A budget heavy on environment initiatives, despite ‘raid’

Capital New York | April 1, 2015 | Column by Scott Waldman

ALBANY—Cuomo administration officials say the environmental initiatives and reforms included in this year's budget are among the strongest in years.

Brad Hoylman. (AP Photo/Mike Groll)

Included are hundreds of millions of dollars for pollution mitigation, funding for clean water infrastructure, millions more for the state's oil spill cleanup fund and improvements to the Brownfields program.

Environmental groups were generally pleased with the overall package, but zeroed in on a decision to "raid" money from one energy program to help fund another initiative, calling it a bad precedent. They also were not happy with the decision to delay for another year reductions in diesel emissions to cut air pollution.

“The need for environmental funding far exceeds available resources,” said Stuart Gruskin, chief conservation officer at the Nature Conservancy. “When dedicated environmental funds are swept into the general fund it frustrates the purposes for which those funds were created.”

Democratic state senator Brad Hoylman introduced a hostile amendment late Tuesday to try to prevent the Legislature's diversion of funds generated by the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative, which charges industries that pollute. He proposed protecting RGGI funding in a lockbox so the Legislature can't touch it in future years. The measure failed.

The budget is generally positive for energy and the environment, he said, but added, “RGGI is New York's foremost tool to combat climate change. I'm greatly concerned we're going to undermine that effort by misappropriating $40 million from it."

Here are the key energy and environment initiatives:

BROWNFIELDS REFORM

The deal reached by the Legislature refocuses the program on upstate properties, where state incentives are needed more to encourage the cleanup and redevelopment of property polluted by industry, and extends it for a decade. Lightly polluted sites will get through the program more quickly under the deal.

Under the reformed program, New York City properties must meet a set of conditions to qualify for redevelopment reimbursements. Properties must be “upside-down,” or worth less than 75 percent of their cleanup cost. They must be located in economically challenged areas, underutilized and include affordable housing. Developers will receive remediation credit based only on the polluted property they actually clean up, not the overall scope of the project.

CLEAN WATER FUNDING

The state will now have a $200 million fund that will give communities money for sewer and pipeline repair, a significant issue in municipalities across the state. For any clean water project, the state will pay 60 percent and local communities will pay 40 percent. The most any municipality will receive is $5 million. The program will be rolled out over three years, with $50 million available the first year and $75 million in the next two years. Money will come from capital bonding.

Among the biggest proponents of funding for clean water was Syracuse mayor Stephanie Miner, whose city was forced to repair hundreds of pipelines last year.

“That's a positive development,” Miner told the Syracuse Post-Standard. “It's needed, and I am glad it's included in the budget.”

ENVIRONMENTAL PROTECTION FUND

Governor Andrew Cuomo proposed taking some money from the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative to pay for the Environmental Protection Fund, which is devoted to habitat restoration and woodland protection. In the end, lawmakers settled on a plan to sweep $41 million from RGGI. About $18 million will go to increase the Environmental Protection Fund by $5 million over what Cuomo proposed, to $177 million. The additional $23 million from RGGI will go into the general fund but would be directed toward existing clean energy tax incentives for solar, biofuel and green building, according to administration officials.

OIL SPILL FUND

The oil spill fund will be increased from $25 million to $40 million, as Cuomo proposed. It will also include $2.1 million for first responder training and equipment as well as additional staff for the Department of Environmental Conservation. Much of the increase will come from higher fees on oil trains that transport oil through the Port of Albany by barge and by ship. Oil transportation firms will now pay 13.75 cents a barrel, up from 1.5 cents. The Legislature rejected the administration's plan to shift control of the oil spill fund from the state comptroller.

SUPERFUND

The Superfund program will be extended for a decade. It will receive $100 million in the first year and is expected to receive that amount every year, for a total of $1 billion.

http://www.capitalnewyork.com/article/albany/2015/04/8565286/budget-heavy-environment-initiatives-despite-raid?top-featured-2

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A budget heavy on environment initiatives, despite ‘raid’
PAUSE, People of Albany United for Safe Energy
PAUSE is a grassroots group of individuals who have come together to promote safe, sustainable energy and fight for environmental justice. We engage the greater public to stop the fossil fuel industry’s assault on the people of Albany and our environment.