ALBANY: Speakers from Citizens’ Environment Coalition, Environmental Advocates, NYPIRG and Sierra Club came to visit the April Save the Pine Bush vegetarian/vegan lasagna dinner at the First Presbyterian Church to celebrate Earth Week. A lot is going on in the environment, and the speakers gave Save the Pine Bush an update on issues they are working on.
Barbara Warren of Citizens’ Environment Coalition (CEC) began by introducing herself as the new executive director. CEC began 24 years ago to work on superfund sites, health issues, addressing stainability, and zero waste. Barbara spoke about current sucesses. The Pollution Prevention Institute, an important and exciting program to study alternatives to toxic chemicals, has been put in the NYS budget this year. This institute includes RIT and three other universities to conduct the research.
Governor Patterson spoke at Earth Day Lobby Day, the first time a sitting governor ever attended the Lobby Day event. Barbara quoted Governor Patterson as saying “Earth Day should be every day.”
CEC is working on reforming what the New York State government purchases, including working on a plan to not purchase persistent toxins, an initiative instituted by executive order. Seven state agencies have already approved this order. Not only will this improve health, this program is expected to save millions of dollars.
In addition, according to Barbara, Department of Environmental Conservation Commissioner Pete Grannis has set a zero-waste objective for the department.
Katherine Nadeau, Water and Natural Resources Program Associate for Environmental Advocates of New York (EA) described her organization’s role as the state’s environmental watch dog, watching the state government’s policies that may help or harm the environment. Each year, EA publishes a voters’ guide to track the records of elected officials and hold them accountable for their votes.
There is good news in the budget for the environment, even though there is a short fall in NY’s budget this year, $255 million has been budgeted for the Environmental Protection Fund, which supplies money for wetland restoration, to improve water quality, and purchase land.
$95 million has been budgeted to be used specifically to upgrade the State parks. This is the most money parks have ever received at one time. Parks estimates it needs $600 million to upgrade state parks, and the amount of money in this years budget goes a long way toward what is needed.
Katherine said that EA is looking forward to a great legislative session. One very important bill is the Environmental Access to Justice Act. This legislation fixes the problem with standing and the State Environmental Quality Review Act (SEQRA). The intent of SEQRA was clearly to give the public input into decisions by local municipalities affecting the environment. If citizens believed the government officials were not properly following SEQRA, citizens may go to court to enforce SEQRA rules. This is what Save the Pine Bush has done for the past 30 years, gone to court over wrong SEQRA determinations by local governments. In 1991, the Court of Appeals decided a case, called “Plastics”, short for Society of Plastics Industry, v. County of Suffolk. In this case, the Court of Appeals held that plaintiffs had to show a “special harm” or a harm different than the public at large, in order to bring action in court against a municipality. Many cases have been dismissed on standing instead of reviewing the merits of the case. When suing over an environmental harm, it is ridiculous to have to show a “special harm”. Loss of a species or an ecosystem (such as in the Pine Bush) affects everyone equally, no one suffers a special harm, thus making it impossible to sue to save an endangered species or ecosystem.
Everyone who cares about the environment must work to have this bill passed. Katherine distributed sample letters to be sent to Senator Morahan and Senator Marcellino, to urge them to pass D.5182, to correct the problem of standing and SEQRA. The sample letter and the legislation are reprinted here on page 4.
Joe Stelling from NYPIRG began by saying what a great group effort Earth Day Lobby Day was this year. Over half of the members of the NYS Legislature were visited by a participant of the Earth Day Lobby Day event. The Assembly passed nine environmental bills, including three of the four bills the participants lobbied for that day. Clearly, working together on environmental issues makes a huge difference!
Global warming is an issue being addressed by NYPIRG. It is important that New York take the lead on global warming issues — New York produces 1% of the green house gases produced in the world, which is a staggering amount. New York needs to be a leader in addressing global warming issues.
Of course, the Bigger, Better Bottle Bill is a very important piece of legislation. Joe pointed out some interesting facts, such as the fact that environmentalists didn’t think up deposits for bottle returns, the bottlers did! Years ago, before throw-away containers, bottlers put a deposit on their glass bottles to ensure they would be returned to be washed and refilled. Once the bottlers did not want the bottles returned, the bottles became a litter problem. Joe recounted an early ad showing the benefits of throw-away cans and bottles. Two fishermen were sitting in their boat in a stream, tossing their empty cans into the water, all the while pointing out how great “no deposit, no return” was!
NYPIRG was instrumental in getting the first bottle bill passed. The original bottle bill was very successful in reducing litter and reducing waste going into landfills.
When the original bottle bill was passed, almost all beverage containers were soda and beer bottles and cans, and non-carbonated beverage containers were exempt from the bill. Now, with the various teas, sports drinks, and water sold in bottles and cans, it is essential that the bottle bill be expanded to include these non-carbonated beverage containers too.
The Bigger Better Bottle Bill is getting more support. For example, in 2005, Senate Majority leader Joseph Bruno said that passing the bigger better bottle bill was the stupidest thing the Assembly had done all year! In 2007, Senator Bruno said of the bottle bill, “we would have to consider it.”
Pete Sheehan, from the Sierra Club, began by asking for a round of applause for Save the Pine Bush for our 30 years of advocacy for the Pine Bush. Current projects of the Sierra Club include fighting in Moreau State Park against a 20 mile pipeline for water from the Hudson River for AMD, the company that may construct a chip-fab plant in Luther Forest. The Sierra Club contends that the pipeline was installed illegally and is trying to get the Office of Parks and Recreation to remove the infrastructure.
Sierra Club is involved in preservation of the sole source aquifer, the Great Flats Aquifer in Rotterdam.
One issue that has come to the attention of the Sierra Club are “pre-meetings” that the NYS Department of Environmental Conservation has with developers. These meetings are not open to the public, and are just to be of an informational nature to the developer. However, developers are able to obtain valuable information, get information on the lay of the land, where the wetlands are, and how many wetlands they would be able to fill. Making these meetings open to the public is a goal of Sierra Club.
Sierra Club is very involved in the COOL Cities project. Currently, they are meeting with the City of Albany to take a greenhouse gas inventory of the City. Pete said they have met with the director of planning in Albany, and their goal is to reduce greenhouse gas emissions to 10 to 15% below the emissions of two years ago. If people wish to get involved in the COOL Cities project, go to sierra.org/coolcities/.
Save the Pine Bush’s Earth Week dinner was informative and inspiring, and we thank the speakers for sharing their excellent presentations!