A coalition of environmental groups has issued a list of policy recommendations to Governor Andrew Cuomo and the state legislature. Among them is beefing up the Environmental Protection Fund, the primary mechanism for funding land preservation, water-quality protection, and other green objectives.
The coalition—which includes the Adirondack Council, the Adirondack Mountain Club, and the Nature Conservancy—notes that the EPF has been reduced from $255 million to $134 million since 2008. In addition, the state over the years has diverted about $500 million in EPF monies to the state’s general fund.
In “Green Memos to the Governor and State Legislature,” the environmental groups say the diversion of EPF monies has caused a backlog of projects that have been stalled for want of funding, including some $85 million in land-acquisition and farmland-protection projects.
Alison Jenkins, a fiscal analyst for Environmental Advocates, described the $85 million sum as “a very, very conservative estimate” that doesn’t include many other conservation projects in the works. However, she conceded that the figures were added up before the state announced a few weeks ago that it spent $30 million on easements on eighty-nine thousand acres in the Adirondacks formerly owned by Finch, Pruyn & Co. Thus, the backlog has been reduced by at least $30 million.
But the $85 million figure does not include two pending land deals in the Adirondacks: the purchase of another sixty-five thousand acres once owned by Finch, Pruyn & Co. and of Follensby Pond and surrounding land (in all, about 14,600 acres). In both cases, the state would buy the lands from the Nature Conservancy for inclusion in the public Forest Preserve.
Some people question whether the state should follow through on promises to buy the Finch, Pruyn land. Among other things, they argue that the state cannot afford it now. Click here to read George Earl’s story in the Explorer about a hunting club that wants to modify the deal so the land it leases will not be added to the Forest Preserve. The story generated a lively debate on Adirondack Almanack.
No one disputes that the state has fallen on hard times. It faces a deficit of up to $9.3 billion in the 2011-12 fiscal year. But one reason the state established the EPF back in the early nineties was to ensure that there would be money for land preservation and other environmental projects even in lean times.
The debate should focus on the intrinsic merits of these deals, not on the state’s fiscal bind, which, however severe, is temporary. Besides, the money spent on land preservation is a drop in the bucket. The state budget, including monies received from the federal government, is expected to total $135.3 billion in the coming fiscal year, according to Erik Kriss, a spokesman for the state Division of Budget. (If you subtract the federal contribution, the budget is $79.2 billion.)
Let’s do a little math. The Nature Conservancy paid $110 million for 161,000 acres of Finch, Pruyn land in 2007. That works out to $683 an acre. If the state were to pay the same price for the sixty-five thousand acres in question, that would come to $44 million. And that’s a mere 0.03 percent of the state’s total budget. Even if the state pays a higher price, we’re still talking about a minute fraction of the budget.
If the state goes broke, it won’t be because it spent money on preserving Adirondack forests.