NY budget restores EPF funding for ocean & Great Lakes programs

Has Spring finally arrived? After a long winter spent pressing the New York State Governor and Legislature to ensure the funding necessary to protect the state's ecologically and economically important ocean and Great Lakes resources, today was a breath of fresh air.

 When the dust finally settled in Albany today  the Legislature passed a FY 2009-10 budget that includes $222 million for the state Environmental Protection Fund (EPF), up from the $205 million Governor Paterson had proposed. But that $222 million will actually feel like more than $252 million, since $30 million of state park funding is being pulled out of the EPF to be separately bonded. Environmental advocates were fearing the worst as we faced a severely stripped down version of funding that would have jeopardized the state's important clean water and air projects, which benefit both our environment as well as create new jobs and make the state's communities more attractive to businesses and people.

Today's EPF is something worth celebrating. In particular, we're thrilled to see that the line item for ocean and Great Lakes projects was increased to $6 million - tripling the Governor's proposed $2 million. This amount is an increase even from last $4.5 million. The Legislature also rejected the Governor's proposal to completely eliminate funding for the state's zoos this year - instead supplying $9 million to keep them running and protect the jobs they support.

 And the good budget news doesn't stop there. We've also protected the EPF in FY 2008-09 from a $45 million "sweep" of cash into the state's general fund. This would have reduced the EPF to the point of insolvency, essentially erasing any funding for environmental projects for the rest of 2008 and continuing into 2009. Without funding, our success in restoring line items in the 2008-09 budget would be reduced to a pyrrhic victory. Multi-year projects would have stopped dead in their tracks - wasting the initial effort and funding. One of these threatened projects the state's whale monitoring program at Cornell that will help set the course for New York to protect its endangered whales from lethal ship collisions. Monitoring of our state's fisheries and for important research into the state's bycatch problem would have ceased as well.

Without the restored funding, we would have lost much of the progress New York State has made to restore our ocean and Great Lakes resources. Just this January, a council made up of nine state agencies released a report that called for immediate action to restore New York's ocean and Great Lakes resources because of severe environmental and economic decline. The New York Ocean and Great Lakes Coalition, which NRDC is a part of, has demonstrated $25 million worth of ocean and Great Lakes projects that need funding right now; today's $6 million investment is an important step, as the longer we wait to fix these problems, the harder and more expensive it will be.

 The chairs of the environmental committees in both houses - Senator Thompson and Assemblyman Sweeney - especially deserve a huge THANK YOU from all the state's citizens for recognizing the significance of these programs and standing up to the Governor's cuts.

Clearly we are experiencing a more than challenging fiscal time, but the EPF is funded through a dedicated revenue source that was established so that our critical environmental programs can be carried out in both good and bad economic times. And New York's ocean and Great Lakes provide millions of dollars for the state's economy and thousands of jobs. In 2004, New York's coastal counties had 17,558 ocean sector establishments, such as seafood markets, boat and ship building, and tourism, which contributed more than 356,200 jobs and $11.5 billion in wages. And ocean sector industries contributed a total of more than $24.6 billion to the state's gross domestic product. Long Island Sound alone contributes roughly $8.5 billion a year to the regional economy through boasting, fishing, swimming and sight-seeing activities. These jobs rely on healthy ocean resources.

In these tough financial times, both of the FY2008-09 and 2009-10 funding for our ocean and Great Lakes resources are truly a great success, and show the state legislature knows their importance to both a healthy environment and a healthy economy.

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