As communities and organizations around the globe celebrated Earth Day on April 22, it’s worth noting that the recently enacted state budget continues a series of critical actions that bode well for the short- and long-term future of environmental conservation in New York.
Or, as the Nature Conservancy in New York stated, “The budget includes several landmark achievements for New York's environment, including maintaining the Environmental Protection Fund ... Additionally, the continuation of funding for the Water Infrastructure Improvement Act will ensure communities experiencing health risks from declining water quality due to inadequate or outdated wastewater and drinking water systems will have access to funding for upgrades and repairs, as well as conserving the sources of drinking water to prevent them from becoming polluted in the first place.”
I agree that this year’s budget is highlighted by the continuation of a fully funded Environmental Protection Fund (EPF), something many conservation advocates spent years fighting for, and that they have rightly hailed as a great victory. The EPF supports critical environmental initiatives including clean air and water projects, flood control and restoration, and open space preservation. It makes great environmental and economic sense.
The EPF, for example, helps create local jobs. Studies have shown that for every dollar of EPF funds invested in land and water protection, the state and localities get back seven dollars in economic benefits -- a solid investment by most measures. The EPF enjoys an impressive record of government investment. It strengthens a broad segment of New York’s citizens and communities like very few governmental programs ever have. In short, strengthening the EPF within the context of the entire state fiscal plan covers a lot of common ground in order to achieve a great deal of common good. It continues to help us achieve, in the words of former President and legendary conservationist Teddy Roosevelt, “the great central task of leaving this land even a better land for our descendants than it is for us.”
On the EPF, the Business Council of New York has said: "The programs contained in the EPF are incredibly diverse and touch every New Yorker’s life in some manner through land conservation, urban forestry, sustainable waterfront planning, agricultural sustainability, pollution prevention programs and more.”
The fully funded EPF is surely a highlight, but this year’s budget does even more. It continues, for instance, the state’s multi-year, major investment in drinking water infrastructure and source water protection. This action helps localities undertake vital and long-overdue water infrastructure improvement projects, such as sewer and municipal water line repairs. It has become particularly timely as drinking water quality concerns and crises regionally, statewide and across the nation have become increasingly acute.
Other highly praised actions will assist local parks, trails and waterfronts; help step up the fight against invasive species; enhance farmland conservation; encourage smart growth communities, including renewable energy initiatives; and boost farm-to-school strategies to connect local schools to local farmers.
On the environmental front, we have had and will continue to have differences, and face controversies. With this Earth Day, we must remember that the challenges and crises we face are more difficult than ever. It’s equally true that the governmental and political context in which we have to confront these challenges and crises is more complex and highly charged than ever -- a fact that often does not make the task easier.
Nevertheless, we have a responsibility to stewardship and conservation. We have a responsibility to do our best to address the challenges, to work through them, and consider and negotiate them in a balanced, deliberate, fair, serious and sensible way. That is the great hope of Earth Day.
"From The Capitol" is a weekly column distributed to local media by Senator O'Maras office for publication.