In his first State of the State speech as governor of New York, Andrew Cuomo focused heavily on the obvious issues – New York’s crushing budget and economy problems. But he also introduced important initiatives on local food, green jobs, and smart growth, three issues that NRDC is devoting significant attention to in New York.
While the nitty-gritty details remain to be seen, Cuomo pledged $100 million for a competitive grant program to “encourage communities to develop regional sustainable growth strategies in housing, transportation, emissions control, energy efficiency.” He said the grants will go to local private sector partnerships who present the most innovative plans for green job development and smart growth.
Cuomo also touched on an issue that has shot to the forefront of New York’s environment over the past few years – food policy. He announced a food market program that would boost the relationship between cities and local farms, while increasing the presence of fresh, local foods in urban areas.
He didn’t say more on energy or the environment – specifically, proposed natural gas drilling in New York’s Catskills region. That prize went to Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver, who brought the issue to the front burner during his introductory speech. Silver emphasized that we must ensure hydraulic fracking doesn’t harm our drinking water and laid a heavy burden of proof on the oil and gas industry for demonstrating otherwise.
Cuomo also didn’t touch the Department of Environmental Conservation’s budgetary woes in his speech, but it’s something he’ll certainly have to address as governor. The agency has suffered severe, disproportionate budget and personnel cuts and is in such bad shape that it can’t even keep critical (federally funded) programs alive. Further cuts could devastate key conservation and environmental law enforcement programs.
But the agency got some good news yesterday – Cuomo selected Open Space Institute president Joe Martens to be its new commissioner. Joe has a fantastic conservation record and knows Albany’s inner workings well. His appointment is an indication that protecting the environment and public health will be a top priority in this administration.
We still have much to learn about what Governor Cuomo will do on environmental issues during his tenure, but the initiatives announced today and his clean record on the environment as attorney general bode well. We’ll be watching to see how he handles other important issues, like the restoring the Environmental Protection Fund, safeguarding New York’s drinking water from proposed fracking, and boosting renewable energy initiatives. New York can and should be a leader on all of these important fronts.