As the dust begins to settle on the 2017 legislative session, we’re taking a look back at how our priorities fared. It was a relatively anti-climactic conclusion since it looks likely that the legislature will have to return later this year since they could not reach agreement on a number of time-sensitive priorities.
Recognizing this could be the case early on in session, we pushed to get many of our biggest priorities done as part of the budget. This strategy paid off in spades: we scored many significant victories, lead by an unprecedented $2.5 billion in funding for clean water, accompanied by new regulations and programs to keep our water safe and free from contaminants.
Despite a difficult environment for passing ambitious environmental legislation, we were able to get eight important bills passed through both houses of the legislature and a number of other priorities gained momentum that should help push them over the top later this year or next year. This would not have been possible without the help of our members. Here are a few highlights of bills that made it to the finish line, others that came close, and of course, a few disappointments that we will double down on next year:
Protecting the Hudson River: NYLCV and a coalition of partners successfully advocated for the passage of A6825-A/S5197-B, sponsored by Assembly Member Barret and Senator Serino, to expand the state’s power to deny oil barges from anchoring on the Hudson River due to environmental considerations.
Protecting our Waterways from Pharmaceutical Waste: Medication waste in water systems and landfills negatively affect marine life and harm delicate ecosystems, so we were happy to support A.387-B/S.6750, which will require chain pharmacies to implement collection programs for prescription medications.
Increasing Access to Renewable Energy: Both houses passed S.688/A.7117, which will make it easier and cheaper for New Yorkers to install and use geothermal energy systems, and will level the playing field between geothermal and other renewable energy systems. We also successfully beat back A.7685/S.5126, which would have prevented the New York Power Authority form purchasing renewable energy from Canada–a critical replacement energy source for New York City as Indian Point is decommissioned.
Establishing Energy Storage: This bill, A.6571/S.5190, which will help New York State expand renewable energy and reduce greenhouse gas emissions, directs the Public Service Commission to establish an energy storage deployment program to absorb excess energy when it is overproduced and release it back to the grid during times of peak demand.
Expanding Electric Vehicle Usage: We are thrilled to support the passage of A.288/S.3745, which will require power companies to provide reduced rates for off-peak hours for customers to charge electric vehicles. Incentives like these, along with a number of other state initiatives, will help spur the growth of New York’s electric car market.
Decreasing Emissions from Home Heating Oil: Both houses passed A.6954/S.5422, which will increase biofuel usage requirements on Long Island and in Westchester. Heating oil mixed with biofuel can burn more efficiently and significantly reduce the emission of pollutants, which is good for New Yorkers’ lungs and the environment.
Reducing School Food Waste and Feeding Hungry New Yorkers: While we didn’t succeed in our effort to require all large food waste generators to donate excess edible food and compost the rest, we did work to pass S.5664-B/A.2409-B. This bill will allow school districts and colleges to donate excess food to local charities, which will help food insecure New Yorkers and reduce our greenhouse gas emissions from landfills.
Promoting Renewable Energy and Pollinator Protection: A.8083/S.6339, a new bill to create a solar array pollinator benefit program, would have helped New Yorkers address pollinator habitat fragmentation, make solar array sites more aesthetically pleasing, and help our state develop its renewable energy resources. We’re disappointed that this common-sense bill did not come up for a vote in either house, but we’re confident that we will get it through the legislature next session.
Protecting Children from Toxic Chemicals: We have supported legislation to get toxic chemicals out of children’s products for many years – this year, we advocated for a bill requiring all manufacturers of children’s products to disclose if they use chemicals that could be harmful to children’s health. While we are disappointed that defenders of the status quo blocked the bill from an open debate, we are pleased that it has bipartisan support in both houses and confident that it will advance out of committee next year.
Mixed Results on Protecting Carryout Bag Bills: We started in January with a huge fight to protect New York City’s carryout bag bill, which we were not ultimately able to win, but we went full circle by the end of session, protecting Suffolk County’s Carryout Bag Bill from repeal.
A number of bills passed one house, but stalled in the other. Legislation to lower the definition of elevated blood level would have ensured that more children exposed to lead get the treatment they deserve, and a bill to extend and expand New York City’s School Zone Speed Camera program, which protects pedestrians and cyclists and has dramatically reduced speeding incidents in the City, passed the Assembly but died in the Senate. Five of our priorities passed in the Senate but not the Assembly: A Constitutional Amendment to create land banks in the Adirondacks and the Catskills and allow public utility lines and bike paths in certain lands in state forest preserves, legislation to divert unused architectural paint from landfills by requiring and retailers take back unused paint, legislation to preserve farmland and protect family farmers in Suffolk County, legislation to divert used solar panels from landfills, and a bill to require a state transportation plan.
Though it is frustrating to come so close on these bills, we’re proud of how far we moved the ball forward and are increasingly confident they will get done by the end of next session. We are also confident that when the Legislature reconvenes for a special session, they will revisit our priority legislation to expand New York City’s School Zone Speed Camera program and pass a constitutional amendment to support communities in the Adirondacks and the Catskills.