Assemblymember Steck: Assembly Earth Day Legislation Protects New York Families

Assemblymember Phil Steck (D-Colonie) announced that he helped pass a series of bills to protect New York State’s natural resources and safeguard public health in recognition of Earth Day – April 22.

“As the federal administration seeks to undo decades of environmental protections, it’s crucial for us to act now to ensure New Yorkers can enjoy all our state has to offer for generations to come,” said Steck.

Protecting New York’s natural resources

The Assembly legislation includes a measure that gives the state Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) regulatory authority over freshwater wetlands of one acre or more in size to protect these vital water systems that act as natural water filters and can help prevent flooding during storms (A.6282). Under current law, the DEC only has authority over mapped wetlands that are 12.4 acres or more.

The Earth Day legislation also addresses the threat that oil trains pose to our communities’ environmental health. In 2013, alone, more crude oil was spilled from rail incidents in the United States than during the previous four decades combined.1 Since then, rail shipments of volatile crude have continued at a record pace, with derailments and accidents leaving tens of thousands of gallons of spilled oil, explosions and fires that can last for days and whole towns evacuated in their wake.2 Assemblymember Steck has been a strong advocate on this issue for years, and had sponsored a series of bills (A.7625, A.3307 and A.3280 of 2015) to help address the risks that crude oil shipments pose to Capital Region communities.

The Assembly legislation includes a bill, co-sponsored by Steck, which institutes financial surety measures for owners of crude oil storage facilities, vessels and railroads to ensure they are able to effectively and efficiently respond to a spill or accident (A.1773).

“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 Steck.

Further, the Assembly legislation includes a measure, which Steck co-sponsored, to amend the state constitution to include the right to clean air and water and a healthy environment (A.6279).

Fighting for environmental justice

Historically, low-income communities and communities of color have been disproportionately chosen for projects with adverse environmental impacts, unfairly afflicting residents with related health problems and sometime severe pollution. Areas with existing environmental hazards are frequently chosen for new projects in the hope that any further adverse impact would be incrementally less than the impact if the project took place in a pristine area. This practice creates a cycle of project siting that unfairly impacts the same communities over and over again, noted Steck. To address this issue, the Assembly passed a bill that would require the DEC to publish a list of “high local environmental impact zones” and consider various factors that contribute to an area’s environmental health so that the same communities aren’t repeatedly targeted (A.1862).

“Environmental justice is an important part of our fight to make New York State a more equitable place for all,” said Steck. “This bill seeks to remedy a historic injustice to ensure that our communities’ health doesn’t depend on ZIP code.”

Protecting families from harmful chemicals

The Assembly’s Earth Day legislation also:

  • ensures that mercury-added lamps don’t contain excessive amounts of mercury (A.2875); and
  • creates a battery recycling program for consumers and requires producers of primary batteries to register with the DEC and establish a recycling plan before they can do business in New York State, reducing the need for mining (A.6280).

“Creating a more sustainable and eco-friendly society starts at the individual level,” said Steck. “These measures will help encourage everyone to reduce, reuse and recycle and minimize our impact on the environment.”