By Gwendolyn Craig
The state Division of Budget had lots of bad news in its quarterly report for New Yorkers last week, with a growing deficit and devastating cuts to schools and local governments. The bad news did not extend, however, to the $300 million Environmental Protection Fund.
The EPF finances a number of projects, including trail maintenance and conservation projects in the Adirondack Park.
Freeman Klopott, a spokesman for the Division of Budget, said in an email on Monday that “this administration continues to support it at record levels as it leads the nation in combatting climate change with the implementation of the Climate Leadership and Community Protection Act.”
That act, passed in 2019, requires an 80% statewide reduction of greenhouse gas emissions by 2050 and the production of carbon-free electricity by 2040.
The EPF could still be cut later this year. The unprecedented state budget process, due to the coronavirus pandemic, involves quarterly reviews of state revenues and subsequent budget adjustments. The first budget review was due in June, but Gov. Andrew Cuomo continued to put it off in hopes of the federal government stepping in with more funding to states.
The review had to come sometime, however, and Thursday it did and without federal financial support.
The quarterly review was mostly grim, showing a more than 15% drop in revenue, forecasting a $62 billion deficit over the next four years. It compounded the already disappointing news for environmental groups that the Cuomo administration decided to pull the $3 billion Restore Mother Nature Bond Act from New Yorkers’ ballots in November.
In a press conference earlier this month, Basil Seggos, commissioner of the state Department of Environmental Conservation indicated he did not believe the EPF would get cut in the state’s budget review process. But the DEC has not been immune to the state’s dire financial picture.
In the original proposed budget, the DEC was slated to have more than 40 new staff members to assist with implementing the Climate Leadership and Community Protection Act. Those positions, however, are “on hold until we have clarity on the federal assistance to the State in pandemic legislation,” Klopott said.
And there are still more budget reviews coming.
Klopott warned if the federal government doesn’t provide support, “all state programs may ultimately be subject to reductions.” He added that the Cuomo administration’s goal is to continue to support the state’s climate reductions goals.
The state is already doing that, he added, through solicitations of renewable energy in offshore wind projects and investment in clean energy projects in low-to-moderate income households.