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Conservation Advocates Gather in Albany

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Conservation Advocates Gather in Albany, Call on State Leaders to Increase Investments in Environment

For Immediate Release:
February 12, 2014

Contact:
John Sheehan, Adirondack Council, jsheehan@adirondackcouncil.org, 518-441-1340
Jessica Ottney Mahar, The Nature Conservancy, jottney@tnc.org, 518-669-5067
Travis Proulx, Environmental Advocates of New York, tproulx@eany.org, 518-462-5526 x238
Dan Hendrick, NY League of Conservation Voters, dhendrick@nylcv.org, 212-361-6350 x206

ALBANY, N.Y. – Advocates for New York’s clean water, clean air, parks, farms and forests called on the NYS Legislature to restore funding to the Environmental Protection Fund (EPF) that suffered deep cuts in recent years, using the state’s budget surplus to reinvest in environmental programs that also create jobs and provide property tax relief.

At the same time, key Legislative leaders are urging their colleagues to add money to the EPF as they negotiate the budget and approve a final spending plan between now and the April 1 deadline.  Recent statewide polling shows strong support for a significant increase in environmental spending this year, said the Friends of New York’s Environment, a coalition of more than 100 New York organizations.

The coalition called for a restoration of the EPF to $200 million, noting that the state budget has gone from a $10-billion deficit to a projected $2-billion surplus.

However, the Governor’s budget plan calls for an EPF of $157 million, up only $4 million from this year’s budget.  That $4-million restoration was made possible by amendments to the state’s Bottle Bill in last year’s budget, passed in 2013, long before this year’s surplus was announced.  The EPF stood at $250 million as recently as 2008-09.

Members of the coalition will meet with nearly 100 members of the Legislature and their staffs today to discuss how the Environmental Protection Fund benefits both the economy and the environment.

William C. Janeway, Executive Director of the Adirondack Council said, “The Environmental Protection Fund has suffered deep cuts in the recent past.  Now that the state is back on solid financial footing, it is important that we restore vital environmental programs that protect clean water, safeguard communities from pollution and conserve open spaces.”

Marcia Bystryn, President of the New York League of Conservation Voters said, “Those same environmental programs spur the economy. Environmental projects funded by the EPF provide good-paying, long-term jobs and provide economic benefits to our communities.”

Peter Iwanowicz, executive director of Environmental Advocates of New York said, “The EPF is a proven model for creating jobs, stimulating local economies, and making New York a more desirable place to live and work. Governor Cuomo’s proposal for a nominal increase still leaves the Fund at a fraction of what it was once. The Legislature should increase the Fund to $200 million this year.”

Richard Schrader, New York Legislative Director for Natural Resources Defense Council said, “Landfill closures, recycling facilities, parks and other environmental infrastructure projects are too expensive for many communities to afford on their own.  Help from the EPF makes these important projects possible, while protecting people and communities from harm.”

 “A recent study by The Trust for Public Land shows a $7 economic benefit for every $1 invested in land and water conservation through the EPF,” said Andy Bicking, Director of Public Policy for Scenic Hudson.

The chairmen of the NYS Legislature’s Environmental Conservation Committees agree that more funding is needed for the EPF in this year’s budget.  Assemblyman Robert Sweeney, D-Lindenhurst, and Senator Mark Grisanti, R-Buffalo, are circulating letters among their colleagues asking for support for increases in the EPF this year.

Assemblyman Robert Sweeney said, “The EPF has served the State very well over the years - we need to increase funding. Although the economic downturn impacted the State’s resources it did not decrease the tremendous environmental need – projects ranging from water quality to farmland protection all need funding. The State needs to increase resources to help address the increased environmental needs.”

Senator Mark Grisanti said, “Now is the time to fight for an increase in the Environmental Protection Fund.  After years of fighting for increased funding our goal was finally realized last year.  This year's budget, which contains a minimal increase, must be increased to $200 million.  I am proud to be circulating a letter to every Senator asking them to join me in fighting alongside our environmental allies for this funding.  The EPF is but a fraction of what it deserves and should be.  I am proud to be the champion for increased funding, because for every $1 we spend in the EPF we generate $7 making this a no-brainer.”

“We are thrilled to see that Assemblyman Sweeney and Senator Grisanti are continuing to be strong champions for the EPF and working together to grow environmental funding,” said Jessica Ottney Mahar, Director of Government Relations for The Nature Conservancy in New York. 

“New York’s legislature has long led the nation in protecting our environment, parks and open spaces.  Today, we are grateful to Senator Grisanti and Assemblyman Sweeney who are continuing that tradition as leaders for the EPF,” said Kim Elliman, Chief Executive Officer of the Open Space Institute.

A recent public opinion survey shows that a majority of NY voters of diverse backgrounds and political party affiliations in every part of the state support enhancing the EPF. In the 20 years since the EPF was established, hundreds of communities across the state have realized the benefits of dedicated environmental spending, and this translates into strong support from local elected officials as well as the general public, the coalition explained.

This survey was conducted November 14-20, 2013 by Global Strategies Group at the request of The Nature Conservancy, Open Space Institute, The Trust for Public Land and Natural Resources Defense Council.  (For more detailed information about results of this survey, visit http://keepprotectingny.com/the-epf.html and see the memo.)

The majority of the EPF’s revenue comes from an existing Real Estate Transfer Tax, which is expected to generate more than $800 million in the current fiscal year, and grow to more than $1 billion over the course of the state fiscal plan’s five year outlook.  At the same time, the amount of RETT revenue needed to make the state’s annual payments on the 1996 Clean Water/Clean Air Bond Act is decreasing by millions annually providing an opportunity to increase the EPF without increasing overall environmental spending.

Ethan Winter, New York Conservation Manager for Land Trust Alliance said, “Land trusts across the state appreciate the Governor’s confidence in the EPF’s Conservation Partnership Program which supports local efforts to engage landowners and community partners to advance New York’s open space and regional economic development goals.  There are pressing needs for greater investment to protect our environment, promote public health, and support our state’s tourism, outdoor recreation and agriculture industries.  Along with many New Yorkers, we strongly support the call for a $200 million EPF.”

Neil Woodworth, Executive Director of the Adirondack Mountain Club said, “New York needs to restore environmental funding and the Legislature should work toward a much larger EPF in the future.  Environmental protection is essential to a strong economy and our public health.”

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