additional funding can be secured for the Clean Water Infrastructure Act.
Riverkeeper was among several groups that called for a $50 million increase in the Environmental Protection Fund, Cherson said, adding that he hopes to see this increase in the final budget.
The current proposed commitment of $300 million for five years to the Environmental Protection Fund will conserve farmland and forests, protect resources in the Hudson River Estuary, help establish waterfronts and parks and address issues regarding solid waste and climate change, according to scenichudson.org.
“We applaud Gov. Cuomo’s proposals that will make the Hudson Valley a great place to live, work and visit,” Scenic Hudson President Ned Sullivan said. “The region’s environment plays a critical role in creating opportunity for our communities and for our children and grandchildren. From the natural lands along the river’s edge to working family farms and urban centers, the valley’s environment is full of promise. It supports our tourism economy, provides fresh food and creates a center to our cultural and economic lives.”
The $3 billion Restore Mother Nature Bond Act will conserve 4,000 acres in the Hudson Valley, improve boat launches and other public sites along the Hudson River, restore 10,000 acres of wildlife habitat, help reduce resistance to climate change, protect public lands for future use and prevent algal blooms, according to scenichudson.org.
“The governor’s proposal for an environmental bond act and robust Environmental Protection Fund continue his well-established leadership on the environment,” Scenic Hudson Director of Public Policy and Special Projects Andy Bicking said. “Scenic Hudson was encouraged by many elements of the governor’s budget address. We look forward to reviewing the details of his proposals and discussing these statewide and regional investments in the environment with the Legislature. Throughout this process, Scenic Hudson’s work will be guided by the impact the budget will have on community well-being, promoting the Hudson Valley’s regional identity and investing in strategies proven to address the environmental challenges of our time.”