In advance of his combined State of the State and budget address next week, Governor Andrew Cuomo is releasing details of his 2016 executive agenda. On Tuesday, he announced that he would fully fund the state’s Environmental Protection Fund at $300 million. It’s a move that’s being praised by a diversity of groups across the state.
The Environmental Protection Fund – or EPF – not only provides money for environmental projects and preservation, but also helps communities with projects like waterfront revitalization, farmland protection, wastewater treatment and recycling. The EPF was funded at $177 million for the 2015-16 fiscal year, the highest since 2011-12 when it had dropped to 134 million.
In unveiling what he called the third signature proposal of his 2016 agenda, Governor Andrew Cuomo said the state will allocate $300 million, the highest amount ever, to the fund.
The move is drawing praise across sectors.
The Nature Conservancy in New York Director of Government Relations Jessica Ottney Mahar notes that in 2007, then-Governor Spitzer signed a law to increase the EPF to $300 million over a series of budgets. But due to the economic crisis that followed, that plan fell by the wayside and the EPF was left underfunded. Mahar says Cuomo is offering sustainable funding for the environment. “This investment will make a historic impact. It’s going to make sure that we have the resources to meet the program needs that exist across the state for municipalities, for recycling programs and waterfront development, for making sure that we’re protecting family farms and working forests in all regions of the state, so that our drinking waters stays clean - places like New York City and Long Island in particular. So this is something that’s absolutely necessary and we think that this is the perfect level of investment for this year’s budget.”
Adirondack Wild: Friends of the Forest Preserve Partner Dave Gibson notes that over 120 organizations have been seeking $300 million for the EPF for years. He says there is a backlog of need for the funds. “Ten years ago Friends for New York’s Environment, of which Adirondack Wild is a part and has over 120 organizations, pegged the annual need at $500 million for the environment even then. And we know that the state’s infrastructure and the environmental infrastructure of the state has deteriorated badly since then. The need for clean water and sewage treatment and all of the needs around the state have just accelerated since then. So $300 million is very much justified and has been for over a decade. And thank goodness this governor recognizes that need.”
The Business Council of New York State is also applauding the commitment to fully fund the EPF. Director of Government Affairs Darren Suarez calls the governor’s move a significant investment. “300 million has been the goal for some time. And to have this type of commitment to the environment is really unprecedented in terms of the increase. It’s almost $130 million increase over last year and it’s desperately needed to cover things like the open space plan or farmland protection, or land stewardship programs or waterfront revitalization. So there are a lot of good programs that will really benefit from this increase.”
The proposed funding must be approved by state legislators. Suarez expects approval. “I suspect it won’t be that challenging. We saw commitments yesterday from Senator O’Mara who is chairman of the Environmental Conservation Committee and we saw similar expressions of support from the Assembly chair Steve Englebright. There’s a recognition that municipalities operate better when certain environmental conditions are met.”
A statewide bi-partisan poll commissioned by the Open Space Institute, the Trust for Public Land, the Nature Conservancy and the Adirondack Council found that more than seven in ten voters supported fully funding the Environmental Protection Fund at $300 million per year.