Conservationists had much to applaud after Gov. Andrew Cuomo and the Legislature passed a State Budget that will protect clean water, buy new park land, resist invasive species, build more resilient trails and make the park more welcoming place for all state residents.
Conservationist also had a right to wonder why the budget included no additional staff at key agencies, and why the state didn’t pass comprehensive legislation requiring the state to meet new carbon emissions goals. The budget did include funding for some climate initiatives.
The budget adds another $500 million to clean water project funding, on top of the $2.5 billion to which the Governor has already made available. This will provide grants to help our small Adirondack communities to cope with the huge job of providing clean water and wastewater treatment to 12.4 million visitors every year. It will also safeguard the source of most of the state’s major rivers and drinking water from pollution, road salt and other contaminants.
The NYS Budget – approved on the morning of April 1 – contains an Environmental Protection Fund for capital projects that remained steady at $300 million. EPF highlights include more than $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 to raid the EPF by using it to pay for state employee salaries was rejected by the Legislature.
For the first time, the budget also includes EPF funding authorization in the Environmental Justice category for $250,000 to create a new Adirondack Diversity Initiative. This funding will allow the ADI to be transformed from an all-volunteer effort to a formal program with a home and a coordinator. It should be just the boost ADI needs to create bridges of understanding between people of different backgrounds, cultures, races, ethnicities, sexual orientations and perspectives.
Funds will come from a $7 million environmental justice category in the EPF.
The state will dedicate $20 million for “climate change mitigation and adaptation” including $10.65 million for Climate Smart Community grants; $4,500,000 for Climate Resilient Farms; $200,000 for a “wood products council;” and $2,000,000 for Smart Growth Grants.
The budget also includes $33 million for “state land stewardship” including funds for trails and to curb overuse; $13.3 million to fight invasive species, including another $450,000 specifically for Lake George, $6 million for eradication grants and $500,000 to Cornell University to combat the invasive hemlock wooly adelgid – an insect that kills hemlock trees.
The Essex Farm Institute – a project of the Adirondack Council – said it was pleased that “important research, marketing and promotion programs farmers rely on were fully funded.”
EFI also highlighted the extension of the agricultural workforce tax credit to help offset a portion of rising minimum wage costs for farmers, and supported the successful effort to make permanent the 2 percent cap on property tax increases.
EFI thanked Governor Cuomo and Assembly leaders, including Agriculture Committee Chair Donna A. Lupardo, D-Binghamton, Senate Agriculture Chair Jen Metzger, D-Rosendale, and Rural Resources Commission Chair Sen. Rachel May, D-Syracuse, for their efforts.
Other Adirondack funding includes
- Visitors’ Interpretive Centers – $300,000 split between Paul Smith’s College
($120,000) and the SUNY College of Environmental Science and Forestry in Newcomb ($180,000) to run the park’s two Visitor Interpretive Centers;
- Local government landfill closure support – Essex Country $300,000 and Hamilton County $150,000;
- Adirondack Lakes Survey Corporation – $250,000 reappropriated from last year (not new funding); and,
- Olympic Regional Development Authority – $80 million in new capital improvement funding.
Not included in the budget
- Climate Change: No action on legislation to codify state policy on carbon emissions reductions
- Additional staff at Adirondack Park Agency/Dept. of Environmental Conservation: DEC gained five positions at the new Frontier Town campground and visitor hub at Exit 29, but no new rangers or forest-management staff
Plastic Shopping Bag Ban: The statewide ban on plastic single-use bags includes a 5-cent fee on paper bags that counties and cities can opt into and split with the state. The fee, which would go into effect on March 1, 2020, would be split 60/40, with 3 cents going to the state Environmental Protection Fund and 2 cents staying with the county or city. There are numerous exemptions, including newspaper bags, produce bags, garment bags and food takeout bags. New Yorkers use 23 billion plastic bags annually.
New Food Waste Requirements: As of January 1, 2022, businesses or persons who generate large amounts (two tons per week or more) of food waste such as supermarkets, educational institutions, hospitals, correctional facilities, and large food service businesses like malls and entertainment venues must separate their excess edible food for donation and excess inedible food for composting. More than 2.5 million New Yorkers struggle to have enough to eat. At the same time, 40 percent of the food produced in this country is wasted – and here in New York, food makes up 18 percent of our municipal solid waste stream. Methane from food decomposition contributes significantly to climate change.