Over the past few years, New York City has made great strides toward combating climate change, promoting resiliency, investing in urban spaces, improving public health, and protecting our air, water, and natural resources. NYLCV advocates for these issues because we believe that preventing and mitigating the damage of the growing climate crisis is not only essential to maintain quality of life for New Yorkers, but also to save lives.
What we have unfortunately seen most recently from the City is the mismanagement of yet another crisis that we are acutely aware of. Last week, Mayor de Blasio and the City Council finalized the City budget and sadly, but as is too often the case, the environment got short shrift. NYLCV understands the devastating public health and economic impacts that the COVID-19 pandemic has had on New York. However, the environment and parks are not luxuries. Clean air and open spaces are essential for all New Yorkers, as COVID has profoundly highlighted.
We are disappointed that the City’s approved budget drastically cuts environmental programs that are needed to combat climate change and fight for climate justice. These cuts include:
- A 14% reduction of the Parks Department budget. Nearly 200 park workers will lose their jobs, including Urban Park Rangers (who educate the public about nature), Parks Enforcement Patrol officers, Green Thumb workers, and Natural Areas Group staff.
- The almost complete suspension of organic waste curbside collection and dropoff sites.
- $65 million removed from the Fair Fares Program, which subsidizes public transportation for low-income New Yorkers.
- Diminished investments in bus lane infrastructure.
Although we are pleased that the budget preserves funding for 150 park worker and gardener positions that we helped secure as part of the Play Fair for Parks campaign last year, we are troubled that drastic cuts were made to other park worker positions. Green spaces are one of our city’s most vital environmental assets. They help mitigate climate change, and New Yorkers rely on them now more than ever to maintain social distance while exercising, enjoying nature, and getting fresh air.
While $2.8 million was restored for community composting, the City suspended organic waste curbside collections and almost entirely ended dropoff opportunities for what is one of the biggest sources of the waste stream. More food scraps and yard waste will now go to landfills where they will decompose, emit methane gas, contribute to climate change, and impede the City from achieving its Zero Waste goals. Our NYC Climate Tracker shows that the City would have to reduce waste by at least 8% per year to reach its goal by 2030, which is no easy feat. Composting needs to be widespread in New York City for it to effectively divert waste.
Cutting funding for the Fair Fares program and bus lane infrastructure will make public transportation less accessible for New Yorkers. This could cause more people to drive and increase emissions from the transportation sector, which is New York’s #1 contributor to climate change.
We understand the fiscal implications of our current public health and economic crisis, but it is no excuse to cut investments in our future. Emergencies like COVID-19 should not be seen as a reason to pull back from important environmental initiatives, but as a warning for what can happen when looming threats are not tackled head on. We urge the City to take this into consideration, and to step up to protect New York and its residents by doubling down on its efforts to address the climate crisis.