A coalition of groups advocating for environmental reform sent a detailed memo to Governor Andrew Cuomo and the New York State Legislature today, hoping to make environmental issues a priority for the freshly installed government.
The report calls for tighter regulations on natural gas drilling and water extraction, urges the state to develop a comprehensive plan to lower emissions and suggests ways to resuscitate environmental agencies that are reeling from deep budget cuts.
According to the report, the The Department of Environmental Conservation and the Office of Parks, Recreation and Historic Preservation are both “in need of rescue,” working with 1,000 fewer employees and half of the budget of 20 years ago. Similarly, the Environmental Protection Fund is facing a 47% budget reduction since 2008, exacerbating a $1 billion backlog in health, safety and basic maintenance projects at state parks, the report charges.
These agencies would be essential for overseeing natural gas extraction and water extraction. The report anticipates a boom in applications for drilling permits, to the tune of 1,500 to 2,500 annually, and seeks better oversight of high-volume hydraulic fracturing, or “fracking.” It also mentions the need for a statewide policy on water withdrawal. The report suggests offsetting the costs of increased monitoring with higher application fees for permits.
The report also emphasizes the need for energy innovation and emissions standards. The authors stress reforms that they say will generate jobs, such as investing in solar cell manufacturing. They set the ambitious goal of reducing emissions 80% by 2050, largely by enforcing the cap-and-trade system enacted by the 2009 Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative. New York was one of ten states to sign on.
Other suggestions include imposing a five-cent tax on disposable paper and plastic bags, requiring cleaning product manufactures to disclose potentially harmful ingredients they are using, and reforming the troubled Brownfield Cleanup Program by eliminating wasteful tax incentives.
The report was put together by a number of green groups, including the Adirondack Council, Adirondack Mountain Club, American Lung Association in New York, Audubon New York, Citizens Campaign for the Environment, Empire State Future, Environmental Advocates of New York, Environmental Defense Fund, Natural Resources Defense Council, New York League of Conservation Voters, New York Public Interest Research Group, Pace Energy & Climate Center, Sierra Club-Atlantic Chapter, The Nature Conservancy New York, and the Tri-State Transportation Campaign.