Press Release: “Maintaining the status quo is not good enough”—Save the Sound Disappointed by Incremental Progress in NYS Legislative Session

When the New York State Assembly adjourned in the early hours of Saturday, it marked the end of the 2024 legislative session. But even during a session that ran a day longer than originally scheduled, the legislature did not do enough to advance to address the many environmental challenges New York faces.

“Maintaining the status quo is not good enough,” said David Ansel, vice president of water protection for Save the Sound. “There just wasn’t enough progress made at a critical time when we need to improve the way we protect water quality in Long Island Sound and all our waterways, turn off the tap on contaminants and plastic waste, and address the clear and present dangers of climate change.”

Perhaps the most significant positive step was the passage of the Suffolk County Water Quality Restoration Act, which will reduce nitrogen pollution in the county’s groundwater, surface waters, and the Sound by creating a funding mechanism to support the expansion of sewer coverage and upgrade of the 380,000 inadequate septic systems and cesspools. Not only has the bill already been signed into law by Governor Kathy Hochul, the county legislature is progressing toward adding a referendum to the November ballot.

“The sooner we can get this passed by the voters of Suffolk County, the sooner we can start leveraging federal funding to do the critical work of improving the county’s outdated wastewater infrastructure,” said Ansel. “We thank Assemblymember Fred Thiele and Senator Monica Martinez for sponsoring this important bill, which passed both houses with near-unanimous bipartisan support.”

Another win came Friday when the Horseshoe Crab Protections Act passed both the state Senate and Assembly. The legislation, which still must be signed by Governor Hochul, would prohibit the taking of horseshoe crabs for commercial and biomedical purposes, preventing the further depletion of the population of this keystone species in the Long Island Sound ecosystem.

“Horseshoe crabs have been virtually unchanged for 450 million years and survived five mass extinctions, but humans have brought them to the brink in just a few hundred years,” said Ansel. “It’s past time to stop their overfishing. Connecticut had already enacted legislation to protect horseshoe crabs, but its effectiveness was limited without bi-state protections. Now that New York has followed suit—thanks to the efforts and leadership of the bill’s sponsors, Assemblymember Deborah Glick and Senator Brady Hoylman-Sigal—all of Long Island Sound can be a safe habitat for this vulnerable species.”

Little progress was made in improving the way New York manages stormwater pollution, a worsening problem as storms fueled by climate change grow more frequent and severe. The Green Roof Tax Abatement, which incentivizes the use of green infrastructure to filter and diminish stormwater runoff from buildings in New York City, passed both houses. But Rain Ready NY, which sought to clarify that authorities managing sewers already have the authority to manage stormwater as they see fit in their communities statewide, passed only in the Senate.

“Addressing stormwater was one of our top priorities this session. We worked closely with our partners to spotlight the degrading impact stormwater has on water quality, and the benefits of utilizing green infrastructure and nature-based solutions. The Senate was responsive; next year, we must continue our work to get the Assembly on board,” said Ansel.

As the Assembly session drew to a close, it passed the Climate Change Superfund Act, which had already passed the Senate. This bill is an important step toward holding the private sector accountable by making companies who emit significant greenhouse gases pay for infrastructural improvements needed to adapt to the resulting climate change. But that last-minute win does not help New York stop pollution at the source.

The Senate passed two bills that would prohibit the use of per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS) from a range of everyday household items. One of those bills would ban the addition of PFAS in menstrual products. The other took a more comprehensive approach supported by Save the Sound and already adopted in a handful of states, including Connecticut which passed similar legislation a few weeks ago. This bill would have phased out the sale of several categories of consumer products containing these toxic forever chemicals: cleaning products, fabric treatments, dental floss, household textiles, rugs, paints, and ski wax.

The Assembly did not vote on either PFAS bill.

Nor did it act on the Packaging Reduction and Recycling Infrastructure Act, also passed by the Senate on Friday, which would have cut plastic packaging waste by 30 percent over the next 12 years and made companies responsible for paying for the disposal of the packaging materials they produce. This bill would have helped cut the amount of plastic pollution overwhelming Long Island Sound; on World Ocean Day, it’s important to note that more than 8 million metric tons of plastic enters our oceans every year.

The Assembly also did not vote on the NY Home Energy Affordable Transition Act (NY HEAT), which would cut greenhouse gas emissions and energy costs for low- to moderate-income families, even though it passed the Senate. More than that, it kept NY HEAT from being included in the state budget for FY 2025; the Senate supported inclusion of the full bill in the budget, and Governor Hochul favored including several important components of NY HEAT. Instead, the last day of the legislature passed without meaningful action on climate change prevention—a disappointing and ironic message to mark the one-year anniversary of the day skies across the region turned orange from polluted air from Canadian wildfires. The state must do more to meet the goals established in its Climate Act.

“If NY HEAT had passed, it would have helped reduce greenhouse emissions from the buildings sector, the state’s largest source of emissions,” said Alex Rodriguez, environmental justice specialist for Save the Sound. “NY HEAT would have ensured energy affordability by capping energy bills at 6 percent of household income for low- and moderate-income customers. Also, it would have ended the obligation to serve fracked gas to new customers and ended ratepayer subsidies for gas pipelines. There is no climate equity without climate justice, and we look forward to working with allies on legislation that ensures an equitable transition to clean energy and reduced utility costs for New Yorkers statewide.”

The Assembly’s failure to pass the Enhanced Public Participation Act, which the Senate passed, represents another missed opportunity to advance environmental justice.

“The bill would have required permit applicants for polluting projects in state-identified disadvantaged communities to submit an enhanced public participation plan for community engagement,” said Rodriguez. “This legislation would have complemented the Cumulative Impacts Law signed by Governor Hochul in 2022 by ensuring residents are able to participate and relay comments in opposition to new sources of pollution.”

Save the Sound thanks the leadership in the Senate and the Assembly for what they were able to do this session, as well as all the legislators who sponsored, supported, spoke up for, and led the effort to pass legislation that would protect public and environmental health.

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