Funding Controversy is Water Under the Tappan Zee Bridge

Tappan Zee Bridge.jpg

After months of effort, the State of New York finally gave up on its attempts to divert over $500 million from the state's Clean Water State Revolving Fund (CWSRF) to help finance the replacement of the Tappan Zee Bridge over the Hudson River. Almost $480 million of the funding had little or no connection to improving water quality and was ultimately found to be ineligible for CWSRF support.

If allowed to stand, the loans that New York State's Environmental Facilities Corporation (EFC) had initially approved from the CWSRF would have established a very dangerous precedent. It would have emboldened other governors in other states to look for ways to similarly divert funding to pet projects with little or no connection to improving water quality. USEPA and New York State have now reached an agreement that helps protect the future integrity of the $130 billion in total CWSRF and Drinking Water State Revolving Fund money that has financed projects in every state in the country.

New York State tried to divert half a billion dollars of clean water money to support replacing the Tappan Zee Bridge. Photo credit: New York State Thruway Authority.

Last year, USEPA notified New York State that it was disallowing EFC's proposed funding of activities related to the demolition of the Tappan Zee Bridge and construction of its replacement, the New New York Bridge [20140916 TZB Financing - EPA disallowance letter.pdf]. The state, through the EFC, had earlier approved over $500 million in low interest and no interest loans to the State Thruway Authority over the objections of USEPA and several environmental organizations, including NRDC. In response to USEPA's action to disallow the loans, New York filed an administrative appeal with USEPA Region 2.

In an agreement reached last week between the state and USEPA Region 2 [TappanZeeBridgeAgreementletter.pdf], the state has agreed to not pursue any additional administrative appeals nor will it pursue any further administrative or judicial reviews. In exchange, USEPA Region 2 amended its earlier decision that disallowed the vast bulk of proposed EFC financing for the bridge to allow an additional $1.3 million in projects ($1.2 million for oyster bed restoration and $100,000 to relocate a falcon nest box) to be supported by CWSRF financing [TZB Chart.pdf].

NRDC is very pleased with this outcome. New York-based organizations Riverkeeper, Environmental Advocates of New York and Pace Environmental Litigation Clinic kept the heat on New York State, filing a complaint in state court while also generating a ton of bad press for the state's attempts to divert clean water money to the replacement of a bridge. NRDC played a supporting role in these efforts, communicating our concerns to the governor [New York CWSRF TZB Letter.pdf], urging USEPA to disallow the loans with other national organziations [USEPA Letter re TZB project eligibility.pdf], and providing detailed technical and legal analysis of the proposed projects. We dissected each of the proposed projects and reviewed hundreds of pages of documents to demonstrate that most of the projects should be ineligible for CWSRF financing.

We want to thank USEPA Administrator Gina McCarthy and USEPA Region 2 Administrator Judith Enck for standing up for the integrity of clean water funding.