The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has rejected the vast majority of clean water funds which Governor Andrew Cuomo sought to divert to construction costs associated with the New New York Bridge. The ruling, however, should not come as a surprise, as the EPA publicly stated their concerns as soon as this plan first came to light. Yet, despite the EPA clearly disqualifying federal funds from being used for unrelated purposes, the Governor and his administration have sought to discredit the EPA and announced plans to appeal their decision.
It is time to move past this misguided effort to raid clean water funds for bridge construction. Environmental Advocates of New York urges organizations, advocates, legislators and decision-makers at all levels to support the EPA’s ruling, and we urge the Cuomo Administration to prioritize helping communities access these clean water funds.
36 Billion in Unmet Clean Water Needs
To say that the state’s infrastructure is in disrepair would be a gross understatement. Our communities are grappling with $36 billion in unmet clean water needs, which the Governor’s own Department of Environmental Conservation calls “a gathering storm.”
Speaking of storms, nearly every time it rains, sewage systems overflow, pollute waterways, and create public health hazards. In New York State, in 2014, residents should not have to deal with boiled water alerts or lost access to clean water for drinking, fishing and recreation as often as they do because of an infrastructure that’s falling apart.
A Misuse of Federal Funds
Using federal funds provided through the Clean Water Act for highway transportation purposes is bad public policy. In addition to announcing the deal before the state Legislature or any of the relevant oversight bodies were even aware of it – prompting an investigation by the Authorities Budget Office – the Cuomo Administration failed to solicit comments on its plan from the federal government, legislators, and the public. Had the EPA allowed this raid it would have set a very dangerous national precedent for executives nationwide to single-handedly re-appropriate vast sums of public dollars without legislative involvement. The EPA deserves our thanks for undertaking a deliberate, thoughtful review that will withstand future raids of this nature.
Additionally, the Cuomo Administration has told Environmental Advocates that there is no formal loan application from the Thruway Authority, which is in direct contradiction to statements made publicly to the Public Authorities Control Board in July and in conflict with state law and EFC policy.
All of these concerns and unanswered questions led to robust opposition from a broad coalition which has included state and local officials, transportation, environmental and public interests advocates, the professional organization representing clean water infrastructure experts (New York Water Environment Association), and a dozen editorial boards statewide, including the Poughkeepsie Journal, Buffalo News, Journal News and New York Post.
These clean water funds are meant for our communities. The Cuomo Administration should figure out ways to cut the red tape in order to get these funds to the municipalities desperately in need.