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New York State Assembly wraps up its overtime

The state Assembly convened an “overtime” session in Albany last week to take care of some leftover business from the scheduled session.

Both the state Senate and the state Assembly had agreed in January to finish up the 2023 legislative session in the first week of June. The state Senate worked into the wee hours of June 10th. The state Assembly decided to stop its work on that day, too. But in doing so, it left important parts of its work unfinished and Assemblymembers returned last week for a special two-day session to knock off its to-do list.

During those two days last week, the Assembly approved 62 bills that had already passed the Senate and will ultimately be sent to the governor for her approval.

Many of those bills were limited in scope, they addressed narrow local issues like increasing the number of members on the board of the Volunteer and Exempt Firemen's Benevolent Association of Williston Park and changing its authority. Other bills will – if approved – be consequential to New Yorkers.

For example, one bill prohibits the discharging of any radiological substance into the Hudson River in connection with the decommissioning of the Indian Point nuclear power plant. The plant is in the process of decommissioning and the company handling the plant is considering the release of 310,000 gallons of radioactive wastewater into the Hudson River starting in September and 1.3 million gallons total over two years.

If the water cannot be released into the Hudson, the leading alternative would involve storing it on-site during the decommissioning, which is expected to take another 12 to 15 years.

The bill was approved with overwhelming support – in the Assembly the vote was 101-44; in the Senate every member voted in support of the legislation.

Another bill would prohibit New York State agencies from purchasing wood products that originated in tropical rain forests.

Trees and other forms of vegetation are critical tools in fighting the climate crisis – they serve as natural carbon sinks, pulling in carbon dioxide from the atmosphere, and help keep the planet cool. However, deforestation of tropical forests is worsening the global climate crisis. It has been estimated that global loss of tropical forests contributes approximately 20% of global carbon emissions annually.

An area of 18 million acres, more than half the size of New York State, is lost every year due to deforestation. Not only is this contributing to global warming, but it also contributes to violations of indigenous land rights in many countries and loss of habitat for hundreds of animal species.

The loss of trees and other vegetation can cause climate change, desertification, soil erosion, reduction in crops, flooding, increased greenhouse gases in the atmosphere, and a host of problems for Indigenous people.

The legislation was approved by the state Assembly and, like the Senate’s passage before it, enjoyed overwhelming bipartisan support. 115 of the 141 Assemblymembers that voted supported the bill. In the Senate the margin was 42-19.

These two bills – like the other 60 passed by the Assembly last week – must still be approved by the governor before they can become law. These two bills are among the most controversial and thus there will be significant pressure on the governor both in support and in opposition.

But the governor must tread carefully: both bills have both broad-based public support, as well as significant bipartisan support within the Legislature.

New Yorkers should hope that the governor does the right thing – by approving legislation to protect the Hudson River as well as tropical rainforests.

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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