The Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) has experienced staff cuts and constrained funding since 2003, while its responsibilities have grown, according to a report released in December by New York State Comptroller Thomas P. DiNapoli. “DEC’s staff has declined while funding has barely kept pace with inflation and now is projected to decline,” DiNapoli said.
DEC is responsible for most of New York’s programs to protect wildlife, natural resources and environmental quality. DEC programs range widely from managing fish and game populations and overseeing the extraction of natural resources to monitoring the discharge of pollutants and hazardous materials and cleaning up contaminated sites.
DiNapoli’s report, “Environmental Funding in New York State,” examines DEC funding and workforce in the context of its mission. The report also highlights receipts and spending in several of the state’s major dedicated funds for environmental purposes.
DEC spending was $795.3 million in SFY 2003-04 and $1 billion in SFY 2013-14. After adjusting for inflation, DEC spending rose by a total of 1.7 percent over the period examined. Since 2008, funding from state sources is down 15.1 percent. While federal funding has helped fill the gap, those resources are now declining as well. The state Division of the Budget projects that total DEC spending will decline this year and in each of the next three years by a cumulative total of 25.9 percent from the SFY 2013-14 level.
The size of the DEC workforce declined 10.4 percent, from 3,256 full-time equivalents (FTEs) in SFY 2003-04 to 2,917 FTEs in SFY 2013-14. It reached a peak of 3,779 FTEs in SFY 2007-08. Staffing in programs such as enforcement, air and water quality management, and solid and hazardous waste management has experienced significant cuts. Meanwhile, since 2003 several new programs have been added to the agency’s list of responsibilities. These include the Brownfield Cleanup Program; the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative; and the Waste Tire Recycling and Management Act.
DiNapoli’s report also notes that two of the state’s major funds dedicated to the environment – the Environmental Protection Fund and the Hazardous Waste Oversight and Assistance Account – combined have been subject to sweeps in excess of half a billion dollars to provide general state budget relief in the past.
Photo: DEC Forest Rangers and volunteers gather for a search and rescue operation. Courtesy DEC.