NYS Seal
Legislative Report from the
NYS Assembly Committee on
Environmental Conservation

Sheldon Silver, Speaker • Robert K. Sweeney, Chair • August 2007
Assemblyman Robert K. Sweeney

Robert K. Sweeney

NYS Assembly Committee on Environmental Conservation

Room 837 LOB
Albany, NY 12248

270B N. Wellwood Ave.
Lindenhurst, NY 11757

Dear Friend,

The 2007 Legislative Session has been extremely productive for the Assembly Standing Committee on Environmental Conservation. From environmental initiatives in the State Budget to legislation to address the problem of global warming, the Assembly has proven to be a leader on environmental protection.

This newsletter highlights legislation that the Assembly’s Environmental Conservation Committee has focused on this year. We have worked diligently to protect our most valuable natural resources and ensure a healthy environment, and will continue to work with the Senate and Governor Spitzer to build upon our accomplishments to date.

Robert K. Sweeney
Chairman, Environmental Conservation Committee

Addressing Global Warming

Many studies suggest that the continual emission of greenhouse gases will increase Earth’s temperature, leading to rising sea levels, threats to public welfare and other ecological changes – which will dramatically affect fisheries, wildlife and natural resources.

The Assembly recognizes that global warming is a problem that needs to be addressed quickly to ensure the health of all New Yorkers. Both the Assembly and Senate have passed identical bills aimed at addressing the problem of global warming, particularly as it impacts local communities. These bills will:

  • Create an interagency task force to research the potential impacts of climate change and make recommendations on measures to mitigate and adjust to climate change (A.7367-A, Sweeney/S.5427-A, Marcellino);

  • Better inform consumers regarding greenhouse gas emissions from motor vehicles by requiring global warming index labels to be placed on the windows of new automobiles (A.8839-A, Sweeney/S.4833-A, Marcellino); and

  • Establish the New York State Sea Level Rise Task Force to evaluate ways of protecting the State’s coastlines and natural habitats in the face of sea level rise brought on by global warming (A.9002-A, Sweeney/S.6118-A, Marcellino).

According to Assemblyman Bob Sweeney, “Scientific studies have concluded that we are already beginning to see the impacts of global warming, and continued warming poses a direct threat to our future. Because the federal government has turned a blind eye to the problem of global warming, state governments must take it upon themselves to find solutions to this scientifically documented problem.”

Enhancing the State’s Environmental Protection Fund

Perhaps the most important accomplishment of the 2007 Legislative Session was the enactment of legislation (A.8339, Sweeney/S.5304, Marcellino) which will increase the State’s Environmental Protection Fund (EPF) to $300 million. The bill was signed into law by Governor Spitzer on July 18, 2007 (Chapter 258 Laws of 2007).

“The additional funding for the EPF will fuel substantial increases in traditional EPF programs such as municipal parks, waterfront revitalization, municipal recycling, open space land acquisition, non-point source pollution control and farmland protection, as well as new funding for wastewater treatment projects, invasive species management and Ocean and Great Lakes initiatives,” said Sweeney.

The EPF is funded primarily through revenues received from the State’s Real Estate Transfer Tax (RETT). Since SFY 1996-97, RETT revenues have risen exponentially from approximately $90 million to well over $1 billion in SFY 2006-07. However, contributions to the EPF from the RETT have only risen from $87 million to $212 million. This new law will increase the RETT dedication to the EPF to a level of $287 million, resulting in a total of $300 million for the EPF.

According to Sweeney, “Sprawling development across New York State consumes open space and farmland, threatens clean water, increases fuel consumption and air pollution, and creates more solid waste. But this same sprawling development has resulted in a dramatic increase in receipts from the Real Estate Transfer Tax, the primary revenue source for the EPF.”

Earth Day

On April 23, 2007, the Assembly commemorated Earth Day by passing a 16 bill legislative package. The legislation ranged from measures that address global warming and reduce solid waste to initiatives aimed at protecting water resources and public health. This package helped to set the agenda for the remainder of the legislative session and included bills which were ultimately amended and passed in both houses.

  • A.1142 (Brodsky) - Phases out the use of pesticides by State agencies and authorities based on toxicity levels over a 3 year period.

  • A.1435 (Bradley) - Allows a person to institute an action for a violation of the provisions of the State Environmental Quality Review Act even if the injury does not differ in kind or degree from the injury suffered by the public at large.

  • A.2002 (R. Diaz) - Addresses environmental justice issues by requiring DEC to identify areas of the State with high concentrations of environmental facilities.

  • A.2005 (Lupardo) - Requires new or substantially reconstructed State agency buildings to comply with the United States green building council leadership in energy and environmental design silver (LEED Silver) rating and guidelines.

  • A.3318 (Colton) - Clarifies prohibitions on the disposal of recyclables in solid waste facilities and specifies materials which must be included under local recycling laws.

  • A.5299 (Wright) - Creates a state urban pesticide board to study and report on the application of pesticides in urban areas.

  • A.5457 (Koon) - Prohibits the open burning of solid waste.

  • A.7133 (Sweeney) - Expands DEC’s regulatory authority to wetlands over one acre in size and removes the existing requirement that lands or waters be included on the freshwater wetlands map in order to be considered wetlands.

  • A.7231 (Jaffee) - Requires testing of private wells upon sale or transfer of real property.

  • A.7266 (Sweeney) - Enacts the Great Lakes - St. Lawrence River Basin Water Resources Compact.

  • A.7333 (Sweeney) - Authorizes towns and cities to establish community preservation funds, to be funded with a real estate transfer tax.

  • A.7335 (Hoyt) - Requires certain state agencies to fund infrastructure projects in a manner consistent with smart growth principles.

  • A.7365 (Sweeney) and A.7366 (Gianaris) - Enact the Climate Change Solutions Act and Fund to provide for funding of energy efficiency and renewable energy development initiatives using proceeds from auction of carbon dioxide emission allowances.

  • A.7367 (Sweeney) - Establishes an interagency task force which would research projected impacts of climate change and make recommendations on measures to mitigate climate change and to adjust to climate change.

  • A.7451 (Farrell) - Makes available a solar energy tax credit for co-ops and condos.

  • K.425 (Tonko) - Legislative Resolution urging Congress to cap greenhouse gas emissions and reduce such emissions by 80 percent by the year 2050.

“This legislation sets out to strengthen environmental protections so New Yorkers will have clean air to breathe, water to drink and reduced exposure to pesticides. The bills also address the many environmental challenges facing communities across the state. From our health to the economy, every aspect of our life is affected by the quality of our environment. Gone are the days when solutions to these problems could be put off or forgotten. The time for action is now,” said Assemblyman Sweeney.

Invasive Species

Invasive species, pests and pathogens pose a significant threat to ecosystems throughout New York State, and cost the State, municipalities and businesses millions of dollars each year. Invasive species are non-native species whose economic or environmental harm outweigh any benefits. They include the Asian Long Horned Beetle, which is costing the City of New York and Long Island over $40 million annually, Sea Lampreys which now inhabit the Great Lakes, and Zebra and Quagga Mussels which began in the Great Lakes and have spread to inland lakes and streams throughout the United States. Treatment options for these mussels are estimated to exceed $200 million annually.

One known source of aquatic invasive species is the ballast water of ships, which can also be contaminated with harmful bacteria and viruses. Viral Hemorrhagic Septicemia (VHS), which causes large fish kills, was first detected in New York State last year.

VHS has been found in 19 species of fish and has spread through Lakes Erie and Ontario, the St. Lawrence and Niagara Rivers and into the Finger Lakes Region of New York State.

In addition to providing $5 million from the Environmental Protection Fund in SFY 2007-08, the Assembly worked with the Senate on legislation which passed both houses. This bill (A.9027-A, Sweeney) establishes the Invasive Species Council and an advisory board within the Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC). The Council is responsible for the development of a comprehensive plan for invasive species management and providing input on funding for invasive species control and management. DEC will be responsible for the implementation of an invasive species program focused on implementing the recommendations of the previously existing Invasive Species Task Force and the new Council, and will be required to report to the Legislature with recommendations for further legislative action.

In addition, the Assembly Environmental Conservation Committee will hold a public hearing this fall focusing on invasive species, pests and pathogens in the Great Lakes region of the State to help determine if additional measures are needed to help address this pervasive issue.

State Budget

The State Fiscal Year (SFY) 2007-08 Enacted State Budget provides almost $1.2 billion for the environment. The budget provides a record $250 million in funding for the Environmental Protection Fund (EPF) and goes a long way toward revitalizing the State’s Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) with the addition 109 new staff positions to the beleaguered agency.

Highlights of the EPF funding include:

  • $55 million for open space land acquisition;
  • $26.625 million for waterfront revitalization projects;
  • $21.225 million for municipal parks projects;
  • $8 million for zoos, botanical gardens and aquariums;
  • $10 million for wastewater treatment projects; and
  • $4 million for local recycling programs.

In addition, the budget includes a new statutory provision establishing a pollution prevention institute and provides $2 million in funding for the institute through the EPF. The institute will be a multi-disciplinary center to help businesses implement pollution prevention practices through research and development assistance, technology transfer and information dissemination.

Other initiatives include funding for a new Climate Change Office and a Sweeney sponsored study to assess New York’s wastewater infrastructure needs. “I have heard from advocates from Montauk Point at the tip of Long Island to concerned citizens in the Adirondacks and in Buffalo that this is a crucial environmental issue that needs attention,” Sweeney said.

Super Bills

During the 2007 Legislative Session, certain environmental bills were designated “Super Bills” by the Green Panel, which is made up of state environmental leaders. According to the Green Panel, these legislative proposals address particularly urgent or timely environmental issues facing New Yorkers.

For the third year in a row, all the Super Bills received favorable consideration by the Assembly. The Super Bills for 2007 are:

  • Community Preservation Act (A.7333, Sweeney) - Authorizes cities and towns to establish a small real estate transfer fee with revenues earmarked for the protection of natural areas, farmland, and historic landmarks.

  • Wetlands Protection (A.7133, Sweeney/S.3835, Marcellino) - Gives New York State the authority to regulate and protect freshwater wetlands under 12.4 acres in size.

  • Bigger Better Bottle Bill (A.4309-B, Budget and A.8044, Sweeney/S.5850, Marcellino) - Expands the State’s existing bottle deposit law to apply to bottled waters, juices, and other non-carbonated beverages that are not currently redeemable, and reclaims for environmental purposes all unclaimed nickel deposits.

  • Climate Change Solutions Act (A.7365, Sweeney/S.5347, Marcellino) and Fund (A.7366, Gianaris/S.5371, Marcellino) - Dedicates any money raised from the auction of carbon dioxide emissions allowances under the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative (RGGI) for energy efficiency and renewable energy development initiatives.

Assembly Acts to Increase Energy Efficiency of Lighting

The energy used for lighting represents about a quarter of the State’s electricity demand. Most residents and many businesses still use traditional incandescent light bulbs, which convert about 10% of the electricity they use to light with the remaining 90% converted to heat. In contrast, energy efficient alternatives such as compact fluorescent lamps (CFLs) convert a much smaller amount to heat and thus use two-thirds less energy for the lighting equivalent to traditional bulbs.

During the 2007 session, the Assembly Committees on Environmental Conservation and Energy held a hearing regarding environmental and energy efficiency issues related to lighting technology alternatives. As a result of the testimony heard at the hearing, the Assembly passed the Lighting Efficiency and Toxics Reduction Act (A8641-B, Sweeney). This bill establishes a strategy for substantially increasing the use of energy-efficient lighting in lieu of less efficient lighting over the next decade. The bill also provides for a phase down of the use of toxic materials in all lighting products and the implementation of programs for the recycling of mercury-containing lamps.

As an example of the potential impact of this bill’s promotion of energy efficiency, replacing incandescent lamps with CFLs nationally would reduce the annual energy demand by the equivalent of what is generated by 30 nuclear power plants or up to 80 coal-burning power plants. Estimates of more than 158 million tons of carbon dioxide and 5,700 pounds of airborne mercury emissions would be eliminated due to decreased energy demands.

Discussions are underway with the Senate to reconcile differences in the legislation that passed that house in hopes of sending an agreed-upon bill to the Governor for his approval before the end of the year.

Great Lakes – St. Lawrence River Basin Water Resources Compact

Approximately 80 percent of New York’s fresh surface water and over 700 miles of shoreline are within the drainage basins of Lake Ontario, Lake Erie, and the St. Lawrence River. Over 40 percent of the land mass in New York State lies within the Great Lakes Basin, extending over 25 counties. Consequently, protection of the water in the Great Lakes Basin is of tremendous importance to millions of residents and businesses in New York State. The Great Lakes – St. Lawrence River Basin Water Resources Compact contains a number of important water-use protections, including prohibitions on any new out-of basin-diversion, and requirements that major new withdrawal projects must include water conservation measures and that all diverted waters are returned to the basin of origin.

It is likely that the Compact, sponsored by Assemblyman Bob Sweeney (A.7266-B), will become a reality this year. After being passed by the Assembly two years in a row, the Senate passed the Compact in July. The Compact is the result of a multi-year international effort to create an enforceable process to protect the waters of the Great Lakes Basin. To become the law of the land, the Compact language will have to be passed into law by all eight Great Lakes States, and then be ratified by Congress. When this happens, the Compact Agreements will constitute a major improvement in the protection and management regime for all waters of the Great Lakes Basin.

The agreements can be viewed online on the web site of the Council of Great Lakes Governors at: http://www.cglg.org/projects/water/CompactImplementation.asp

Assembly Passes Bill Requiring Stores to Recycle Bags

The Assembly recently passed legislation (A.8810-B, Sweeney) which aims to reduce the environmental damage caused by single-use plastic carryout bags. It is estimated that up to one trillion of these bags are consumed worldwide each year, with billions ending up as litter, contaminating the environment, and posing a risk to wildlife and marine life. Other governments have banned or taken similar action to reduce the environmental impacts of plastic carryout bags, including Australia, Bangladesh, Ireland, Italy and Taiwan, as well as the State of California.

The Assembly bill requires large retail stores that provide customers with plastic carryout bags at checkout to establish in-store programs for customers to return those bags for recycling. In establishing return programs, the stores must make available clearly-marked, visible and accessible bag collection bins, and ensure that each plastic bag provided by the store is printed with the words, “PLEASE RETURN TO A PARTICIPATING STORE FOR RECYCLING”. Additionally, the store must make reusable bags available to customers for purchase to be used in lieu of single–use bags.

The bill also places responsibilities on the manufacturers who sell single-use plastic bags to the stores in the State. They are required to make arrangements with the stores (at their request) for the proper collection, transport and recycling of the returned bags. Furthermore, the manufacturers must develop and make available to stores educational materials encouraging the reduction, reuse, and recycling of plastic carryout bags.

Additional Environmental
Conservation Highlights. . .

This year the Assembly Environmental Conservation Committee had 53 bills pass both houses of the legislature. Among these bills are the following:

Restricting the Use of Hazardous Creosote - The use of creosote has been linked to a number of health problems for workers and the contamination of surface and ground water. This new law will phase-out the manufacturing, sale and use of creosote and regulate its disposal. (A.1095-A, Brodsky/S.1768-A, Maltese; Chapter 172 Laws of 2007)

Increasing Information Relating to Environmental Tests - This bill requires landlords to disclose known reports of contamination of real property to all tenants occupying such property. (A.2742, Lupardo/S.1586, Libous; Passed Both Houses)

Reducing Lead Content in Jewelry - When various health groups conducted independent tests of jewelry sold in New York, they found significant levels of lead. This bill provides for more stringent control over the lead content of jewelry, particularly children’s jewelry, sold in the State. (A.8077, Koon/S.5784, Alesi; Passed Both Houses)

New York State Canal Flood Mitigation Task Force - In late June 2006, communities, businesses, farms and families were devastated by unprecedented flooding along the Erie Canal. This bill creates a task force to determine what measures should be taken to enhance flood management and mitigation in and along the New York State canal system. (A.6487-A, Tonko/S.4139, Farley; Passed Both Houses)

Oswego River Basin Water Level Management Commission - This bill seeks to manage the water levels of the canal system, Finger Lakes, Seneca River, Oneida Lake, Oneida River and Oswego River by establishing a commission made up of representatives of state and local governments, and private citizens. (A.6905-A, Magnarelli/S.3761-A, DeFrancisco; Passed Both Houses)

Zoar Valley Unique Area - The Zoar Valley Unique Area is a 1,492-acre property spanning the borders of Erie and Cattaraugus counties which includes miles of tributary gorges, carved by the Cattaraugus Creek following the retreat of the last glaciers. This new law will provide long-term protection of these irreplaceable natural and scenic resources by dedicating the Zoar Valley Unique Area to the State Nature and Historical Preserve. (A.7542, Parment/S.5141, Young; Chapter 130 Laws of 2007)

Water Pollution Control Linked Deposit Program - This new law will make it easier for residents, small businesses and farmers to obtain loans for water pollution control programs by establishing a linked deposit program through the Environmental Facilities Corporation. Under the Program, up to $10 million will be made available annually from the State Revolving Loan Funds to farmers to undertake agricultural non-point source management projects and to residents and small businesses upgrading or replacing on-site wastewater treatment (septic) systems. (A.8460, Magee/S.6098, Saland; Chapter 262 Laws of 2007)

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