Overview of 2016 Legislative Session

The 2016 Legislative Session is over.

State legislators have left Albany after a flurry of last minute action and returned home to their districts for the rest of the year. Our review of their work this session? Overall, pretty good.

Through the state budget, we led the charge on creating a program that should help Governor Cuomo meet the goal of 800,000 clean electric vehicles on our roads by 2025, as well as increased what is now a $400 million program to #FixOurPipes. And legislatively, several initiatives that Environmental Advocates and our partners championed passed and now await Governor Cuomo’s signature.

As always, we played watchdog and sounded the alarm when efforts to roll back environmental and public health protections reared their ugly heads; we were able to successfully block the vast majority of them.

Perhaps most significantly, the table has been set for serious climate action in 2017. New York isn’t a true climate action leader yet, but we will be, and the progress Environmental Advocates and the NY Renews coalition achieved in recent weeks will make it very difficult for politicians to ignore climate change heading into this fall’s elections, or to stall action in 2017.

Here’s a rundown:

Holding Industry Accountable for Personal Injury Costs

Working with the residents of Hoosick Falls, who remain in the midst of a water contamination crisis, we pushed for legislation that enacts long overdue accountability for polluters who harm New Yorkers. The bill closes a loophole in statute of limitation laws, and provides a legal avenue for those who are sick from pollution from Superfund sites to recoup their medical costs. When a business puts someone’s life at risk, the last thing they should need to worry about is whether the business will be held responsible for their treatment.

At the last minute, Senate sponsor Kathy Marchione (R - Halfmoon) rewrote her bill in a way that defeated its very purpose, effectively killing it. But the public outcry was swift, and it forced the Senator to return to the good version, which passed unanimously. The bill awaits Governor Cuomo’s signature – and we are urging him to sign it as quickly as possible. Once the bill becomes law, it will ensure basic fairness for residents who have fallen ill because of industry negligence and greed.

We are also continuing our call for legislative hearings to help get to the bottom of what happened in Hoosick Falls, as well as to ensure the development of a statewide plan that protects all communities and regulates the more than 80,000 chemicals on the market that are unchecked today. See our recent Gotham Gazette OPED here.

100% Clean, Renewable Energy

In a span of less than three weeks, Environmental Advocates and our NY Renews partners secured Assembly passage of the most aggressive climate action legislation in the country. Days later, the bill was introduced in the Senate, and we successfully set out to get a majority of all senators on it as cosponsors! It takes 32 votes for the Senate to pass a bill, and there are 32 cosponsors on the bill heading into the 2017 Legislative Session; several more senators have also stated their support. Industry will fight us tooth and nail – in fact, industry is already making the tone-deaf claim that fighting climate change will result in “the end of people.” Seriously. But the odds have fallen sharply in our favor when it comes to making New York a true climate action leader.

Newsday and the Albany Times Union have both editorialized in support of the bill's passage.

With so many science deniers on the ballot this fall for federal and state office, climate change will play a huge role in the upcoming elections. We encourage you to find out whether your state legislators are on the right or wrong side of history.

Mercury-Free Wheel Weights

This may not be a widely known issue, but it is an Environmental Advocates priority that now awaits Governor Cuomo’s signature. Wheel weights are used to correct wheel imbalances on vehicles. Over the years, wheel weight manufacturers needlessly included toxins like lead and mercury, which eventually enter the waste stream and our environment. The sale of wheel weights containing lead was banned in 2010, and this bill extends the ban to those made with mercury.

Lead Testing in Schools

The water contamination crises in Flint, Hoosick Falls, and elsewhere – and incidents of lead in the drinking water at schools in many communities – drew attention to the dangers of unhealthy water. This prompted legislators to take a first step with passage of legislation that requires water testing for lead in all schools. Lead is a known toxin that causes an array of health problems, including nervous system disorders, behavioral problems, and reproductive system hazards. Children, due to their ongoing development, are particularly susceptible to lead poisoning. This bill is a strong start and awaits Governor Cuomo’s signature.

Blocking the Rollback of Protections

Just as they did in 2014, the Senate again attempted to roll back public protections. They market it as “cutting the red tape,” but what that translates to is cutting the protections that ensure clean water, clean air, and accountability. We blocked their efforts in 2014, and we did it again this year. An example of the type of stuff we’re up against: even as the crisis in Hoosick Falls continues, one bill requires agencies enacting new protections to pull an existing one off the books. In other words, as DEC enacts new regulations for PFOA due to Saint-Gobain’s contamination of the drinking water in Hoosick Falls, DEC would also be required to cut existing regulations so that Saint-Gobain's might not have increased oversight. We blocked this and half a dozen similarly dangerous bills from getting a vote.

Closing the Door on Fracking Waste

Legislators in both the Senate and Assembly dropped the ball when it came toprotecting New Yorkers from the dangers of out-of-state fracking waste crossing our borders. Our bill to close a loophole in existing regulations has been supported by a majority of legislators in both houses for several years, yet it died on the floor of the Assembly and in the Senate’s Environmental Conservation Committee. The state Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) is accepting public comment through July 15 on proposed regulations that would affect how oil and gas waste is handled in New York. We are calling on them to strengthen the proposed regulations and enact an outright ban – we will be launching an action campaign in the coming days!

There have also been positive developments on two non-legislative fronts:

Sewage Pollution Right to Know

In 2012, legislators passed this law with a simple purpose: recognizing it will take decades to upgrade New York’s aging and failing clean water infrastructure, the public should be notified when untreated sewage is discharged into local waterbodies and public health is at risk. However, as DEC began implementation three years ago, proposed regulations included several dangerous loopholes. Following years of advocacy, and the release of our report, Tapped Out, earlier this year, many of the changes we proposed were adopted. Significantly, there will be no more exemptions for who has to report; the law applies to every community, period. Over the years, thousands of our members have participated in this campaign, and we cannot thank you enough!

Great Lakes Withdrawal

For much of this year, we ran a campaign with our partners at the National Wildlife Federation, and others, opposing Waukesha, Wisconsin's flubbed plan to withdraw up to 16 million gallons of water daily from Lake Michigan. Their application was in clear violation of the Great Lakes Compact, which was designed knowing that what happens anywhere in the Great Lakes, affects everywhere in the Great Lakes. After months of advocacy and hundreds of members writing to Governor Cuomo and other members of the Compact, some significant concerns in the application were addressed. For instance, withdrawal levels were decreased and the distribution area was reduced to serving just the city of Waukesha and a few small towns. Your advocacy helped secure these important changes. Thank you!