NYS Seal
Legislative Report from the
NYS Assembly Committee on
Environmental Conservation

Sheldon Silver, Speaker • Robert K. Sweeney, Chair • Summer 2010

The Assembly Committee on Environmental Conservation addressed a number of important issues this past year – passing all of the Environmental Super Bills, reversing the Governor’s moratorium on the purchase of land, creating a new program for safe e-waste recycling, dramatically reducing the sulfur content of home heating oil, protecting sea grass, and removing unnecessary and damaging phosphorus from our environment.

This newsletter highlights legislation that the Assembly’s Environmental Conservation Committee has focused on this year. I am proud of what we have accomplished; however more still needs to be done.

I am working to ensure a healthy environment for both today’s New Yorkers and future generations.

Very truly yours,
Robert K. Sweeney, Chair
New York State Assembly
Environmental Conservation Committee

Bills Passed

Electronic Waste (Chapter 99 of the Laws of 2010)

Since 2002, the Assembly Environmental Conservation Committee has sought a comprehensive statewide electronic waste recycling program. On May 28th, this goal was finally realized with a law to provide free electronic waste recycling.

The program will prevent millions of pounds of electronic waste – computers, televisions, keyboards, digital music players, DVDs and game consoles – from entering New York’s landfills. These products contain toxic substances, including lead, mercury, chromium, cadmium, polyvinyl chloride and beryllium.

Under the law, beginning April 1, 2011, manufacturers of these devices will be required to accept electronic waste at no charge to home consumers.

Prohibiting Pesticide Applications on School and Daycare Grounds (Chapter 85 of the Laws of 2010)

This law (A.7937-C/Englebright) bans pesticide applications on any school or daycare center grounds unless the state departments of Environmental Conservation, Health, Education, county health department or school board determines an emergency application is necessary.

Cleaner Air and Reduction in Costs – Low Sulfur Heating Oil (Chapter 203 of the Laws of 2010)

Exhaust particles formed by home-heating oil contribute to global warming and can worsen allergies, trigger asthma attacks, decrease lung function and contribute to heart attacks. The Assembly passed legislation (A.8642-A/Sweeney – Chapter 203 of the Laws of 2010) that would prohibit the use of number two heating oil with a sulfur content greater than 15 parts per million after July 1, 2012. The law will significantly reduce the amount of sulfur dioxide, cutting greenhouse gas emissions and improving air quality. The sulfur in home heating oil has been linked to cancer, asthma and other chronic respiratory ailments.

The switch to ultra low sulfur home heating oil will save New Yorkers up to $600 million over five years. The savings comes from reduced maintenance costs for home heating equipment, the increased fuel efficiency of the oil, and from standardizing the product across the transportation and home heating industries.

More New York residents heat with oil than any other state in the country. The typical yearly bill is $2,700 for 900 gallons, based on a rate of $3 per gallon. That cost would be reduced by $135 using more efficient low sulfur heating oil, while installation of a high efficiency burner could save between $540 and $675. The initial cost of a new burner is offset by a $1,500 federal credit.

Reducing Phosphorus Runoff in New York’s Water Supplies and Saving Taxpayers Money (Chapter 205 of the Laws of 2010)

Phosphorus, a chemical commonly found in household cleaning products and fertilizers, has been found to be a major source of groundwater contamination in New York. The presence of phosphorus in a water supply has a direct link to algae and weed growth, threatening fish and wildlife. The Assembly approved legislation (A.8914-B/Sweeney – Chapter 205 of the Laws of 2010) that would prohibit the sale or distribution of any dishwasher product containing a phosphorus compound exceeding 0.5 percent by weight. The law bans the sale and distribution of cleaning products used in food and beverage production with a phosphorus compound that exceeds 8.7 percent by weight.

The law will save taxpayers money by removing phosphorous at the source instead of at municipally operated or contracted wastewater treatment plants, which can cost up to $20 per pound, or between $25 and $600 per pound for storm water contaminated with phosphorous.

SEQRA Standing

The Assembly passed legislation (A.9480/Sweeney) clarifying standing to sue under New York State’s Environmental Quality Review Act (SEQRA). The bill would prevent a court from denying standing to a petitioner simply because the injury suffered does not differ from that suffered by the general public. (Status: Passed Assembly, defeated in the Senate)

Earth Day

In April, as a part of its annual Earth Day commemoration, the Assembly approved a 14-bill legislative package aimed at reducing statewide greenhouse gas emissions, protecting children and consumers from harmful chemical components, diverting hazardous waste from landfills and protecting the state’s ecologically sensitive wetlands.

Greenhouse Gas Reduction Targets.

The Assembly passed legislation (A.7572-A/Sweeney) that requires a 20 percent reduction in greenhouse gas emissions over the next ten years, and a reduction of 80 percent below the 1990 level by 2050. The bill is modeled on targets established by the Nobel Prize winning Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. This bill would align New York with other states such as New Jersey, Hawaii, Minnesota and California, which have taken steps to mitigate the effects of global climate change and ocean acidification. Status: Passed Assembly, not taken up by the Senate.

Statewide Ban on DecaE

Decabromodiphenyl ether – or DecaE – is a flame retardant present in common consumer electronics as well as furniture and upholstery. The federal Environmental Protection Agency is currently considering a ban on DecaE in these devices due to neurological and developmental threats posed by the chemical. The Assembly passed legislation (A.7573-A/Sweeney) that would ban the manufacture, sale and distribution of new consumer electronic devices, furniture and upholstery that contain DecaE by July 1, 2012. Status: Passed Assembly, not taken up by the Senate.

Bisphenol A-Free Children

Despite a strong link between the plastics additive Bisphenol A (BPA) and the incidence of brain deterioration, heart disease, cancer and diabetes, this chemical is found in many children’s products. The Assembly approved legislation (A.6919-D/Englebright) that will ban the manufacture, sale and distribution of children’s products that contain BPA. This would protect a particularly vulnerable portion of the population from bisphenol A-related illnesses. Status: Chapter 280 of the Laws of 2010.

Mercury in Thermostats

Each year, millions of mercury-containing thermostats are thrown away, creating a significant health risk. Mercury has been linked to brain impairment and other neurological disorders. In order to prevent mercury from entering the groundwater and threatening public health, the Assembly passed legislation (A.10160-B/Sweeney) requiring thermostat manufacturers to establish a collection plan for out-of-service devices. The program would be free for contractors, service technicians and homeowners. Status: Passed Assembly, not taken up by the Senate.

Rechargeable Battery Recycling

The increasing use of rechargeable batteries is an important step in solid waste reduction. Unfortunately, these devices are tossed in the waste stream at their end of life. Rechargeable batteries often contain harmful chemical components, including nickel cadmium and lithium. The Assembly approved legislation (A.6813-D) that would prohibit the disposal of rechargeable batteries while requiring battery manufacturers and retailers to participate in recycling programs. Status: Passed both houses, awaiting action by the Governor.

Also included in the Earth Day package were bills the Assembly passed that would:

Protecting Aquatic Life

The Assembly approved legislation (A.2581/Englebright) that would prohibit the taking of northern or lined seahorses for commercial purposes. Status: Passed Assembly, not taken up by the Senate.

Drilling in Shale Gas Reservoirs

In the past few years, low-permeability shale gas reservoirs, such as the Marcellus shale formation, have become the focus of interest as new domestic natural gas sources.

The Assembly Environmental Conservation Committee held two public hearings on shale-gas drilling. As a result of these hearings, the Committee has favorably reported 14 bills to protect water supplies, establish liability for drillers, provide oversight of drilling activities, forbid the use of harmful chemicals, protect landowners, and enact a moratorium on new hydraulic fracturing permits until more study of the practice can be completed.

These bills are working their way through the legislative process, and have moved to other committees. Assembly Bill 11443-B (Sweeney), which would suspend permitting for hydraulic fracturing in natural gas reservoirs until May, 2011, has completed the committee process and is now on the Assembly Calendar, ready to be taken up by the full chamber.

Preventing Oil Spills

The recent Deepwater Horizon disaster demonstrates the necessity of strong regulatory measures to prevent catastrophic petroleum spills that may threaten sensitive wildlife areas and human health. The Assembly passed legislation (A.3837) requiring petroleum facilities to install equipment to detect accident discharges within 24 hours. Status: Passed Assembly, not taken up by the Senate.

Civil Enforcement of Violations of Environmental Law

The Assembly passed legislation (A.4272) that would authorize an individual to bring a civil action against a person or state entity for violation of the Environmental Conservation Law. Status: Passed Assembly, not taken up by the Senate.

Integrated Pesticide Management

An Assembly roundtable on pesticides revealed that many schools lacked a policy for the use of pesticides. As a result, the Assembly passed legislation (A.8785/Zebrowski) requiring the DEC, in consultation with the departments of health and education, to develop a model pesticide policy. Status: Passed Assembly, not taken up by the Senate.

Developing a Workable Smart Growth Policy for State Agencies

Communities throughout New York have experienced stagnation and population flight in part as a result of sprawl and infrastructure development away from downtowns and business centers. The Assembly approved legislation (A.8011-B) that strengthens economic development by establishing Smart Growth criteria for state infrastructure projects. Status: Passed both houses, awaiting action by the Governor.

Phasing Out Lead Wheel Weights

In an effort to reduce the amount of lead entering New York’s environment, the Assembly approved legislation (A.8687-B/Rosenthal) that would prohibit the installation and sale of wheel weights containing 0.1 percent lead by weight after April 1, 2011. Additionally, the bill would prohibit the sale of new cars containing lead wheel weights beginning April 1, 2012. Status: Passed both houses, awaiting action by the Governor.

Seagrass Protection

In order to protect dwindling levels of seagrass, the Assembly approved legislation (A.10269-B/Sweeney) that would give the Department of Environmental Conservation the authority to regulate coastal and marine activities that pose a threat to this vital ecological feature of the coastline. The DEC would be empowered to establish seagrass management plans to protect and conserve these species. Status: Passed both houses, awaiting action by the Governor.

Environmental Protection Fund Overview

Unfortunately, the 2010 Environmental Protection Fund was disappointing. The Governor proposed slashing the EPF by tens of millions of dollars from previous year levels and inserting programs which had historically not been funded with EPF dollars. Despite the Governor’s cuts, the Assembly was able to secure significant funding for environmental initiatives. The Governor had proposed a moratorium on the purchase of open space and provided zero dollars in funding for that purpose. The Assembly Majority rejected the moratorium and funded the line at $17.6 million. Additionally, $10.7 million will be directed towards the Farmland Protection Program, which allows for the purchase of conservation easements on farm property. More than $13 million will be allotted to support municipal parks. The EPF will provide $9 million for zoos, botanical gardens and aquaria, stimulating recreational and economic growth throughout New York.

The 2010 State Budget, unlike previous budgets, funds the EPF on a cash basis, rather than on an appropriations basis. In previous budgets, the EPF has been appropriated higher amounts, but was never provided with the cash to run the programs at those levels.

Reversing the Governor’s Moratorium on Land Acquisition in the EPF

The final EPF included $17.6 million, allowing the state to purchase land for conservation and open space preservation purposes.

Most people recognize that human sustenance, livelihoods, economies and well-being are dependent on a healthy natural environment. Natural settings provide crucial habitat for flora and fauna, and also important economic benefits. Tourism and recreation are tied into the availability of open spaces. Additionally, land preservation decreases water treatment costs – for every ten percent increase in forest cover in a water source area, treatment costs decrease by approximately 20 percent.

Protecting the Mission of the EPF

In his 2010 Executive Budget Proposal, Governor Paterson had proposed shifting State Parks Operations and State Payments in Lieu of Taxes (PILOT) from the General Fund to the EPF. This would have artificially inflated the total appropriations to the EPF, making it seem that more was going to environmental programs than actually does. If State Parks and PILOT had been shifted to the EPF, they would eventually come to dominate it, diminishing its mission to conserve the natural resources of the state and making it another revenue stream for state operations. The Assembly rejected the Governor’s proposals to offload these programs from the General Fund to the EPF.

2010 Super Bills
(Assembly Passes All Three Super Bills)

Super Bills are identified by members of the Green Panel, which includes representatives of the state’s leading environmental organizations. The Assembly passed all three 2010 super bills:

The Global Warming Pollution Control Act (A.7572-A/Sweeney – Not yet taken up by the Senate)

Electronic Waste Recycling (Chapter 99 of the Laws of 2010)

The Environmental Justice to Access Act, SEQRA Standing (A.9480/Sweeney - Defeated in the Senate)

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