The Great Central Task Of A Better Land

As communities and organizations around the globe celebrate Earth Day on April 22, it’s worth noting that the recently enacted state budget continues a series of critical actions started several years ago that bode well for the short- and long-term future of environmental conservation in New York.

Having chaired the Senate Environmental Conservation Committee from 2015 to 2018, when we began advancing much of the current groundwork, it brings to mind on this Earth Day the words of former President and legendary conservationist Teddy Roosevelt, that “the great central task” is to leave “even a better land for our descendants than it is for us.”

The new budget continues a fully funded Environmental Protection Fund (EPF) to support critical initiatives including clean air and water projects, flood control and restoration, and open space preservation. It makes great environmental and economic sense. Studies have shown that for every dollar of EPF funds invested in land and water protection, the state and localities get back seven dollars in economic benefits.

The EPF enjoys an impressive record of government investment. It strengthens a broad segment of New York’s citizens and communities like very few governmental programs ever have. In short, strengthening the EPF within the context of the entire state fiscal plan covers a lot of common ground in order to achieve a great deal of common good.

The fully funded EPF surely remains a highlight, but the budget carries on other important work as well. For instance, the state’s multi-year investment in drinking water infrastructure remains an action helping localities undertake long-overdue infrastructure improvement projects like sewer and municipal water line repairs. It has become particularly timely as drinking water quality concerns and crises regionally, statewide, and across the nation have become increasingly acute.

Other actions assist local parks, trails, and waterfronts; help step up the fight against invasive species; enhance farmland conservation; encourage smart growth communities, including renewable energy initiatives; and continue farm-to-school strategies to connect local schools to local farmers. We also continue to make critical investments to identify, monitor, and work to prevent the spread of Harmful Algal Blooms (HABs) threatening lakes and other waterways regionally and statewide.

In a critical, non-budget action, in late March the Senate and Assembly gave final legislative approval to a measure preventing the proposed Circular EnerG incinerator project at the former Seneca Army Depot from moving forward. I have appreciated and welcomed the opportunity over the past two years to join many legislative colleagues to fight for this legislation’s enactment. This proposed trash incinerator has stood as a serious threat to the quality, health, and overall safety of many communities throughout the Finger Lakes and Southern Tier regions.

The action to stop it is a great credit to the environmental advocates, winery owners, farmers, business and community leaders, and every concerned citizen who have worked together to lead the charge against it. We want to be known for our wine and our tourism, not for landfills and garbage truck traffic.

On the environmental front, we have had and we will continue to have differences. We will face controversies and disagreements. We must remember that the challenges and crises we face are more difficult than ever. It is equally true that the governmental and political context in which we have to confront these challenges and crises is more highly charged than ever – a fact that often does not make the task easier.

Nevertheless, we have a responsibility to stewardship and conservation. We have a responsibility to do our best to address the challenges, to work through them, and consider and negotiate them in a balanced, deliberate, fair, serious and sensible way.

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