In the News  Archive

Shortchanging New York's Environment

The New York Times

A mere $250 million a year to protect air and water quality, manage solid waste, conserve open space and save family farms is a trifle in New York State’s enormous annual budget. Yet that modest sum was the prerecession high point for the Environmental Protection Fund, the state’s main source of revenue for these and other important purposes.

Now, even as he unveils a budget of $137 billion for 2014 and boasts of economic revival and an eventual $2 billion surplus, Gov. Andrew Cuomo would limit the fund to a paltry $157 million. That’s not enough for the basic environmental needs of a very large state.

To Mr. Cuomo’s credit, his administration has made some progress in protecting the environment in other ways, especially with its wise use of federal funds after Hurricane Sandy to clean up polluted areas, convert destroyed neighborhoods into wetlands and channel more funding into recreational areas. Mr. Cuomo also has created a “Green Bank” to underwrite clean energy development. These are all fine ideas. Over all, however, total state spending on energy and the environment would decline in the governor’s new budget just as the needs of his state are growing.

For example, the state has yet to make the final purchases in its planned acquisition of 69,000 acres in the Adirondacks once owned by Finch Pruyn, a timber company, including a pristine parcel in the High Peaks Wilderness. Almost 1,100 acres in the Hudson Highlands need protection from development, as do the food-producing farms along the Hudson River and on Long Island, where the price of land grows by the season. Farmland preservation programs have slowed to a near standstill.

Communities are begging for recycling help and waterfront protections. The modest $4.6 million budget to fight invasive species that destroy the native ecosystem, like the Spiny water flea or the Asian clam, should more than double.

Environmentalists have asked the governor to increase the state environmental fund to $200 million — a reasonable and achievable objective. Some of the state’s real estate transfer tax is supposed to be diverted to the fund; the tax is expected to yield nearly $900 million over the next year. The law requiring the recycling of bottles is supposed to be another source of revenue, but only $20 million of the anticipated $100 million in recycling money is earmarked for the fund.

In short, the money is there. It’s not asking too much of Mr. Cuomo to use some of it for these very basic needs.

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