Larchmont, NY—The 2022 New York State legislative session ended Saturday with an assortment of big budgetary wins and close calls. The biggest victory is a 2022-23 budget that pumps billions of dollars into environmental initiatives. Specific legislation to benefit coastal resiliency, stormwater management, and homebuyers saw significant momentum, but some bills failed to win final passage despite the session going into overtime. The progress made sets up these critical measures for success in future years.
Save the Sound thanks Governor Kathy Hochul; Senator Todd Kaminsky and Assemblyman Steve Englebright, chairs of their chambers’ respective environmental conservation committees; State Senator Shelley Mayor and Assemblyman Steve Otis; and the many other champions who worked to include powerful environmental elements in the budget and advance forward-looking policies to protect our communities from climate impacts and restore ecosystems.
Historic Environmental Funding
The state’s new budget, passed in mid-April, includes a $4.2 billion bond act intended to reduce flood risk, conserve open space, improve water quality, restore coastlines, and shore up infrastructure in the face of climate change. The Clean Water, Clean Air, and Green Jobs Environmental Bond Act, which Governor Kathy Hochul has called “historic” and “nation-leading,” will come before voters in the fall in a ballot referendum. It allots $1.5 billion for climate change mitigation; $1.1 billion for restoration and flood risk reduction; $650 million for open space land conservation and recreation; $650 million for water quality improvement and resilient infrastructure; and another $300 million to be allocated in the future. If passed, the bond act could fund wetland and other habitat restoration projects, municipal stormwater projects, purchase of electric vehicle school buses, acquisition of lands for open space preservation, and more.
The budget also includes a $100 million increase for the Environmental Protection Fund, a perennial source of capital projects to protect natural resources, bringing it to a record $400 million. This year’s appropriation includes funding for open space and land conservation; water quality improvements such as well testing and nitrogen reduction; stewardship of state lands for public recreation; waterfront revitalization projects; improvements to municipal parks; solid waste management; climate change mitigation and adaptation projects; and more. The EPF also includes funds for municipalities to survey and map wetlands—an important project in light of improvements also made in this year’s budget to freshwater wetlands protections.
The New York State Clean Water Infrastructure Improvement Act (WIIA) was increased in the new budget to $500 million from $400 million in 2021. Save the Sound, with our partner groups, advocated for this increase, which will go directly toward projects that protect and restore surface waters, including Long Island Sound and its many New York tributaries, or that provide clean drinking water. The budget also includes $500 million for clean water infrastructure funding.
“This budget’s historic investment in the environment positions New York State as a climate leader,” said Leah Lopez Schmalz, vice president of programs for Save the Sound. “Governor Hochul, the state Senate, and the Assembly are investing in infrastructure and conserving natural resources now to ensure we are protected against coastal erosion, intense storms, and water and air pollution for generations to come. This budget will provide a cleaner, healthier, safer future for all. We urge every New York voter to do their part this November by taking these investments over the finish line.”
Enhancing Resiliency and Protecting Ecosystems
The 2022-23 New York state budget also shored up protection of freshwater wetlands. Until now, wetlands in New York State had to be on a map in order to merit protection by the Department of Environmental Conservation. That left over a million acres of New York wetlands at risk of being damaged or destroyed. Thanks to a unified effort by elected officials in both chambers and the governor’s office, the budget revises New York’s Freshwater Wetlands Regulatory Program and eliminates the mapping requirement. In addition, the program now protects wetlands larger than 7.4 acres (previously 12.4 acres) and smaller wetlands of “unusual importance.”
Both chambers passed a flood disclosure bill, A7876/S3489. New Yorkers deserve to know their flood risk before moving into, or renting, a home, but currently, a home seller can choose to pay a $500 fee to avoid disclosing any information about whether the property is in a floodplain, requires flood insurance, or has experienced any flood damage in the past. The version of the bill that passed removes this loophole for rental units and allows tenants to take legal recourse that is currently prohibited—an essential advancement in light of the life-threatening flooding that affected many basement apartments in last summer’s storms. Home buyers, however, are still left unprotected. More than half the nation has stronger flood disclosure laws than New York. Save the Sound will keep working with partners to move this issue forward in the coming year.
Other attempts to protect ecosystems and improve community resilience didn’t make it over the finish line.
One of Save the Sound’s highest priorities in Albany this year was S8828A/A10053A, a living shorelines bill that would have established a preference for nature-based solutions to coastal flooding and erosion—such as sand, rocks, native vegetation, and reef-building organisms—over “hardened” structures like sea walls. It passed the Senate unanimously but ran out of time in the Assembly and did not come for a vote. “The good news is that the living shorelines bill had bipartisan support,” said Katie Friedman, New York ecological restoration program manager for Save the Sound, “and we’ll keep working to pass it in the next session. In the meantime, on-the-ground living shoreline work continues: in Queens, NY we are preparing to construct a living shoreline project in close partnership with the Douglas Manor Environmental Association, among other local partners.”
We’ll also keep advocating for green infrastructure and flood reduction legislation. A bill to amend the New York State Local Water Authority (A9445-A/S8857-A), which would have affirmed local authority to restructure sewer fees, failed to advance from the Corporations, Authorities, and Commissions Committee. It would have allowed local water boards to accurately reflect stormwater management costs and incentivize landowners to work towards water quality improvements and flood reduction. Bill Lucey, Long Island Soundkeeper at Save the Sound, said, “Installing green stormwater infrastructure not only benefits New Yorkers’ health and safety by reducing flooding events and pollution in our waters, it also benefits the ecosystem and wildlife.”
Healthy and Just Communities
An impressive environmental justice bill, A2103D, passed in the last week of April. “This new policy is one of the strongest in the nation,” said Alex Rodriguez, Save the Sound climate advocate. “Its goal is to create a more equitable environment by preventing industry from building facilities—like power plants and garbage dumps—that would cause serious pollution in communities that are already suffering more than their fair share of environmental contamination. The rest of the region should follow suit.” A2103D now awaits Governor Hochul’s signature.
No legislative session ends with every issue tied up in a neat package. We’ll keep on advocating for clean water, clean air, resilient ecosystems, land protections, and environmental justice for all New Yorkers this year and in the future.