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Environmental Groups Offer Lukewarm Review Of NY Legislative Session With Much Work Left Aside

The state capitol in Albany
Dave Lucas
The state capitol in Albany

Conservation advocates say the New York state legislature had few accomplishments over the course of this year’s session — which ended last week — for the Adirondacks and the state’s environment.
The legislature adjourned last Wednesday and several environmental and conservation groups are giving lawmakers lukewarm reviews for their work.

Adirondack Council spokesman John Sheehan says there were a couple positives including money for the Environmental Protection Fund.  “The major positives came in the form of budget proposals. There was a $300 million appropriation again for the Environmental Protection Fund and we saw some money set aside for invasive species programs and that sort of thing. The legislative session itself however seemed to fizzle after the budget was over with and we didn’t get much accomplished beyond that.”

Protect the Adirondacks Executive Director Peter Bauer agrees that the legislative session ground to a halt and a number of Adirondack issues languished.  “A number of Adirondack issues were left on the floor and did not get completed or no meaningful legislation was passed. Although there were a half-dozen major issues affecting the Park none of them managed to get done in this session.”

Both groups point to inaction on numerous items including a conservation development bill that Bauer says would change how the Adirondack Park Agency reviews large-scale subdivisions.  “Unfortunately the agency act has been frozen for 40 years and has not really been able to take advantage of some of the new and really strong land use planning tools that are being widely used across the country.  There are a couple of constitutional amendments for the Forest Preserve that were being developed: one for Camp Gabriels and another for Cathead Mountain and emergency systems communications in southern Hamilton County. There were bills to fix the Township 40 settlement as well as some other bills dealing with Adirondack issues.”

New York League of Conservation Voters President Marcia Bystryn echoes that at a statewide level there were a few positives but overall it was a lackluster performance by the legislature for the environment.   "One thing we’re particularly pleased they took up was the Drug Take Back Act because  there is a tendency for people to throw unused medications in the toilet which as a consequence contaminates the water supply. What was left on the table were a number of pieces of legislation we were actively supporting which just did not get anywhere, and also quite frankly the prohibition on offshore drilling, none of those moved.”

The League of Conservation Voters’ press release cites partisan brinkmanship for the lack of environmental action. Bystryn says it was extremely problematic.  “At the end of the session the tensions and the bipartisan, maybe even tri-partisan, divisions came to the fore. So on the Senate side they refused to move on the offshore drilling or the menhaden. On the Assembly side they refused to move on the paint stewardship. There have been occasions where Democrats won’t sign on to legislation that was initially sponsored by members of the IDC (Independent Democratic Conference). In other words partisanship got in the way of advancing important environmental legislation.”

The League of Conservation Voters will publish a scorecard in July that ranks legislators on how well they performed on the League’s priorities.

The Adirondack Council will publish its State of the Park review of government actions in September.

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