2019-20 New York State Budget Yields Environmental Victories

Governor Cuomo and the New York State Legislature included a number of important environmental funding and policy initiatives as part of the 2019-20 Budget, that was approved by both houses in time for the April 1st deadline.  The new Senate under the leadership of Andrea Stewart-Cousins and her 24 to 39-seat democratic majority helped forge agreement on a number of issues that had been gridlocked for years. Among the major budget decisions that the Sierra Club rallied support for and the legislature and the Governor implemented:
 
  • An Historic $300 million Environmental Protection Fund that maintains the integrity of the funding structure for critical programs like land acquisition, farmland and habitat protection, drinking water infrastructure and waste reduction.   
     
  • A $500 million Clean water infrastructure investment as part of a $2.5 billion, 5-year commitment to repair New York’s clean water systems, protect source water and eliminate drinking water contaminants.
     
  • A state-wide ban on plastic bags that ends the scourge of plastic pollution littering our parks, despoiling our communities and clogging our waterways.  While the Sierra Club is disappointed that the legislation did not include a mandate for state-wide fee on paper bag alternatives, there are provisions in the new law that allow NY counties to “opt in” to establish their own fees.   It has been demonstrated that fees play a critical role in changing consumer behavior and help foster the bring-your-own-bag mindset that reduces pollution overall. The Sierra Club is committed to working with counties across the state to establish a 5-cent fee on paper bags – the proceeds of which will go to local reusable bag programs and the Environmental Protection Fund.
     
  • A comprehensive food waste reuse and recycling policy that requires facilities that create more than 2 tons of food-for-disposal per week to divert that waste to replenish food banks, soup kitchens and shelters, and capture the methane from the rest of what is deemed inedible through digesters and composting programs.  This groundbreaking policy infuses both compassion and consideration of climate change into a chronic solid waste issue that has been waiting for this solution.
     
  • A Congestion Pricing plan for lower Manhattan that raises revenue for crumbling public transportation systems, while creating toll mechanisms that reduce traffic and vehicle emissions for New York City.

In addition, the Senate and Assembly acted before budget negotiations to jointly pass:

  • A Ban on all offshore oil and gas extraction in NY
    • The Trump administration announced in 2017 that 90% of America’s offshore waters would be open to oil and gas development, reversing an Obama-era ban on drilling. The new state law will ban all off-shore leasing to fossil fuel extraction as well as place restrictions on the distribution networks required to process any oil or gas derived from offshore development.
       
  • A Ban on Purse Seines for commercial harvesting of Menhaden
    • Current New York fishery permits allow for the harvest of menhaden, a staple Atlantic fish species, using large nets called “purse seines” that have the capacity to catch hundreds of thousands of fish and the marine animals that pursue them in a single cast. The new law will ban the use of this technique so as not to set back the recovery of this keystone species and repeat the overfishing mistakes of the past. 
 
Both bills await the Governor’s signature and he is expected to sign. (UPDATE: The Governor signed both bills into law. A ban on the use of purse seines for commerical harvesting of Menhaden was signed on 4/18/19 and a ban on all offshore oil and gas extraction in NY was signed on 4/29/19).
 
There is still much to be done in the second half of the legislative session. The Sierra Club looks forward to working with the Governor, the Senate and the Assembly in passing meaningful climate change legislation, strengthening laws to protect wetlands, establishing new rules to limit air and water pollution, and addressing toxics in consumer products among other important issues that need to be addressed before the conclusion of the legislative session in June.  Hopefully these initial budget successes are a prelude for what is to come.