The Adirondack Council offers our praise to Gov. Andrew Cuomo for declaring that New York would lead the response to the “federal assault” on environmental protection and a host of other progressive issues in his State of the State Address.
We are pleased that the Governor proposed a strong environmental response to the policy changes enacted by the Trump administration. He also made it clear that he views the Adirondack Park as a national treasure and a legacy we hold in trust for future generations. His recent work to remove an oil train junkyard from the park is one recent example.
The Governor’s State of the State formal policy book noted:
“The Adirondack Park is the largest parkland in the continental United States, larger than Yellowstone, Yosemite, Glacier, Grand Canyon and Great Smoky Mountains National Parks combined. Governor Cuomo has made unprecedented investments to protect the unparalleled natural wonder of the Adirondacks and support the inherently connected tourism industry. In 2016, nearly 12 million people visited the Adirondack region – 250,000 visitors more than the previous year – generating nearly $1.35 billion in direct visitor spending and supporting more than 21,000 jobs. All state-owned land within the Adirondack Park is Forest Preserve land and is kept protected in accordance with the will of New York’s voter since 1894 pursuant to the state’s constitution. It is to be kept “forever wild,” in recognition of the importance of preserving and protecting its irreplaceable aesthetic beauty and natural resources.”
The text notes that the Governor was pleased to see the Union Tank Car company (a subsidiary of Berkshire Hathaway) agree to remove its defunct oil tank cars from the park, but said he would continue to press the rail road to stop storing old rail cars on tracks that cross the Forest Preserve.
At a time when the federal government’s environmental agenda is heading in the wrong direction on clean air, clean water and wild lands, it is reassuring to see the Governor of New York express a vision clean energy, green jobs and pollution controls. That’s what the national agenda ought to be.
At six million acres (9,300 square miles), the Adirondack Park is the largest park in the contiguous United States. It contains most of the never-cut, old growth forests remaining in the Northeast, and 90 percent of its motor-free wilderness. Almost half of the park is public Forest Preserve, protected as “forever wild” by the state’s Constitution. The remainder is private timberland, estates, resorts, private homes and 130 rural communities, including nine villages.
There are about 130,000 year-round residents.
We were pleased with the Governor’s vow to intervene with federal regulators to halt an oil tank car junkyard on a remote set of railroad tracks between North Creek and Newcomb, adjacent to the protected Boreas River. A portion of the tracks are also located on the Forest Preserve.
The Governor – along with Attorney General Eric Schneiderman and Comptroller Tom DiNapoli – helped to persuade Warren Buffett to remove from those tracks more than 50 obsolete oil tankers owned by a Berkshire Hathaway subsidiary. The Governor also explained that his agencies also issued a cease-and-desist letter to the rail road company, Iowa Pacific Holdings, LLC of Chicago. And the Governor is filing a formal complaint with the federal Surface Transportation Board in an attempt to have the rail road declared abandoned. That would allow a new operator to do something more appropriate for the heart of the Adirondack Park.
The Governor also laid out plans to continue his successful expansion of the park’s tourism economy. Over the past decade, the Adirondack Park’s annual visitor totals have risen from 10 million to 12 million. The Governor to bring the World University Games back to Lake Placid in 2023. The Governor said “tourism means jobs.”
That must be coupled with strong stewardship and even stronger wilderness protections.
The Governor’s speech detailed clean water drinking water protection efforts, his administrations track record protecting open space, and reviewed new plans to protect the Hudson River and launch an expanded clean energy jobs climate initiative.
Major themes of the Governor’s speech included equality, justice, restoring the public trust in government, building infrastructure, improving education and expanding Parks.
The Cuomo administration had already committed to $300 million in environmental capital projects through the Environmental Protection Fund. He also continued this year the roll-out of more than $2.5 billion in clean water project funding for public water and wastewater treatment projects.
We noted that the Adirondack Council was concerned that fiscal constraints could curb some of the effectiveness of the Governor’s agenda, especially with recent changes in federal tax laws looming over the state budget process.
We will be watching and advising the Governor and his agencies during the budget process and during their upcoming decisions on key issues. We also look forward to legislative initiatives, including reform of the Adirondack Park Agency’s outdated regulations for development on the park’s private lands.
The Administration in Washington is rolling back national wilderness preservation, and protection for clean water, clean air and acid rain. In New York Governor Cuomo can secure Wilderness protection for 30,000 acres and the Boreas Ponds, preserving and providing public access to every generation of New Yorkers, for the crown jewel of the Adirondacks.
In addition, Governor Cuomo can support an Adirondack Diversity Initiative partnership that is an example to the country how to be open and inclusive for all people, regardless of background, race, religion or means. And Governor Cuomo can ensure that progress restoring Adirondack waters that have been harmed by decades of acid rain. The Governor’s vision detailed in the State of the State suggests that these will be budget priorities.
The State of the State is an annual opportunity to make lots of promises. Next comes the budget and actual actions by the Governor’s Agencies. That is where the Governor has the greatest opportunity to preserve the legacy of the Adirondacks for future generations.