State Budget for 2019 Draws Mixed Reactions from Environmental Contingent

By Liz Skolnick

On March 30, Governor Cuomo outlined the new State Budget for FY 2019. The budget allocates funds for various environmental initiatives including improvement to parks and trail systems, promotion of NYS agricultural products, and combating algal blooms, with most of the monies coming from the Environmental Protection Fund (EPF).

Long Island saw one big win with significant funding going toward the testing and improvement of water quality. Proposed actions and infrastructure include drinking water filtration and lab testing to address concerns over the presumed carcinogen 1,4-dioxane, which has been the source of much concern on the Island. Relatedly, the budget proposes to fast-track the construction of new wells to contain and treat the 4-mile long plume of industrial waste originating from the U.S. Navy/Northrop Grumman Bethpage manufacturing facilities in Oyster Bay. Other Long Island highlights include the addition of 1,000 acres to the Pine Barrens Preserve, funding to eradicate invasive species like the Southern Pine Beetle, and continued funding for the Peconic Bay Estuary Program.

Support for these projects has drawn praise from some environmental groups and advocates, while others have expressed disappointment with the Budget plan's failure to fund the Food Recycling and Recovery Act (though it does propose $2 million to fund municipalities and food banks’ recycling of food scraps), and to include support for the long debated statewide plastic bag ban, which has received much attention in the past few years, and which I recently wrote about here.

Some dissenters contend that Cuomo’s support for environmental initiatives amounts to “cherry picking” projects based on their popularity, and momentary place in the hearts of a fickle public. Other groups claim that not enough is being done to make New York the “green,” environmentally progressive state that residents and politicians like to see it as; rather, they maintain, the plan simply keeps up the “status quo.”

While the Budget plan was indeed a boon to parks, water quality and agriculture, improvements to recycling and solid waste management did not receive mention. For our part, we hope to see a general raising of the level of awareness about the inefficiencies and obstacles that plague recycling programs in New York State and Long Island. The lack of recognition in the state budget is symptomatic of the current general lack of awareness and attention to these issues. It can’t be denied that needed changes such as upgrades to antiquated pen-and-paper solid waste data reporting, not to mention adding more DEC personnel for badly needed programmatic oversight and document processing, would be impossible to achieve without more funds. And with the pending solid waste crisis on Long Island, it is absurd that the issue did not even warrant debate.

However, money alone may not be the simple (or, only) answer. Some meaningful improvements to the way we handle our recycling and waste may be achieved in its absence. Certain programmatic changes, for example, and increased transparency at all levels of governance and program administration may be created through making waste documentation public, and through better outreach and recycling education efforts, and general engagement with local communities. These need not be costly ventures.

For the time being, while waste management is again passed over for funding and acknowledgement, as other issues are given the spotlight, we must strive to remember — and to remind others —  that the waste crisis facing Long Island isn’t going away. We must continually bring this issue to the attention of policymakers and Long Island officials who have pushed the problems to the back burner. We must remind them that, the sooner they face the problem, a vital and fundamental part of our infrastructure that is in dire need of attention, the better we can avoid, or at least mitigate, the real “crisis” that scientists and academics (and a few wise local politicians) have been warning of for decades.