Robert K. Sweeney
New York State Assembly Committee on Environmental Conservation
Room 625 LOB Albany, NY 12248
640 West Montauk Highway
Lindenhurst, NY 11757
Protecting our natural resources, making sure our families’ lives are not compromised by environmental hazards and ensuring that future generations will be able to enjoy the vast wonders of New York are vitally important to me.
From our health to the economy, every aspect of our life is affected by the quality of our environment. This newsletter focuses on legislation that the Assembly has acted upon.
I look forward to working with the Senate and Governor Paterson to ensure a healthy environment for today’s New Yorkers and future generations.
Very truly yours,
Robert K. Sweeney
Chairman, Environmental Conservation Committee
The Assembly Environmental Conservation Committee has held four hearings and a roundtable so far this year. A brief summary of those events follows:
Environmental Bond Act
In the past 15 years, bond act proposals have been put before New York State voters with varying success. In 1996, voters approved the “Clean Water/Clean Air Bond Act” to spend $1.75 billion for environmental projects including environmental restoration, safe drinking water and air quality. The $3.8 billion “Transportation Infrastructure Bond Act of 2000” was rejected by voters, but the $2.9 billion “Rebuild and Renew New York Transportation Bond Act of 2005” for the purpose of improving, enhancing, preserving and restoring the quality of the State’s transportation infrastructure was approved. A coalition of environmental groups suggested that a new $5 billion “Clean Water, Clean Air & Green Jobs Bond Act” proposal should be submitted to voters in November. On May 27, 2009, the Committee held a hearing to solicit input on the Bond Act proposal. Following the hearing, legislation was introduced, A.8810 (Sweeney)/S.5886 (Thompson), that would enact the new Bond Act. The Assembly Environmental Conservation Committee reported the bill to the Assembly Ways and Means Committee.
The Committee, in cooperation with the Assembly Standing Committee on Education, held a roundtable on April 29, 2009, to solicit information on the use of pesticides in schools, including a discussion of Assembly bills A.1617 (Zebrowski), A.1974 (Kellner), A.2299 (Englebright) and A.5848 (Brodsky). Following the hearing, A.7937-A (Englebright) which would prohibit the use of certain toxic chemicals on school and day care playgrounds and athletic fields, and A.8785 (Zebrowski), which would require the Department of Environmental Conservation to establish a model pesticide policy for schools and day care facilities, were introduced and passed the Assembly.
Mercury, a naturally occurring element, is found in air, water and soil. It has been used in the production of cement and a number of household items including thermometers, switches and light bulbs, as well as in batteries, novelty toys and some product packaging. Mercury is also a component of coal, with coal-burning power plants representing the largest human-caused source of mercury emissions to the air. Studies have found that mercury exposure at high levels can harm the human brain, heart, kidneys, lungs and immune system, with infants and children especially susceptible. At high levels of exposure, mercury can lead to death, reduced reproduction, abnormal behavior and slower growth and development in fish and animals. The United States Geological Survey released a study of mercury contamination in United States streams. The study included 291 streams nationwide and tested more than 1,000 fish. Mercury was found in each fish sampled. On October 13, 2009, the Committee held a hearing to examine what measures could be taken to reduce mercury exposure.
Draft Supplemental Generic Environmental Impact Statement for Natural Gas Drilling
On September 30, 2009, the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation released a draft Supplemental Generic Environmental Impact Statement (SGEIS) regarding well permit issuance for horizontal drilling and high-volume hydraulic fracturing to develop the Marcellus shale and other low-permeability gas reserves. On October 15, 2009, the Committee held a hearing to solicit public input on the draft SGEIS. Following the hearing, and in response to requests from numerous Assembly members, the comment period was extended until December 31, 2009.
A brief summary of some of the environmental bills signed into law by the Governor follows:
Bottle Bill Expansion
The Bottle Bill law, which applied a refundable five-cent deposit to carbonated beverages and beer, was expanded in April to include water bottles. In addition, in order to make it easier for consumers to return empty containers, reverse vending machines would be required in chain stores over 40,000 square feet in size. Costs related to the development of redemption centers would be eligible to receive funding from the recycling category of the Environmental Protection Fund.
A lawsuit initiated by the International Bottled Water Association and Nestle Waters North America resulted in an injunction delaying the implementation of the new law; however, the injunction was lifted and the law was implemented on October 31, 2009.
Green Jobs/Green New York Act of 2009 (Chapter 487 of the Laws of 2009)
This law will provide funding for the performance of energy audits and energy-efficient retrofits for residential, small business and not-for-profit property owners and include the creation of a Green New York Revolving Loan Fund and a green jobs training program in order to promote energy efficiency, conservation, and to create green jobs. Promoting energy conservation and clean energy technologies represents a cost-effective way for communities to curtail emissions of greenhouse gases and harmful air contaminants, reduce dependence on fossil fuels and create green jobs to sustain and enhance the economy. In addition, the installation of energy efficiency improvements to reduce the loss or waste of energy is a proven method that can pay for itself over reasonable time periods. This law addresses the lack of affordable and accessible financing that has hindered progress in fully realizing the promise of these technologies.
Municipal Sustainable Energy Loan Program (Chapter 497 of the Laws of 2009)
As part of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009, the United States Department of Energy has competitive grant opportunities available to local governments to support sustainable energy loan programs. This law would allow a municipality to establish a Sustainable Energy Loan program, and apply for federal grant assistance or federal credit support, and to make loans to property owners in order to finance the installation of renewable energy systems, energy efficiency improvements, related energy audits and renewable energy system feasibility studies. Such loans would be repaid by the property owner as a separate charge on the real property tax bill.
Residential Energy Efficiency Programs (Chapter 409 of the Laws of 2009)
Residential energy efficiency programs help to decrease local and statewide electricity and heating fuel demand and mitigate harmful impacts by reducing emissions and contributions to climate change. In the Town of Babylon, which established a home energy efficiency program in 2008, testing showed that participating houses were, on average, nearly 30 percent more energy efficient. As a result, carbon dioxide emissions decreased by 28 percent versus the amount of carbon dioxide that would have been emitted without program investments. By expanding the definition of waste for refuse and garbage districts to include carbon, this law will allow towns to include the operation of a home energy efficiency program within such districts. After the inclusion of this authorization, towns would be permitted to finance home energy audits, energy conservation or efficiency improvements in homes, and arrange with homeowners and contractors to install or implement them.
Licensing of Medical Waste Facilities: (Chapter 14 of the Laws of 2009)
This law will require applicants for the treatment, storage or disposal of regulated medical waste to provide certification that their proposed activities comply with local zoning requirements.
Hudson River Valley Greenway (Chapter 310 of the Laws of 2009)
This law will add areas of Ulster County to the Hudson River Valley Greenway permanently.
Liquefied Natural Gas Moratorium (Chapter 84 of the Laws of 2009)
This law will extend until April 1, 2011, the existing moratorium on the issuance of environmental safety certificates for facilities and routes for the transportation of liquefied natural or petroleum gas.
New York State Sea Level Rise Task Force (Chapter 150 of the Laws of 2009)
The New York State Sea Level Rise Task Force was created in 2007, and was charged with the task of preparing a report to evaluate ways to protect coastal ecosystems and natural habitats and increase coastal community resilience in the face of expected sea level rise. The report was initially due on December 31, 2009. This law will extend, until December 31, 2010, the provisions of the Sea Level Rise Task Force.
Environmental Facilities Corporation Powers (Chapter 279 of the Laws of 2009)
The Clean Water State Revolving Fund (CWSRF) is funded through federal capitalization grants and requires the state to provide matching funds equal to at least twenty percent of the federal capitalization grants. The Environmental Facilities Corporation allocates a portion of the federal capitalization grants and state-matching component to provide a reserve fund to secure the repayment of financings made to recipients. This “allocation” is referred to in the statute as a “corpus allocation.” The corpus allocation for a financing is equal to at least one-third of the principal amount of each financing outstanding at any given time, excluding portions of the financing used to fund a debt service reserve fund. Currently, recipients who, during the period commencing June 1, 1992 and ending September 30, 2009, (i) submit an application for a CWSRF financing, (ii) close on the CWSRF financing, and (iii) commence construction of the project related to the financing, qualify for a fifty percent corpus allocation in connection with the financing. This law will extend until September 30, 2012, the 50 percent interest rate subsidy and ensure that the subsidy will not revert to one-third interest rate subsidy, effective October 1, 2009.
Powers of the Department of Environmental Conservation Regarding the Conservationist (Chapter 195 of the Laws of 2009)
Promotion and marketing are integral components of the magazine industry and help replace lost subscriptions. For example, the Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC), which is responsible for The Conservationist magazine, must replace approximately 19,000 subscribers each year to maintain the magazine’s current subscriber base. DEC’s marketing consultant conducted marketing research that demonstrated sweepstakes are the most effective method to increase renewal and new subscriber response rates. This law will extend, until August 1, 2012, the authorization for the DEC to conduct sweepstakes and other activities to increase subscriptions to the Conservationist magazine.
The Environmental Protection Agency estimates that there were approximately 1.2 billion pounds of electronic equipment sold in the United States in 2004. As new devices are purchased, the replaced equipment frequently ends up in landfills where its chemical components, including mercury, lead and cadmium, can contribute to pollution. This legislation, A.9049 (Sweeney), would establish an electronic equipment recycling and reuse program to allow consumers to return unwanted electronic devices to manufacturers for reuse or recycling.
Manufacturers of electronic equipment, including computers, televisions, printers, keyboards, portable digital music players, video cassette recorders, digital video players, electronic game consoles and any cables, cords or wiring are covered under the act. The disposal of devices would be free for consumers. Manufacturers would be required to collect a minimum amount of waste based on the state reuse or recycling goal, initially determined on a per capita basis, beginning in July 2010. In July 2013, each manufacturer would be assigned a share of the statewide reuse or recycling goal based on the collection rate of the preceding three years. Each manufacturer’s share would be determined by their market share of sales. This legislation passed the Assembly, but the Senate has not yet taken action.
Sulfur Content of Heating Oil
When number two home-heating oil is burned, sulfur dioxide, a known greenhouse gas, is released into the atmosphere. Estimates have shown that reducing the sulfur content of home-heating oil is an important and critical step in curbing greenhouse gas emissions. Exhaust particles formed by using home-heating oil can exacerbate allergies, trigger asthma attacks, decrease lung function, cause heart attacks and shorten life expectancy. This legislation, A.8642 (Sweeney), would prohibit the use of number two heating oil with a sulfur content in excess of 15 parts per million in residential, commercial or industrial heating after July 1, 2011, and would authorize the Governor to temporarily suspend this requirement by Executive Order, upon a determination by the New York State Energy and Research Development Authority that there is an insufficient supply of the fuel. This legislation passed the Assembly, but the Senate has not yet taken action.
Bisphenol A Phase-Out
Studies conducted by the United States Centers for Disease Control and Prevention have found that young children are more susceptible to Bisphenol A (BPA). Other scientific studies have concluded that BPA is an endocrine disrupter that can have negative health consequences, including the early onset of puberty. This legislation, A.6919-B (Englebright), would prohibit the sale of the following products for children three and under containing BPA: beginning December 1, 2010, child care products including bottles, pacifiers and sippy cups; beginning December 1, 2011, toys; and, food and beverage containers beginning December 1, 2012. Beverage container manufacturers would be permitted to seek a one-year waiver if the Department of Environmental Conservation determines that there are no safe Bisphenol A alternatives. This legislation passed the Assembly, but the Senate has not yet taken action.
Each year the Green Panel, a group of more than a dozen leaders of environmental groups, identifies bills of special significance known as super bills. This year the following bills received super bill status:
A.3423 (Bradley) – concerns legal standing for the State Environmental Quality Review Act – passed by the Assembly.
A.6363 (Sweeney) – increased protection for wetlands – passed the Assembly.
A.7571 (Sweeney) – established a process for the statewide collection of electronic waste – passed the Assembly.
A.7572 (Sweeney) – requires the Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) to establish a cap on greenhouse gas emissions at 1990 levels and to reduce emissions 80 percent by 2050 – passed the Assembly; Senate has not yet taken action.
Bottle Bill Expansion – passed by the Legislature and signed by the Governor as part of the budget process.