The New York state legislature recently passed a number of environmental bills that await Governor Andrew Cuomo’s signature. Among them is a fracking-related bill that would be a first in the nation.
Rob Hayes is clean water associate at Environmental Advocates NY. He addresses one bill that would classify all fracking waste as subject to the same hazardous waste management regulations that apply to other New York industries.
“This is a precedent-setting bill. New York would be the first start in the nation to finally declare that fracking waste is hazardous,” Hayes says. “And the state legislature took an enormous step to make sure that this dangerous substance is not shipped into our state and does not continue to pollute clean water across the Southern Tier and across the state.”
It was December 2014 when Governor Cuomo announced New York would ban fracking, the first such announcement in the country. This April, the state legislature codified the fracking ban as part of the budget. Environmental Policy Director for the New York Public Interest Research Group Liz Moran:
“Despite that ban, we’ve still been accepting fracking waster from Pennsylvania’s operations in our landfills since at least 2011, if not earlier,” Moran says.
“There’s a loophole that exists federally that a number of states replicated that exempt oil and gas waste from being handled and treated as hazardous waste,” says Moran.
Hayes says another bill would protect a certain class of streams in New York.
“There are about 40,000 miles of Class C streams in New York that will have new protections if Governor Cuomo signs this bill,” Hayes says. “These streams are absolutely critical to filtering out pollutants and keeping our drinking water free from contamination.”
One is Silver Stream, which feeds into Washington Lake in Newburgh. The lake was the drinking water source for the city of 30,000 until PFOS contamination was reported in 2015. PFOS-contaminated water still flows from Stewart Air National Guard base. But the city now draws its water from the Catskill Aqueduct. NYPIRG’s Moran.
“Because our lower class streams didn’t have the same protections as others, it further enabled contamination to get into Newburgh’s drinking water source from the Department of Defense air base,” Moran says.
Hayes thinks state lawmakers would consider adding other classes down the road.
“With the rollbacks that we’ve been seeing from the Trump Administration, how they have been eviscerating protections for clean water, New York needs to take as much action as possible to make sure that we’re standing up for people’s drinking water,” says Hayes.
And there’s a bill that would ban the manufacture, selling and distribution of food packaging that contains PFAS substances. NYPIRG’s Moran:
“PFAS chemicals are used for their water-resistant properties and, consequently, grease-resistant properties. They’ve been used in food containers over the years, microwave popcorn bags, for example, which means that’s a way that we’re directly ingesting these chemicals and entering them in our bodies,” Moran says. “So the legislature passed a really important piece of legislation that takes a … approach and would ban the use of these chemicals in food containers in New York state.”
If the bill is signed, New York would be among the few states with such a law.
“Washington state is the first in the country that passed a law like this,” says Moran. “But it’s important to keep the trend up, and it’s important to keep building on the work we’re doing to address PFAS chemicals in the environment.”
Other environmental bills on the governor’s desk include one to ban the use glyphosate on state property. Glyphosate is a commonly used herbicide more commonly known by trade names like Roundup. And there’s legislation that would ban certain uses of trichloroethylene, or TCE, a toxic chemical and known human carcinogen.