Legislation to preserve land and water passed in May to quell “climate crises”
By Gwendolyn Craig
In a sea of Climate Week announcements from Gov. Kathy Hochul’s administration, legislation encouraging state protection of 30% of its lands and waters by 2030 has yet to lap her desk.
The bill passed the state Assembly and Senate this spring, with significant bipartisan support. Nearly four months later, the Assembly has not delivered the bill to Hochul. The legislation states preserving more lands and waters will increase New York’s resilience to climate change, protect biodiversity and conserve the habitats of threatened and endangered species.
“Every 30 seconds, a football field worth of natural areas disappears to development in the United States,” a memo to the bill read. “Over the last 10 years, natural weather disasters, exacerbated by a rapidly changing global climate, cost New York State and the federal government an estimated $37.3 billion in response and is projected to cost an additional $55 billion by 2029, according to Rebuild By Design, a coalition of New York’s leading infrastructure experts and stakeholders.”
The bill also notes a Center for American Progress report in 2018 that shows 12% of lands in the U.S. are conserved or protected. New York, with its forest preserves and conservation easements, currently has conserved about 19% and needs an additional 11% to meet the legislation’s goals.
A spokesman for the governor said Hochul is reviewing the legislation. He did not respond to questions about her opinion on the bill, the delay in its official delivery or when she would make a decision.
The Adirondack Explorer’s requests for comment were not returned by state Assemblywoman Patricia Fahy’s office. The Albany Democrat sponsored the bill. Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie’s office also did not return a request for comment.
Sheila Webb-Halpern, spokeswoman for The Nature Conservancy, said the bill is one of hundreds not yet delivered to the governor’s desk. The Nature Conservancy had not heard anything about Hochul signing the bill in the context of Climate Week, she said, but the national organization continues to support it and urged Hochul to endorse the measure when it’s delivered.
The Open Space Institute (OSI), which supports the legislation, responded similarly.
If Hochul signs this bill, there are no legislative penalties if the state doesn’t meet its goals. The bill language suggests urgency, saying efforts must be made to “combat the biodiversity and climate crises in the state’s land acquisition policy.”
Eileen Larrabee, senior vice president for communications at OSI, said the bill still has merit. It blends climate, clean water, recreation and stronger communities into a conversation about land protection.
“Anytime that you can put those pieces together, build attention for conservation,” Larrabee said, “we think there’s great, great value to that.”
The bill directs the state Department of Environmental Conservation to draft a proposed plan and schedule public hearings. It charges DEC and state Office of Parks, Recreation and Historic Preservation with reviewing plans for state land acquisition, priority water sources and wetlands and priority biodiversity habitats. On or before July 1, 2023 and every three years after, the department and office are supposed to make recommendations to the governor and state Legislature.
Hochul and other state leaders churned out plenty of other climate-related announcements this week. They included that more than 100 communities passed the state’s “climate smart” certification. The program involves municipalities pledging to reduce their carbon emissions. The Village of Lake Placid was one of the latest communities to earn the designation.
Hochul also issued an executive order committing the state to 100% renewable energy in state operations by 2030. It is in support of the state’s Climate Leadership and Community Protection Act passed in 2019.
“With these new commitments, we are stepping up our approach to environmental stewardship with new and ambitious goals to shift toward renewable energy, invest in electric vehicles, and drastically reduce waste and toxic substance use — all while protecting our state’s most disadvantaged communities,” Hochul said in a release. “As a global financial capital, New York is in a unique position to combat climate change, and my administration remains committed to leading the fight by aligning our investments and operations with New York State values.”
The order does mention that “habitats maintained by state agencies and authorities will be enhanced, including support for native pollinators.” It also transitions state fleets to 100% zero-emission vehicles within the next two decades, restricts new state facilities from using fossil fuels, reduces state waste disposal, eliminates single-use plastic in state operations and other measures.
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