We Need the Environmental Access to Justice Act

ALBANY: With the loss of the Clifton Park case in the Appellate Division, Save the Pine Bush has had its ability to advocate for preservation of the Karner Blue severely restricted. If the current court rulings regarding standing had been in place in 1978 when Save the Pine Bush began, we never would have been able to get our foot in the court room door, and there would be no Pine Bush left today.

What is standing and why is it so important to Pine Bush preservation? Standing is the right of an organization or individual to bring their complaints into a court of law.

Our first case in 1978, our lawyer, the late Victor Lord, was able to get us standing to sue the Planning Board of the City of Albany over its approval of four developments in the Pine Bush. However, in 1991, the NYS Court of Appeals (the highest court in NYS) made a ruling in the Society of Plastics Industry, v. County of Suffolk. or, for short, “Plastics” case which began to restrict who may sue over violations of the NYS Environmental Quality Review Act (SEQRA).

The specific restriction is that the person or organization suing must show that they have an injury different from the public at large or “special harm”. For Save the Pine Bush, this is impossible, because a loss of an endangered species or the loss of the Pine Bush ecosystem is an injury to the public at large, with no special harm suffered by an individual. .

Though Save the Pine Bush has an excellent case on the merits of the Clifton Park case, at this point, the court room door is barred to us. If Save the Pine Bush cannot sue to protect a colony of butterflies on Wood Road in Clifton Park, who can?

The NYS Assembly has passed bills that would correct this problem of standing. However, the Senate has not passed the bill.

We need to bring attention to this serious issue. Please take time today, and write a letter to your NYS Senator, and to Senator Morahan and Senator Marcellino, to urge them to pass S.5182, to correct the problem of standing and SEQRA. The Assembly has already passed a bill this year to address the issue.

Citizens need to be able to challenge the government’s decisions on environmental issues in court. Time and time again, Save the Pine Bush has been correct on the issues, that local governments violated SEQRA law when approving developments in the Pine Bush. Barring citizens from the court room gives municipalities the power to ignore SEQRA. Someone needs to hold municipalities accountable to follow SEQRA requirements. The Legislature needs to fix the problem of standing caused by the Plastics decision, and clearly state who can challenge SEQRA decisions. Who else will watch out for the health of our environment, if it is not the people of New York State?

Please take time today to write a letter! Download a sample letter in pdf form.


2007-2008 Regular Sessions, April 25, 2007

Introduced by Sen. MORAHAN — read twice and ordered printed, and when printed to be committed to the Committee on Environmental Conservation

AN ACT to amend the environmental conservation law, in relation to enacting the environmental access to justice act

The People of the State of New York, represented in Senate and Assembly, do enact as follows:

1 Section 1. This act shall be known and may be cited as the “environ-

2 mental access to justice act”.

3 § 2. The environmental conservation law is amended by adding a new

4 section 8-0119 to read as follows:

5 § 8-0119. Standing.

6 If a person institutes a proceeding under article seventy-eight of the

7 civil practice law and rules alleging violations of this article, such

8 person shall not be denied standing solely on the grounds that the inju-

9 ry alleged by such person does not differ in kind or degree from the

10 injury that would be suffered by the public at large.

11 § 3. This act shall take effect immediately.