Guided by the strong leadership of Governor Andrew Cuomo, 2014 was a banner year for environmental victories in New York State.
Perhaps most notably, just last month he made the bold decision to ban fracking in New York State after carefully considering the strong scientific evidence warning of its risks. In a quieter environmental victory, and after a decade-long battle, New York blocked the clustering of casinos in the Catskills and spared Sterling Forest and other sensitive areas in the Hudson Valley. And over the summer, the state shut down the country's largest ivory market, helping to stop the senseless slaughter of African elephants and setting a model for other states to follow.
Where do we go from here? Our hope is full steam ahead toward a healthier, more secure, and sustainable New York. In anticipation of the governor's State of the State address next week, NRDC has laid out the top three environmental issues that Governor Cuomo should prioritize in the year ahead to build on his recent progress and get us there.
A detailed breakdown of the items at the top of our wish list follows. They include an aggressive investment in clean energy--from wind and solar, to energy efficiency and cleaner cars. Along with the state's sustainable farming, these two industries can help revive struggling upstate economies. And there's also significant room for prioritizing clean water and healthier oceans and coast. Together, these three priorities can help deliver the better future for New York's communities that the Governor has been working toward.
GO ALL-IN ON CLEAN ENERGY
Following the governor's historic fracking ban announcement, New York has the opportunity to go all-in on clean energy, which not only helps combat climate change but can bring good jobs and energy savings to all New Yorkers. This is the year to make New York the top state for deploying these resources, a move that will help the Governor meet the state's greenhouse gas reduction goals. Here's how to get there:
Renewable Energy. Adopt a Renewable Portfolio Standard that would ensure New York meets 50 percent of its electric demand from renewable sources like wind (both on and offshore) and solar by 2025 along with community/shared renewables policies to allow more New Yorkers to access clean energy.
Energy Efficiency. Establish clear targets for utilities (2 percent annually) and build in programs that ensure historically underserved communities such as the affordable multifamily sector have targeted investments (a move that can help lower bills for low-income New Yorkers). Expand New York's focus on reducing energy consumption and promoting clean energy in the state's cities, which will help to spur economic development and community revitalization.
Cleaner Cars. Pave the way for a cleaner transportation sector by scaling up electric vehicle infrastructure and adopting the regulations necessary to facilitate a cleaner fleet, and pursue mechanisms to track and reduce the carbon intensity of our liquid fuels.
SUPPORT FOR NEW YORK FARMERS AND LOCAL FOOD
Create a Permanent Wholesale Farmers' Market in the Bronx. Perhaps the single most important thing the state can do to strengthen New York's sustainable farming and food economy is to build a permanent wholesale market for regional farmers in the Hunts Point section of the Bronx, where the bulk of metro area's restaurants and groceries get their fruit and vegetables. But while the produce market in Hunts Point currently services 22 million people, or 7 percent of the entire U.S. population, only about 4 percent of the fruit and vegetables sold there is from New York farms. Fortunately, Governor Cuomo has repeatedly voiced his support--and as recently as last month--for just such a wholesale farmers' market that would give New York farmers a dedicated space to exponentially increase their market and consumers' access to fresh, local food. We look to the governor to ensure that 2015 is the year this critical market is finally secured.
Protect the Pollinators, Protect the Farmers. Pollinators like bees and monarch butterflies play a vital role in our ecosystems and economies. Bees pollinate $15 billion worth of the crops grown in the U.S. every year, including New York's $250 million industry apple industry alone. But the use of neonicotinoid ("neonic") pesticides and loss of habitat are wiping out their populations en masse--more than 25 percent of the managed U.S. bee population has disappeared since 1990 and the number of hives is now at its lowest level in 50 years. Building upon his successful effort to protect endangered elephants, we hope Governor Cuomo will commit to protecting the pollinators that are critical to our state's agriculture.
HEALTHIER OCEANS & COASTS
Keep State Ocean & Great Lakes Programs Strong. The state has made great strides in protecting the health of its environmentally and economically valuable waters thanks to the creation of the New York Ocean and Great Lakes line in the Environmental Protection Fund. By keeping the EPF strong, we are poised to gain a better understanding of where whales are migrating through our waters--and how to use that data to inform our decision-making regarding offshore wind construction and increased shipping, both of which could, without sensible mitigation measures, harm endangered and threatened whale species and jeopardize the state's fledgling whale-watching industry. From fisheries protection to sea level rise preparation and helping further the responsible siting of offshore wind development, New York State is helping lead the way and the EPF is critical to that continued progress.
Reduce water pollution at our beaches. Runoff from cities and suburbs--loaded with bacteria, motor oil, chemicals, and litter that wash off of roads, roofs, parking lots, etc.--is one of the biggest sources of water pollution statewide, and even triggers sewage overflows. This spring, the state's highest court will decide a landmark case, brought by NRDC, aimed at ensuring the state cleans up it up. But regardless of how the court rules, the state needs to hold cities, towns, and developers responsible for reducing their contribution to this pollution. The best way to do this is to update and strengthen its rules governing this pollution to increase use of green infrastructure and create legal accountability for meeting water quality standards.
Boost water conservation. Gov. Cuomo has acknowledged that "the preservation and protection of New York's water resources is vital to the state's residents, farmers and businesses" and that conservation standards he signed in 2011 will help the state "promote economic growth and address droughts." However, the state's efforts to implement that law and curtail water waste have been less than robust. There's a suite of policies New York can use to ensure both municipal and industrial water users are using all available, cost-effective water conservation measures that can help our economy grow and help solve our municipal water infrastructure crisis, while making sure we're leaving enough for the fishes.
With so many positive developments in 2014, we are enthusiastic about what Governor Cuomo might have in store for the year ahead. We hope it includes these priorities that can continue to make New York a leader on clean energy, sustainable local food, and water protection.