New York State’s Environmental Protection Fund (EPF) supports a wide variety of environmental projects through four programs, which focus on solid waste, parks and recreation, open space, and climate change mitigation and adaptation. Since the creation of the EPF in 1993, it has provided over $3 billion for environmental projects. All New York counties benefit from the EPF, as these programs reduce air and water pollution, create new jobs, reinvigorate urban areas, and minimize solid waste.
The Solid Waste Program has been successful in protecting New Yorkers’ clean air and water through projects that increase recycling, facilitate landfill closures, and promote safe disposal of hazardous waste. The EPF has provided over $80 million to improve community wastewater treatment plants, thus decreasing run-off. In addition, over 261 landfills have been safely shut down, more than 130 million pounds of hazardous waste has been properly collected, and monitoring of pesticide use has increased across the state.
For the past 25 years, New York has utilized the Open Space Program to preserve over 650,000 acres of open space for state parks, hiking paths, and wildlife watching areas. The program has also assisted farmers to protect 72,000 acres of farmland, improve waste management practices, and reduce agricultural run-off. A number of other initiatives are supported by the Open Space Program, including the Water Quality Improvement Program, the Invasive Species Program, and the Urban Forestry Grants Program.
In order to connect more New Yorkers to nature, the Parks and Recreation Program has funded projects to strengthen over 330 waterfront communities, improve and preserve parks and historic areas, and support zoos, aquaria, and gardens. State Parks have grown by over 32,000 acres and provided grants for more community and urban trees throughout New York. Similarly, the EPF includes stewardship funding for these lands.
Due to growing risks associated with climate change, the Climate Change Mitigation and Adaptation Program provides funding to address and prevent damages from flooding, and to also increase New York’s resilience to threats from climate change.
The positive impact of the EPF is evident, but there are many more applicants for its grants than there is funding available. Expanding the budget for the EPF would have tremendous benefits for all New Yorkers, which is why NYLCV is calling on the Legislature and Governor Cuomo to gradually increase the EPF from its current $300 million to $500 million by 2025. With increased funding, the EPF will continue to enhance New York by protecting air and water quality, giving all residents reliable access to nature, preserving historic lands and parks, mitigating current and future climate change risks, mobilizing toward the goal of zero waste to landfills, and protecting open spaces for future generations.
On a final note, this year the Governor proposed allowing part of the EPF to be used for staff costs. The EPF is a capital fund and it would be inappropriate to use these funds for staff salaries or other agency personal costs. NYLCV strongly supports adding more staff at the Department of Environmental Conservation, but not by raiding the EPF.