In the News  Archive

Guest Essay: Restore Environmental Protection Fund to $200 million

By Willie C. Janeway - Executive Director of the Adirondack Council

Across New York, prominent advocates for clean water, open space and community health have called on the governor and Legislature to use a small portion of this year’s surplus to restore environmental funding to the state budget.

Will New York’s leaders make the kind of investments in clean water, green jobs and infrastructure that are already working to protect the environment and stimulate the economy in the Adirondack Park?

Yes, the state is doing something right in your Adirondack Park.

It is working in partnership with leading environmental advocates (including the Adirondack Council), local towns and other stakeholders. Together, they have helped the Adirondack Park Agency and the governor develop a plan that will protect more than 24,000 acres along the upper Hudson River as a wilderness area. This plan also ensures 10,000 acres, including the magnificent Essex Chain of Lakes, will be a motor-free, primitive area.

This fall, I explored these lakes in a canoe. Later, I went hiking through the woods and rode a bike on old logging roads, then skied five of the lakes in mid-February. The state was right to buy these properties from The Nature Conservancy and protect them as motor-free and forever wild. They will be a tourism magnet for the surrounding communities, as recreationists discover them. We know from recent studies such investments return $7 to the economy for every $1 the state spends.

But to truly protect this resource in perpetuity — to ensure the local economy benefits from the recreational use and other benefits this asset offers — the state needs to do the right thing in Albany. We don’t want to miss this opportunity to restore the environmental investments needed to promote, manage and care for public lands and waters.

The governor and Legislature deserve congratulations for turning around a $10 billion budget deficit. They are making available $500 million to invest in priorities this year, while also providing tax cuts.

Given the fact environmental programs were cut so deeply in times of economic distress, it was disappointing to see the Environmental Protection Fund was not fully restored when the deficit returned to a surplus. Cuts to the EPF, as well as raids of its unspent funds by previous governors, have left a backlog of priority projects around the state.

While the EPF received a modest, partial restoration from $153 million to $157 million in the governor’s proposal, that still leaves the EPF far below the 2009 level of $250 million. Overall, the proposed budget includes a net decrease of $17 million in spending for renewable energy and the environment. The state should restore the EPF to $200 million.

Much is at stake. The state can seize the opportunity to create jobs, enhance tourism, improve outdoor recreation and local agriculture, reduce water and air pollution, improve management of waterways and conserve New York’s most precious natural resources.

The revenue is available. Over the next three years, more than $30 million in revenue generated by the state’s real estate transfer tax will no longer be needed to pay off the 1996 Clean Water Clean Air Bond Act. That revenue, if retained for environmental capital purposes, provides a simple way to restore most of what has been cut from the EPF.

This simple transfer would have no impact on other programs.

The Legislature and governor should capitalize on their success in the Adirondacks and export that success to all corners of the state by restoring the Environmental Protection Fund to $200 million by the April 1 budget deadline.

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