Throughout my time in the New York State Senate, I have worked to protect our natural resources. I helped establish New York’s recycling policy when I was first elected, and have consistently advocated for laws to protect our environment while driving funding to state programs focused on keeping our air, water, and land clean and safe.
This past year, I helped advance substantial support for programs that help protect our environment, today and for future generations, including:
Environmental Protection Fund (EPF): The 2016-17 budget includes record funding of $300 million for the EPF. This is a 70 percent increase of $123 million over last year and will help ensure clean air and water in communities across the state;
Additional Water Quality Improvements: The 2016-17 budget provides $200 million over the next two years to build upon the investments in last year’s Water Quality Improvement Act. Municipalities will now be eligible to receive a total of $350 million in grants in 2016-17 and 2017-18 to repair and replace existing wastewater and drinking water infrastructure.
Quality water is something people expect when they turn on the faucet and it is a crucial component of our local economic development efforts. However, the municipalities I represent are already stretched thin, and major water system upgrades just aren’t in the budget for most. Over the past several months, a number of grants have been announced, including several rewards in my district: By utilizing state funds, these vital infrastructure improvement projects will move forward without overburdening taxpayers.
I also co-sponsored legislation (S.8158), which has been signed into law, to protect children from being exposed to dangerous lead levels in school drinking water. The new law ensures that periodic tap water testing for lead is conducted by schools to obtain important information about the quality of students’ drinking water.
According to the state Department of Health (DOH), lead can harm a young child’s growth, behavior, and ability to learn. While some schools in New York have conducted testing for lead, there have been some inconsistencies in the procedure. This new law establishes a standard testing protocol to ensure students are protected. School districts and BOCES will undergo periodic tap testing. Buildings built after 2014 are exempt, schools testing negative will be given waivers, and schools with water containing unacceptable amounts of lead will be eligible for additional financial assistance for the costs of testing and remediation.
I am also working to advance legislation to increase our use of renewable energy sources. Both the senate and the assembly passed a measure (S.6249) which would create a tax credit for the purchase and installation of geothermal energy systems – a natural and renewable form of energy. The systems do not require the burning of fossil fuels and emit almost no carbon gases. These systems lead to the creation of more green jobs and reduce the amount of carbon used to heat buildings. I am hopeful the governor will sign this legislation before the year’s end.
I also want to make certain that people who commit environmental crimes are dealt with appropriately. The senate passed a bill (S.834) that would make crimes that result in large scale environmental damage, either intentionally or recklessly while committing another crime, a class C felony. There are currently no criminal mischief statutes that properly address this type of environmental devastation. This bill has passed the senate on a number of occasions, but the assembly has failed to follow suit.
We are fortunate to live in a part of the state which is filled with natural beauty. I will continue to support initiatives that protect and sustain our environment – today and for future generations.