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Commentary & Opinion

Governor Hochul acts on the environment

Last week, Governor Hochul acted on a half dozen pieces of legislation that covered drinking water supply safety, lead exposure in school drinking water, plastic waste, reducing greenhouse gas emissions from the agricultural sector, pesticides in kids’ summer camps, and fracking wastes being used on roadways. She got five right and one – the use of fracking waste – wrong.

Arguably, the most important bill that the governor approved was legislation that closes a longstanding federal loophole that excludes public water systems serving fewer than 10,000 residents from having to test for emerging contaminants. By including a specific list of emerging contaminants that have already been detected in New York’s larger public water supplies and giving a deadline for the New York Health Department to establish the testing list, this bill ensures that all New Yorkers will know what’s in their public water sources. (You can review contaminants found in NYS’s drinking water at https://www.nypirg.org/whatsinmywater/.)

In the second bill, the governor also approved legislation dealing with lead exposure. Lead is a neurotoxin that is particularly damaging to infants, toddlers, and young children. In addition to causing myriad health problems, lead exposure harms children’s intellectual development and causes behavioral issues, interfering with their ability to focus and learn in school. Unfortunately, many public school buildings in New York have lead components in their plumbing systems resulting in children being exposed to lead in the school water used for drinking and food preparation. This legislation tightens testing requirements and standards pertaining to lead in school drinking water.

A third bill deals with protecting agricultural soil. According to the world’s leading climate scientists, in order to limit global warming to under 3o F, greenhouse gas emissions will have to be cut dramatically across all sectors. In order for New York State to achieve its critical climate goals and align with global climate science, cutting pollution from the agricultural sector will be a key component. This legislation would help accomplish this by enabling the Department of Agriculture to encourage soil health practices. Such practices will help store and draw carbon from the atmosphere, prevent erosion and flooding, and protect water quality.

The fourth addresses plastic waste by banning hotels from providing small plastic bottles that contain shampoos, conditioners, and more. According to a recent report, experts estimate that over eight million tons of plastic waste ends up in the world’s oceans each year, and that amount is likely to increase dramatically over the next decade unless states and nations act. The average American throws out 185 pounds of plastic every year. Reducing plastic waste by hotels will help deal with the growing tide of plastic use.

The fifth deals with pesticide use in summer camps. Pesticides are designed to have a biological impact. Consequently, pesticides have toxic effects not only on the plants and animals they are designed to control, but also on humans.

Infants and children are particularly sensitive to the toxic effects of pesticides for a variety of reasons: The liver and kidneys in infants are incapable of removing pesticides as well as adults, children take more breaths per minute increasing inhalation of pesticides, infants and children spend more time on the ground where pesticides are applied, and children are more likely to put various objects in their mouths.

This bill extends current restrictions on the use of pesticides in schools and day care centers to summer camps. Camps often offer outdoor environments that include manicured lawns, playgrounds, and athletic fields. The bill dramatically reduces the use of pesticides around children.

Unfortunately, the governor chose to veto legislation that would ban some of the most dangerous oil and gas wastes from being used on roadways. Currently, the state permits the use of oil and gas liquid wastes as road deicers used by 33 different cities, towns, and private entities. Any waste generated through the extraction of oil or gas can contain a number of pollutants, such as toxic chemicals, metals, excess salts, and carcinogens like benzene, as well as radioactive materials.

Using this waste on highways threatens water quality in New York – run-off from rain or snowmelt could lead to the dangerous constituents in the waste ending up in waterways or groundwater. The governor’s veto of this bill undermines her other thoughtful actions to safeguard drinking water supplies.

This last issue is likely to come back in the new legislation session – unless the Hochul Administration acts using its regulatory power to ban the use of fracking wastes on roads. Here’s hoping that she does so.

Blair Horner is executive director of the New York Public Interest Research Group.

The views expressed by commentators are solely those of the authors. They do not necessarily reflect the views of this station or its management.

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