The Environmental Picture of the Capital District

by Rezsin Adams

ALBANY: The April vegetarian lasagna dinner at the First Presbyterian Church was the location for our annual round-up of the state of the environment. Speakers from five organizations told us what was happening:

Judy Enck, Attorney-General Eliot Spitzer’s Office. The Attorney-General has initiated numerous court cases to save the Clean Air Act from the Bush Administration’s attacks. And it has been quite successful. The office, in addition to many lawyers, has it’s own scientists and it is well-prepared to sue in many different areas. The Attorney-General also proposes legislation (Program Bills) and takes positions, for and against, on pending legislation. For example, the Attorney-General supports the Bigger Better Bottle Bill, which extends deposits to include water, juice and other non-carbonated beverages and also supports turning over to the state the unclaimed deposits (many millions of dollars) now held by the soda and beer companies. The Clean Air Act was signed into law by President Nixon but older coal-fired plants were exempted from the pollution control regulations unless they were substantially modified. Many plants were substantially expanded but they did not add pollution controls. Through litigation, by the end of President Clinton’s term of office these plants were finally being held accountable. The Bush Administration has tried to change the law by changing EPA’s rules and regulations. The Attorney-General’s office has gone to court to save the Clean Air Act. These cases are winnable.

Jeff Jones, Environmental Advocates. Two very good things happened last year: the Superfund was refinanced and the Brown Fields Bill was passed to facilitate the clean-up of toxic sites for reuse (for example, the former gas station property on the corner of New Scotland Ave. and Whitehall Rd. in Albany.) The following issues were raised at this year’s Environmental Lobby Day April 19, 2004: 1) support for the Bigger Better Bottle Bill which would reduce the amount of litter going into landfills and help the state to finance environmentally helpful programs; 2) close Indian Point Nuclear Reactors and require Hardened On-Site Storage of spent highly radioactive fuel rods; 3) support passage in the Senate of the siting of power plants reform law which has passed the Assembly and to support passage by the Senate of legislation to cap carbon emissions from New York State power plants (in fact, 12 stacks in the state emit 30% of the carbon emissions in New York State so just capping those stacks would help with the global warming problem); 4) expanding the regulation of wetlands from the present 12.4 acres or larger to include wetlands one acre or larger; and 5) to ban backyard burning of trash in burn barrels with the release of dioxins, heavy metals and other toxic chemicals everywhere in New York State.  Another area of concern is sprawl. Bethlehem has passed a one-year moratorium on construction. Model regulations are in effect in the pine barrens of Long Island. Up to 2% of the county real estate purchase tax is used to acquire sensitive land for preservation. This is governed by state legislation and could be expanded to other areas of the state. Another area of concern is the development of more powerful ATVs and snowmobiles because, as their power and size increase, so does the damage they cause. Something has to be done because the fees collected from these vehicles is welcome by the state government. 

Bobbi Chase, Citizens Environmental Coalition—CEC has been battling for the last ten years to get funding to clean up toxic waste sites. CEC is working now with many community groups to monitor air quality in a simple, immediate way, called a Bucket Brigade, so people can know right away what’s in their air. There are a lot of polluted neighborhoods. For example, in Cohoes there is a hazardous waste dump next door to low-income housing and leakage that finds its way into the Hudson River. There’s a lot of hazardous waste around Eastmen-Kodak in Rochester and in the industrial areas in Tonawanda and Cheektowaga near Buffalo. The cumulative threat to people’s health needs to be dealt with. Biochemical pollutants are in the environment that build up in the food chain and building products add to the toxic exposure. Every day people are being assaulted by toxins in the air, in our homes, in our schools, in our neighborhoods. CEC working to address these issues.

Laura Wells, The Nature Conservancy—The Eastern New York Chapter of The Nature Conservancy, founded in 1954, was the very first chapter to be chartered in the world. The Pine Bush is a priority for the organization. Acquisition and preservation in the Pine Bush is of great importance to The Nature Conservancy. A particular focus right now is on the western part of the Pine Bush, outside the study area, in Guilderland, Colonie, Schenectady. Steve Young has been collecting data on plant species in the Woodlawn area in Schenectady and has come up with about 500 different species and hasn’t finished the count yet. Another program which supports preservation is the Safe Harbor Program in which voluntary agreements are made with landowners to increase protection in exchange for guarantees that no adverse governmental regulations will be perpetrated.  In this way the goal of extending protection is served.

Elaine Willi—Group of People Concerned About the Woodlawn Area in Schenectady——The City of Schenectady owns land in the Woodlawn area which has been saved from development for many years. Now there is a lot of development pressure on several different parcels and, in view of Schenectady’s financial state, there is great danger that some development may be approved. Luckily there is a group of residents opposing development. The area proposed for development is being divided up into small parcels so that the developers believe they can side-step state regulations. This fragmentation causes loss of species. An additional issue is that for every $1.00 brought into government by residential development, it costs the community $1.16 to $1.20 for services. So this is another reason to oppose development and sprawl. The group in Schenectady is fighting hard and is hoping for victory.