Gov. Andrew Cuomo plans to give the state’s Environmental Protection Fund its first boost in three years, a much-needed additional $19 million.
The hike from $134 million to $153 million that Cuomo has proposed in his 2013-14 budget will put more money into open space conservation, parks development and helping communities cope with recycling and waste disposal. The fund can’t be spent on anything other than capital projects that aid the environment.
While it’s true this is only the governor’s proposal, it’s unlikely to be changed — candidly, millions aren’t worth fighting about in Albany, not at the level where decisions are really made.
The EPF money comes from a real estate transfer tax, but this year the $134 million appropriated the past three years is being supplemented with an additional $15 million from unclaimed bottle deposits (that’s 300 million nickels, kids!), plus another $4 million from “increased and improved enforcement of the unclaimed deposit program.”
With a nod to The Nature Conservancy for analysis and the Adirondack Council for sharing, it looks like open space programs get the biggest boost, going from $70 million to $82 million. The state’s own open space efforts — split between the Department of Environmental Conservation and Office of Parks, Recreation and Historic Preservation — will see funding increased from $17.5 million to $20 million.
Farmland protection — where efforts are hopelessly unfunded to buy conservation easements on prime farmland across the state before developers can snap them up — is getting a modest increase, from $12 million to $13 million. But at least it’s something.
There’s an $800,000 appropriation for the Mohawk River Action Plan, the state effort to simultaneously improve the Mohawk watershed’s natural quality and encourage fresh development in old river communities, with their quaint and colorful characters and long-standing tendency to look backward.
Last year, Cuomo vetoed a bill that would have mandated increases of $10 million a year over six years in the EPF, saying he had his own plan to increase funding. Now we know what it is.
“The Adirondack Council is grateful that legislative leaders pressured the governor to increase the EPF and grateful to the governor for rising to the challenge,” Adirondack Council spokesman John Sheehan said.
In Washington, meanwhile, U.S. Rep. Paul Tonko has been named ranking minority member of the House Energy and Commerce Committee’s Subcommittee on Environment and the Economy. The committee oversees soil and water pollution issues and the regulation of solid, hazardous and nuclear waste.
It’s right up the congressman’s alley. The Amsterdam native has an engineering degree.
“I will be able to leverage the strength of upstate New York with my personal experience to encourage the development of clean energy jobs while protecting the air we breath and the water we drink,” he said.
Stephen Williams is a Gazette reporter. The opinions expressed in his column are how own and next necessarily those of the newspaper. He may be reached at 885-6705 or firstname.lastname@example.org.