Press Releases

Legislative Session Productive on Big Environmental Issues

Adirondack Priorities Make Progress, Not Enough

ALBANY, NY -- The 2019 NYS Legislative Session ended June 21 with some clear statewide victories for clean air, clean water and public health in the form of sweeping new laws that position New York as the global leader on climate change and provide grants for communities seeking to rebuild failing waste water and drinking water infrastructure. 

The Adirondack Council and other advocates for the preservation of the Adirondacks were disappointed when progress was limited on threats to the Park, including aquatic invasive species, misuse of all-terrain vehicles, and outdated controls on development. Disappointingly, two local legislators went against an Adirondack Common Ground Alliance generated and supported legislative priority – a bill designed to conserve open space and local property tax dollars by moving development closer together and closer to communities. 

However there were wins for local communities on roads and bridges, as well as a new program to advance diversity and inclusion.  

Communities Gain Land Bank

Community leaders of the Adirondacks were the big winners with the approval of a state land bank to carry out a recent Constitutional Amendment. The amendment authorized up to 250 acres to be used by local governments to straighten town and county roads through the Forest Preserve and to install water, electric and telecommunication lines on the shoulder. The Adirondack Council supported this effort.

“We are pleased that the park’s communities got everything they needed with the land bank,” said William C. Janeway, Executive Director of the Adirondack Council. “This was a priority and a big victory for local government officials, who were seeking some flexibility when working around town roads that cross the Forest Preserve. We congratulate Horicon Town Supervisor Matt Simpson, who has worked hard to make it possible to build a new Middleton Bridge over the Schroon River and make it easier for emergency vehicles to reach the homes on the other side.”

Climate Change Bill Historic in Scope

The Legislature approved the Climate Leadership and Community Protection Act, a landmark bill to combat the causes and minimize the impacts of global climate change. The legislation would reduce New York’s greenhouse gas emissions economy-wide by 85 percent by 2050, while eliminating carbon-based fuels from the electric grid. It also would allocate funds for communities impacted by climate change.  Supporters hailed it as the most aggressive state law in America. The Governor said he would sign it.

Senator Betty Little, R-Queensbury, and Assemblyman Dan Stec, R-Queensbury, who represent parts of the Adirondacks, voted against the bill.

“We were disappointed to see two Adirondack Legislators -- Senator Betty Little and Assemblyman Dan Stec -- vote against this bill, “Janeway said. “Regardless of political party, our state officials need to recognize and act upon the threat that global climate change poses for the waters, wildlife and communities of the Adirondack Park.”

Invasive Species

The Legislature renewed a law requiring boaters to take measures to prevent spreading invasive species from one lake or river to another, but refused a five year renewal. The Adirondack Council had advocated for an improvement to the law that would require decontamination prior to launch in any Adirondack lake or river and had opposed a five year extension without improvements. While the law was not strengthened, the Legislature extended the prior law by only one year. Legislative leaders also pledged to strengthen the law next year, and gave stakeholders time to consider how to make mandatory decontamination work and inform an improved and stronger bill for next year.

Clean Water in Budget

Back in April, the Legislature approved $500 million for clean water project funding, on top of the $2.5 billion the Governor has already made available for grants to communities over five years.  Many Adirondack communities have older systems in need of expensive repairs, or have no wastewater treatment system at all. This will help those communities with unfunded projects.

Environmental Capital Projects

Also back in the budget approved late in March, the Environmental Protection Fund included $33 million for the purchase and protection of open space, including $2.5 million for a Land Trust Alliance grant program and $200,000 for the Lake George Park Commission.  A proposal by Governor Cuomo’s division of budget to raid the EPF (a capital projects fund) by using it to pay for day-to-day administrative costs was rejected by the Legislature.   

 Diversity and Inclusion

For the first time, the budget also included an EPF funding authorization in the Environmental Justice category for $250,000 for the Adirondack Diversity Initiative (ADI).  This will allow the ADI to be transformed from an all-volunteer effort to a formal program with a home and a coordinator.  The Adirondack North Country Association, based in Saranac Lake, expects to hire the ADI coordinator as soon as possible.

“This should be just the boost ADI needs to create bridges of understanding between people of different backgrounds, cultures, races, ethnicities, sexual orientations and perspectives,” Janeway said.   “This will transform this effort from all-volunteer to something more permanent and effective.”  Funds for the initiative will come from a $7 million environmental justice category in the EPF.

Farm Grants

The Legislature in June expanded the New Farmers Grant Fund Program sponsored by Sen. Jennifer Metzger, D-Middletown, and Assem. Donna Lupardo, D-Binghamton, and supported by Sen. Racheal May, D-Syracuse. If signed, it would widen eligibility for support and training farmers in the Adirondacks can receive to build resilient, diversified farms that are economically viable, socially responsible and environmentally beneficial. A program of the Adirondack Council, Essex Farm Institute is an advocate encouraging the climate resiliency of local farms, promoting food for human health, protecting open space and acting as a catalyst for strengthening the business of food production in the Adirondacks.

Adirondack Park Agency Board

Advocates for preservation of the Adirondacks were uniformly disappointed that the Governor failed to nominate a full and diverse slate of new and returning candidates to the APA Board. The NYS Senate refused to approve a partial list of nominees, despite pressure from the Governor’s office and local government officials, insisting that the board needed diversity so it could fill its mandate to be independent, and provide oversight of other agencies. 

Any of the individuals nominated would have been acceptable if they were part of a full slate that included expertise in environmental law, conservation science or planning.  The Adirondack Council, Adirondack Mountain Club, Adirondack Wild: Friends of the Forest Preserve and Protect the Adirondacks! issued a joint statement explaining this prior to the end of the session.

The Governor had proposed only three nominees, then, at the last minute, a fourth nominee to fill seven seats.  There are seven seats vacant or whose occupants’ terms will have expired by the end of June. Senators rejected the governor’s half-slate, which was strong on local government, business and community development interests and made it clear that nominees needed more expertise in the tools needed to protect a national treasure. 

“Sen. EnCon Committee Chairman Todd Kaminsky stood up to great pressure in defending the integrity of the APA Board,” Janeway said. “We are grateful to him and Majority Leader Stewart-Cousins for understanding the important role the State Senate has, and for recognizing that the Adirondack Park is a national treasure under threat, requiring strong leadership and a full slate of nominees with the collective expertise to protect the Park.”

Forest, Wildlife Protections Scuttled

Reform of the APA’s rules for major subdivisions in remote locations made some progress as well, but also led to disappointment. A Conservation Design bill would have brought mandatory clustering of development and conservation of open spaces to safeguard wildlife, water quality and forest health on the Park’s most remote private lands. This bill had the support of the Adirondack Common Ground Alliance and the Adirondack Association of Towns and Villages, who joined with conservation organizations in a memo to the Legislature. 

Senator Little and Assemblyman Stec joined with members of the APA’s leadership to prevent the bill from advancing. The Adirondack Park Agency itself had concern about the proposal to update the Park Agency act to better protect open space.

“We are disappointed. We thought the Senator and Assemblyman had respect for the Common Ground Alliance process,” said Janeway. “This threatens future cooperation and compromise, but we are hopeful that with time everyone will support this consensus bill. We are hopeful that the bill can move early next year when the Legislature returns to Albany.”

ATVs on Radar, No Action

Legislation was introduced, but not approved, to better regulate the use of all-terrain vehicles and prevent them from damaging sensitive public lands in the Adirondacks and beyond. Legislative leaders in both houses said they would give the issue more attention in 2020. 

Ebikes

The Adirondack Council worked with sponsors to amend legislation allow electric bicycles to be registered.  The legislation says they will only be allowed on the Forest Preserve where the Dept. of Environmental Conservation authorizes them (consistent with other Forest Preserve safeguards). 

The Adirondack Council is a privately funded not-for-profit organization whose mission is to ensure the ecological integrity and wild character of the Adirondack Park. The Council envisions a Park with clean water and clean air, comprised of core wilderness areas, surrounded by farms and working forests, as well as vibrant communities. 

The Adirondack Council carries out its mission through research, education, advocacy and legal action to ensure the legacy of the Adirondack Park is safeguarded for future generations. Adirondack Council members live in all 50 United States.

For more information:

John Sheehan, Director of Communications, 518-441-1340

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE: Thursday, June 27, 2019

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