By JULIE TIGHE
NEW YORK—A clean environment and a healthy, robust economy go together like the two sections of an hourglass: you can’t have one without the other. Both chambers of the glass work together to create balance and harmony in our communities.
The COVID-19 pandemic is having a lasting impact on our daily lives, both today and tomorrow. It has changed practices and policies covering our public health, how we interact with our environment and what we do to protect and advance our economy. Like other states, New York is facing fiscal challenges, the likes of which we have not seen in a generation.
But while other states and localities make tough budgetary decisions, families across New York have no choice but to put their health first. COVID is a respiratory disease which causes more harmful health impacts on communities that bear a disproportionate burden of pollution—illustrates why we need to keep up our work to improve air quality and decrease pollution. It also showed how vital our natural areas and open spaces are to New Yorkers. Access to nature is vital to protecting public health.
We cannot afford to treat the environment as a luxury. We need to invest in robust environmental programs that create jobs, protect clean water, address climate change, create new parks, improve our resiliency and invest in disadvantaged and vulnerable communities throughout New York.
That’s why New York League of Conservation Voters is a founding member of the New Yorkers for Clean Water and Jobs Coalition.
The coalition is fighting to protect our environmental programs. Initiatives like the Environmental Protection Fund, Department of Environmental Conservation Capital Programs, and Parks 2020 Initiative help create thousands of green jobs and support industries that add $40 billion to our economy every year. They support multi-billion industries including agriculture, outdoor recreation, construction, tourism, commercial fishing and renewable energy generation.
We are also fighting to protect investments that are part of the Clean Water Infrastructure Act. Since 2015, the program has provided nearly $4 billion in funding for our drinking water and wastewater infrastructure, as well as for addressing emerging contaminants. Every $1 million in state investment results in 17 local jobs.
We need to go even further. A $3-billion Environmental Bond Act, which was taken off last November’s ballot, would invest in programs that create jobs while building a sustainable future. A bond act would help build renewable energy, protect our air and waters, restore natural habitat and improve access to parks.
As the budget season in New York State heats up, calls from all sectors to help support environmental initiatives are increasing. The bond act is envisioned to help conserve open space, protect clean water, reduce the impacts of climate change and clean up pollution.
It is expected that the measure would serve as an economic engine, with every $1 of state investment in land and water protection returning $7 in economic benefits to the state.
New York’s drinking water and wastewater systems need tens of billions of dollars in upgrades to ensure our communities have safe drinking water and our lakes, rivers, and bays are not polluted. To date $5.4 billion has been committed to this program which funds “gray infrastructure” (ie. drinking water pipes, wastewater treatment systems); “green infrastructure” (ie. projects to protect the sources of our drinking water); stormwater pollution control, hazardous waste cleanup, lead service line replacements and more.
Federal investment in clean water and green jobs go hand-in-hand with state investments. We need Congress to secure funding for infrastructure that will make our communities more resilient and conserve our open spaces.
Ignoring the climate crisis would put New Yorkers at risk. Cutting programs that protect clean water, clean air, and other natural resources puts us at greater risk from biodiversity loss. Continuing environmental investments provides us an opportunity for a sustainable recovery from the pandemic, puts us on a path towards a clean energy economy, and provides green jobs for families across the state.
We will continue to advocate for these essential programs as the budget season continues.
About the author: Julie Tighe is President of the New York League of Conservation Voters (NYLCV). NYLCV is the only non-partisan, statewide environmental organization in New York that takes a pragmatic approach to fighting for clean water, healthy air, renewable energy, and open space. Visit www.nylcv.org for more information.
NYLCV Priorities & Policy Agenda
Last year the NYLCV brought heightened awareness of the need to take action to help avert the worst effects of climate change and reduce pollution, especially in disadvantaged communities. The State laid out aggressive climate standards and local governments are key to achieving these standards. We also need more local policies that improve water infrastructure and keep our drinking water free of contaminants.
Sustainable Development: Municipalities can combat climate change by creating livable, sustainable communities. We will work to advance modernized zoning to encourage mixed land use, compact development, downtown revitalization, open space protection, historic preservation and energy efficient building codes.
Renewable energy: Renewable energy can reduce greenhouse gas emissions and air pollution across the region, but it is challenging to site large-scale renewable energy installations and can be needlessly difficult to install small-scale renewable technology. These challenges must be addressed before Indian Point shuts down in 2021, or else we risk replacing its power with fossil fuels. We will work with municipal and county governments to establish guidelines for siting utility-scale renewable energy in order to reduce red tape and create new incentives for small-scale renewable energy.
Clean Air: With the recent passage of legislation to phase out No. 4 and No. 6 home heating oil, we will work to speed up conversions and retrofits to cleaner, more efficient heating systems. We will continue working to reduce emissions from power plants and automobiles, including a push for targeted interventions to protect environmental justice communities.
Electric Vehicles: EVs reduce greenhouse gas emissions and produce zero emissions, improving air quality. We will continue our successful advocacy efforts to increase the number of EVs in municipal fleets, transit systems and school bus fleets, expand the EV charging station network throughout Westchester, and ensure that environmental justice communities have access to and benefit from EVs.