Will Spitzer revamp the DEC?

The resignation of DEC Commissioner Denise Sheehan, effective January 17, came as no surprise since she was a Republican appointed by the Pataki-led GOP administration that is now being replaced by the Eliot Spitzer-elect Democratic stable. However, many conservation-minded people are not unhappy about the change. Under Sheehan’s reign (as well as Erin Crotty and John Cahill, her predecessors), many of the DEC’s programs suffered from chronic and ongoing cuts and shortages, of both manpower and funding.

We’re not na’ve enough to believe that the sad state of the current DEC is totally the fault of the past appointed commissioners, for the Governor-elect givith and can takith away. The governor’s way or the highway, so to speak. This was quite evident, as Sheehan largely parroted the Pataki DEC philosophy in her parting letter. ìWith the protection of more than one million acres of open space, the enactment of historic Superfund/brownfield legislation, air quality improvement initiatives such as our acid rain regulations, the Low Emission Vehicle Program and our mercury regulations, the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative, and our efforts to restore the Hudson River, Onondaga Lake and Long Island Sound, among others, New York's unique ecosystems are better protected than they have been in decades.''

Pataki made it very clear in his initial months in office that acquiring and protecting more land for public use was his primary conservation platform and for the DEC’s overseeing of those lands. But as the new acreage kept growing and growing, some of us were reminded of the billionaire who becomes consumed with acquiring even more money, despite not really needing it. Meanwhile, staff and budget priorities drifted toward that end. Coupled with attrition, created by the large percentage of DEC employees who’d come aboard in the early 1970s after DEC’s birth, the manpower numbers shrunk. This was especially evident in the fish, wildlife and forestry divisions, which were the primary agencies of the old Conservation Department that predated the DEC.

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