Big Win for New Yorkers: Governor Proposes to Double the Size of the Environmental Protection Fund

These days, if you're looking for a champion of environmental protection, just direct your eyes over to the New York State governor's office, in Albany. There, since he banned fracking a little more than a year ago, Governor Andrew Cuomo has been putting in place policies and programs that make New York a national leader on issues such as climate, clean water, solid waste and land conservation.

Adding to that reputation, the governor yesterday morning announced a historic $300 million in proposed funding for the state's Environmental Protection Fund. That number is almost double last year's allocation of $177 million and significantly above 2009's low water mark of $133 million. Importantly, none of the $300 million comes from revenues raised by the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative, the trailblazing nine-state program that's significantly cut the state's and the region's carbon pollution from power plants by auctioning off pollution permits and then using the proceeds to fund energy efficiency and renewable energy. No wonder the governor is increasingly seen, across the country, as an environmental flag-bearer.

The EPF supports a wide array of environmental projects, including land conservation, waterfront revitalization, farmland protection, recycling and other projects and programs, helping the Empire State, its municipalities and non-profits safeguard the natural world on which we and our kids so deeply depend. (The fund also builds on a Cuomo family legacy: It was created in 1993, jointly, by the New York State legislature and then-Governor Mario Cuomo, the current governor's father.)

Using revenue from the Real Estate Transfer Tax, the EPF, for instance, helps monitor and improve the health of New York's marine ecosystems, tracking and observing whale and sea turtle populations, so we can better understand their migration routes and better protect them in waters shared by industry and leisure users. It safeguards the clean drinking water that gives New Yorker bragging rights across the U.S.

Among the EPF's priorities in the coming budget year, the governor's office says and we at NRDC wholeheartedly agree, is "an aggressive environmental justice agenda." It will help rectify decades of disproportionate pollution in low-income communities and communities of color by using funding to help fight asthma through stronger enforcement of the state's clean air laws.

For "every $1 of EPF funds invested in land and water protection, $7 in economic benefits are generated for New York State," NRDC and a coalition of almost 150 New York non-profit organizations and businesses wrote to the governor in November. Today, with his announcement of a proposed $300 million for the EPF, Governor Cuomo demonstrated not just environmental leadership but the wisdom (and good math skills) to know what a smart investment environmental protection can be.


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