Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie and Environmental Conservation Chair Steve Englebright today announced the passage of legislation designed to safeguard the environment and protect public health in commemoration of Earth Day 2017.
"This Earth Day, the Assembly once again demonstrates its commitment to advancing state legislation that protects the environment and the public health of all New Yorkers," said Speaker Heastie. "As Washington continues to roll back environmental protections and potentially jeopardize public health, New York will continue to push for policies that help guarantee our children a safe, healthy environment for generations to come."
"The Assembly's 2017 Earth Day Legislative Package guarantees New Yorkers the right to clean air and water and prioritizes keeping contamination out of those critical resources," said Assemblymember Englebright. "The future of our state and the wellbeing of New Yorkers are dependent upon our decision to act now."
This year's Earth Day Legislative Package includes a proposed amendment to the New York State Constitution that would ensure clean air and water are treated as fundamental rights for New Yorkers (Englebright, A.6279).
The package also includes legislation designed to protect the state's wetlands, which serve as buffers intercepting polluted runoff before it contaminates lakes, rivers and coastal waters. The United States Supreme Court determined that the federal government no longer has jurisdiction of isolated wetlands. Nationwide estimates from the Environmental Protection Agency and Army Corps of Engineers determined between 20 and 50 percent of wetlands would be left unprotected, with likely an even greater impact in New York State.
New York's Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) is currently limited to regulating mapped wetlands of 12.4 acres or more. Under the proposal, the DEC would gain regulatory authority over freshwater wetlands of one acre or more and other wetlands of significant local importance (Englebright, A.6282).
Other legislation included in the package would help reduce toxins in landfills and reduce the need for mining and refining, including:
The transportation of crude oil and other petroleum products has increased exponentially in the United States over the past five years, and in turn, the need for storage has also increased. Consequently, the resulting increased risk for spills has led to a heightened focus on safety issues. While rail transportation of crude oil and other petroleum products is controlled by federal law, bulk storage of petroleum products is governed by state law.
In an effort to address the negative impacts of accidents or the mishandling of petroleum products like crude oil, the Assembly's Earth Day Legislative Package includes the Petroleum Surety Bill. This bill would apply to crude oil and petroleum products stored and transferred at bulk storage facilities, vessels and railroads, and require that such entities demonstrate sufficient financial assets to meet all responsibilities for cleanup and decontamination costs associated with the accidental release of such products (Fahy, A.1773).
The Assembly has also passed legislation that would require the DEC to publish a list of geographic areas in the state that are adversely affected by existing environmental hazards (Peoples-Stokes, A.1862). Historically, communities with existing environmental hazards have frequently been selected for the placement of new projects, presumably due to the belief that the "incremental" adverse environmental impact would be less in such an area than in an area with fewer existing environmental problems. Unfortunately, this process typically compounds environmental hazards for a small geographical area, often disproportionately affecting low income communities and people of color. The bill recognizes the importance of considering such cumulative impacts.