ALBANY – On the first day back after April recess, the New York State Assembly passed a package of Earth Day legislation, including a groundbreaking bill to establish a constitutional right to clean air, clean water, and a healthful environment – considered a particularly important move by environmental advocates concerned that communities have been grappling with toxic pollution undermining their health. The package also includes several bills meant to buttress New York’s safeguards in the wake of unprecedented rollbacks and cuts to federal protections.
“This Earth Day, the Assembly once again demonstrates its commitment to advancing state legislation that protects the environment and the public health of all New Yorkers,” said Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie. “As Washington continues to roll back environmental protections and potentially jeopardize public health, New York will continue to push for policies that help guarantee our children a safe, healthy environment for generations to come.”
Assembly Earth Day Package legislation:
- A6279/S5287 (Englebright/Carlucci): Establishes a right to clean water, clean air, and a healthful environment in the New York Constitution.
- A1862/S3199 (Peoples-Stokes/Serrano): Ensures public health reviews for communities (Environmental Justice Zones) hosting polluting facilities in order to guide future development, facility siting, etc.
- A1773/S1515 (Fahy/Avella): Requires crude oil storage facilities to demonstrate financial security to meet responsibilities associated with a possible spill or disaster.
- A2875 (Kavanagh): Enhances the phase-out of toxic mercury in lightbulbs, which compromises public health and local waters when disposed of.
- A6280 (Englebright): Establishes a statewide battery recycling program, free to consumers, by requiring manufacturers to establish a collection program.
- A6282 (Englebright): Provides the state Department of Environmental Conservation with regulatory authority over freshwater wetlands an acre or larger in size, as well as other wetlands of significant local importance. (DEC is currently limited to regulating mapped wetlands of 12.4 acres or more.)
“This is the kind of environmental leadership New Yorkers want to see more of,” exclaimed Peter Iwanowicz, executive director of Environmental Advocates of New York. “The Assembly continues to pass some of the most visionary pieces of legislation in the country – crafting, and passing legislation that prioritizes our health, our water, our communities, and our lungs above polluter profit.”
The Earth Day legislation also addresses the widely-perceived threat that oil trains pose to our communities’ environmental health. In 2013 alone, according to federal data, more crude oil was spilled from rail incidents in the United States than during the previous four decades combined. Locally, a surge in oil shipments in 2012, when Global Partners doubled its oil-handling capacity to 1.8 billion gallons a year (the equivalent of 118,000 barrels a day), has caused environmental and minority advocacy groups and Albany County Executive Dan McCoy to repeatedly call for greater oversight and safer equipment, as well as file lawsuits blocking Global’s plans to expand oil refining activities at the Port of Albany.
“I’ve been fighting throughout my time in the Assembly to ensure that the crude oil shipments that run through our communities meet the highest safety standards, because our families’ health and safety should always come before company profits,” said Assemblyman Phil Steck (D-110), co-sponsor of bill A1773..
“As the federal administration seeks to undo decades of environmental protections,” said Steck, “it’s crucial for us to act now to ensure New Yorkers can enjoy all our state has to offer for generations to come.”
“President Trump is assaulting decades of progress,” said Iwanowicz. “The nation needs New York to lead, and there is a great deal we can get accomplished before session ends in June with everyone working together. We applaud the Assembly, in particular Speaker Heastie and [Environmental Conservation Committee] Chairman [Steve] Englebright, for doing the heavy lifting and placing these issues on the negotiating table. They recognize the status quo won’t cut it in the Trump era. There are eight weeks left in this year’s session which is ample time for Governor Cuomo and the Senate leaders to join the Assembly and set these protections into law.”
Currently, S5287 is in the Senate Judiciary Committee and the other five bills are in the Senate Committee on Environmental Conservation. None carry any Republican sponsors.