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Save the Sound Responds to New York Legislative Session’s Environmental Action

Larchmont, NY – In a legislative session marked by delays and deadline extensions, Living Shorelines seems to have run out of time. One of Save the Sound’s highest priority bills passed the New York State Senate on June 5 but now appears unlikely to be brought to a vote in the Assembly, which was still in session on Saturday, two days later than originally scheduled. It was the second year in a row this bill, which would have prioritized nature-based solutions for coastal resiliency, didn’t get a vote in the Assembly, making for a disappointing end to an otherwise noteworthy session.

 

There were environmental victories to be celebrated, particularly in terms of expanding protections for waters and wetlands with the passage of the Class C Streams and Freshwater Wetlands bills. On the heels of the $4.2 billion Environmental Bond Act passing by referendum in November, the legislative session produced a record $229 billion budget, which included significant investments in clean water infrastructure and the Environmental Protection Fund, plus a landmark climate policy.

 

Some of the high-profile bills we supported – specifically the NY HEAT Act and the Packaging Reduction and Recycling Infrastructure Act – failed to find their way to a floor vote in one or both chambers. We will continue to work with our coalition partners to pass those two pieces of legislation in the next session.

 

Below, Save the Sound policy experts respond to the outcomes of the session. 

 

This release represents the best information available to us as of Saturday morning, June 10. Please find updated information on our blog in the coming days or reach out to arrange an interview with subject matter experts.

 

 

Protecting Our Waters and Habitats  

  

In late May, the Supreme Court diminished the protective reach of the Clean Water Act, leaving significant portions of our nation’s wetlands vulnerable to pollution, development, and destruction of habitat. The devastating decision to strip away federal protections made it urgent to strengthen state protections. We were encouraged by the passing of two such bills in the final week of the legislative session. 

  

Class C Streams (S1725/A4601) changes the classification of certain waterways – specifically, ones that had been used for fishing and boating but not for primary contact activities, such as swimming, nor for drinking – ensuring they will now be provided the same New York Department of Environmental Conservation protections afforded to all streams.  

  

Freshwater Wetlands Protections (S5957/A5949) provides local governments the ability to decide whether to implement tighter restrictions than the state’s regarding the application of pesticides in designated wetlands areas within their jurisdictions. Local governments cannot create laws weaker than the DEC standards, but they will be able to expand restrictions to their wetlands. 

  

David Ansel, vice president of water protection, Save the Sound: “It is more important than ever that states expand their protections of all waters and wetlands. We are encouraged by the actions taken this week by the legislature to pass bills that will protect the Long Island Sound watershed and benefit tens of thousands of miles of streams and more than two million acres of wetlands across New York State. We appreciate the commitment and leadership of the bills’ sponsors: Senator Pete Harckham and Assemblymember Deborah Glick on Class C Streams, and Senator Harckham and Assemblymember Chris Burdick on the wetlands protections.” 

 

One of the most significant victories for our region this session was a small provision tucked away in the biggest budget in New York State history. It allows Suffolk County to approve a November referendum, empowering local voters to determine whether to enact a 1/8-cent county sales tax increase that would fund the creation of a unified wastewater management district. That would be a water quality game-changer in a county where so many residences and business are not currently connected to a sewer system. We will be working to ensure the Suffolk County Water Quality Restoration Fund gets on the ballot, and that the voters of Suffolk County have a chance to be heard and protect their groundwater and the Sound. 

  

We were disappointed that the Packaging Reduction and Recycling Infrastructure Act (S4246A/A5322A) idled in committee in both the Senate and the Assembly. The bill, sponsored by the chairs of the Environmental Conservation committees in both houses – Senator Harckham and Assemblymember Glick – would have cut plastic packaging in half over the next 12 years, eliminated many toxic pollutants, including PFAS, from packaging materials, and shifted the cost and burden of managing the end of life of packaging materials from the taxpayer to the producer. This would protect people and wildlife alike by cutting down on entanglement in and ingestion of plastics, and by reducing toxins in our water and soil.

  

David Ansel: “We feel very strongly this bill represents a huge step toward addressing the massive problem of plastic pollution. Producers have the power to affect our environment in ways the average consumer doesn’t; they should be responsible for what they put in their packaging materials and the cost of cleaning it up.” 

 

 

Advancing Resiliency  

  

One of our top legislative priorities in the last two sessions has been Living Shorelines (S5186A/A5221A), which requires the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation to establish nature-based solutions (such as coastal marshes, dunes, shellfish reefs) as the preferred option for tidal shoreline management. The Living Shorelines bill, which as of Saturday morning appears to have run out of time in the Assembly, would prioritize green infrastructure over gray structures to better protect coastal communities from erosion, storm surge, and sea level rise. Nature-based features have the ability to adapt to changing conditions, making them an essential tool for strengthening resiliency in the face of climate change. We will continue to prioritize legislation that would create opportunities to integrate living shorelines into the coastline of Long Island Sound, similar to our ongoing work on the Big Rock Wetland Restoration project in Queens.

 

Katie Friedman, New York ecological restoration program manager, Save the Sound: “We are disappointed this bill did not come to a vote in the Assembly, after passing in the Senate for a second straight year. With increased storms and sea level rise threatening our coastline, New York State must prioritize the use of living shorelines as the best solution to both protect our coastal communities and restore critical habitat. We thank Senator Shelley Mayer, Assemblymember Steve Otis, and their co-sponsors – Senators Andrew Gounardes, Rachel May, and Jessica Ramos, and Assemblymembers Michael Benedetto, Jo Anne Simon, and Grace Lee – for their hard work on this bill. We look forward to continuing to work on passing this important legislation in the next session.”

  

Flood Disclosure (S5400/A1967) passed the Assembly on Friday afternoon after getting through the Senate on June 1. A companion to the disclosure bill passed last session that protects renters, this bill protects homebuyers by updating and expanding the disclosure statement and holds sellers liable for failing to disclose a property’s flood history prior to sale. We appreciate the sustained effort of sponsors Senator Brad Hoylman-Sigal and Assemblymember Robert Carroll to get this bill passed.

  

David Ansel: “As heavy rains and flooding become more frequent and severe due to climate change, homebuyers across New York must have the information they need in order to protect their assets and their families. We applaud the Assembly and Senate for giving homebuyers the right to know flood risks, just as New York State gave these rights to tenants last year.” 

  

     

Addressing the Climate Crisis and Environmental Justice 

 

In May, State lawmakers passed Governor Kathy Hochul’s $229 billion budget for 2024, which includes a plan to transition all new buildings in the state from natural gas to electric power, the All-Electric Buildings Act. This will decrease greenhouse gas emissions and air pollution by phasing out the construction of new buildings with fossil fuel hookups. It will go into effect for new single-family residences and low-rise buildings six stories or less built after 2023 and for all remaining buildings in 2027. 

 

A complimentary bill, the NY HEAT (Home Energy Affordable Transition) Act, was passed in the Senate on Tuesday. However, it did not receive a vote in the Assembly.

 

Alex Rodriguez, environmental justice specialist, Save the Sound: “New York missed a golden opportunity to cut climate pollution and support families with the NY HEAT Act. It would have eliminated subsidies for new gas hookups and enabled neighborhood-scale building decarbonization. Importantly, it would have reduced energy bills for low- and moderate-income households. Families would have paid no more than 6% of their income for energy. It’s disappointing to see this opportunity slip by and we hope to see it revisited next session, in addition to the Energy Efficiency, Equity, and Jobs Act, which would have deployed funding for cost-saving and emissions-reducing retrofits in communities of low wealth and communities of color.”

 

At the start of the session, we were looking forward to seeing how Gov. Hochul’s Cap-and-Invest plan to reduce greenhouse gas emissions would be integrated into the budget and policy. As the session draws to a close over the weekend, cap-and-invest remains a work in progress. It is in the regulations development stage, and we remain optimistic about the prospect of New York establishing the first economy-wide cap-and-invest program in the northeast, a groundbreaking policy the rest of the region could follow. 

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The mission of Save the Sound is to protect and improve the land, air, and water of Connecticut and Long Island Sound. We use legal and scientific expertise and bring people together to achieve results that benefit our environment for current and future generations.

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