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. The legislation covers a variety of environmental protections, from banning toxic pesticides to protecting communities that have existing environmental hazards from further damage.
"The Assembly Majority is committed to protecting the environment and health of all New Yorkers, not just on Earth Day, but all year long," Speaker Heastie said. "As Washington continues to roll back environmental protections and jeopardize public health, legislation like this Earth Day Package is critical to ensuring a safe, healthy environment for generations of New Yorkers to come.
"Our Earth Day Legislative Package includes environmentally important bills that aim to protect every aspect of the environment and the New Yorkers that depend on it," Assemblymember Englebright said. "The package guarantees New Yorkers the right to clean air and water and prioritizes keeping contamination like dangerous chemicals and pesticides out of our drinking water. The Assembly will also address climate change, one of the single biggest issues facing us today. The future of our state, our environment, 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 (A.6279, Englebright).
The package also includes legislation to prohibit the leasing of state-owned underwater coastal lands for oil and natural gas drilling. Although drilling of New York's Atlantic Coast has been off-limits for decades, earlier this year, the federal government proposed offshore drilling expansion in regions including the Atlantic Region, to which New York State belongs. The Assembly bill would bring New York's laws regulating oil and natural gas drilling up-to-date, protecting endangered and threatened species, along with the State's recreational and commercial fishing industries (A.9819, Englebright).
The Assembly passed legislation banning the use of the pesticide Chlorpyrifos. There has been extensive scientific research into Chlorpyrifos, which is toxic to the human brain and nervous system, and is especially dangerous for children, infants and women who are pregnant (A.10274, Englebright).
Other legislation would require the use of low nitrogen fertilizer in Nassau and Suffolk Counties. It would also require the Department of Environmental Conservation to report to the Governor and Legislature about expanding the prohibition to other parts of the state. Lawn fertilizer has been identified as a significant contributor to excess nitrogen, which contributes to harmful algal blooms. High nitrogen levels also threaten Long Island's aquifers, which are the area's sole source of drinking water (A.10276, Englebright).
Included in the Earth Day package is the New York State Climate and Community Protection Act (A.8270, Englebright) to address and mitigate the impacts of climate change in the state. The bill would establish the New York State Climate Action Council consisting of 25 members including state agencies and individuals with expertise in environmental issues, environmental justice, labor and regulated industries. It would also establish a Climate Justice Working Group to identify disadvantaged communities for the purposes of co-pollutant and greenhouse gas emissions reductions and the allocation of certain investments. The DEC would be required to establish greenhouse gas emissions regulation and reporting. This legislation previously passed the Assembly in 2017.
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 (A.1862, Peoples-Stokes). 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.
"No New Yorker should have to worry that an environmental disaster is going to wreak havoc in their community," Assemblymember Crystal Peoples-Stokes said. "This bill shows communities that have suffered through environmental hazards in the past that the Assembly Majority will not abandon them to similar hazards in the future."
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 would 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 (A.1773, Fahy).
"Across the country, we have seen the devastating impacts of crude oil and petroleum spills," Assemblymember Fahy said. "My bill will ensure that those transporting and storing oil and gas have the financial ability to clean up potential spills, so New Yorkers are not forced to bear the financial burden of clean-up if a spill occurs in their community."
In addition to these bills, the package included two resolutions. The first commemorates April 22, 2018 as the 48th Anniversary of Earth Day. (K.1039, Pellegrino). Earth Day is celebrated by 500 million people and recognized by the governments of 175 countries around the world. The second resolution recognizes June 9, 2018 as Dragonfly Day in New York State (K.1035, Thiele). Dragonflies are a sentinel species, and their presence or absence is indicative of the health of wetlands. Healthy wetlands provide ecosystem services, habitat and sources of food for marine and terrestrial animals, and resiliency to our coastal areas.
In addition to legislation passed today, the Assembly intends to take up legislation regulating toxic chemical in children's products (A.8266, Englebright), eliminating 1,4-dioxane in household cleaning products (A.8185, Englebright) and ensuring that leftover paint is managed in a way that is not harmful to either humans or the environment (A.2242, Peoples-Stokes).