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Commissioner's Testimony

DEC professionals work across New York State on a wide variety of initiatives. Through 18 divisions and nine regional offices, DEC maintains over 1,900 facilities and manages more than 4.4 million acres of land. The agency is also responsible for enforcing the entire realm of state environmental laws and a multitude of federal laws and regulations. To carry out this mission, the agency receives state and federal funding.

Budget Testimony 2014-15

Chairman DeFrancisco, Chairman Farrell, Senator Grisanti, Assemblyman Sweeney, members of the legislative fiscal and environmental conservation committees, thank you for this opportunity to discuss Governor Cuomo's Executive Budget as it pertains to the Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) for State Fiscal Year 2014-15. Under the Governor's leadership, DEC is working to make New York more business-friendly, more resilient and prepared for emergencies, more welcoming to outdoor recreation and tourism, and even more protective of our valuable natural environment. We have made good progress, and I appreciate the support I have received from the Legislature and many of you individually. We have a list of accomplishments, ranging from one of the largest land conservation and public access projects in the State's history-the Finch Pruyn purchase in the Adirondacks-and two historic Constitutional Amendments; to streamlined permitting for key economic development projects and innovative voluntary programs like DEC's new environmental audit policy.

Climate:
Extreme weather is a source of significant concern, and DEC, working with NYSERDA and others, is aggressively pursuing policies to reduce emissions that cause climate change. Last year, working with our partner states, Governor Cuomo called for a lower cap on greenhouse gas emissions and inspired a nine-state agreement to reduce the cap by 45% this year, increasing to more than 50% by 2020. We project that New York's investment of Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative auction proceeds through 2020 will yield an estimated $5.8 billion benefit to New York's economy, create nearly 3,000 new jobs, and reduce consumer energy bills.

New York Open for Fishing and Hunting:
Outdoor sporting activities generate over $9 billion in economic activity in New York. In 2013, the Governor launched NY Open for Fishing and Hunting, an initiative to improve recreational activities for sportsmen and sportswomen and boost tourism opportunities throughout the State. The initiative reduced fees for most sporting licenses and simplified the number and types of licenses available.

In addition to the Adventure License announced in the State of the State, the Executive Budget builds on last year's NY Open for Fishing and Hunting by proposing promotional license sales days, up to eight free fishing days, and three- and five-year licenses at discounted prices, as well as reducing the cost of seven-day fishing licenses and authorizing DEC to promulgate regulations allowing the use of crossbows for hunting. We expect this initiative to increase participation in fishing and hunting and make New York even more attractive as an outdoor sports destination.

Invasive Species:
Invasive species are a challenge, negatively affecting both our economy and environment. Working with the Department of Agriculture and Markets, we have proposed regulations that identify invasive species that may significantly harm native flora and fauna, and prohibit or regulate their sale. DEC is also working on a statewide aquatic invasive species plan to further mitigate the impact of this serious problem, and recently proposed regulations that would require the removal of visible plants and animals from boats and trailers before launching them at DEC facilities. And, DEC's new prohibitions on selling or possessing Eurasian boar will curtail their destructive impacts.

NY Works:
Working with the Legislature, we have made a significant investment through the NY Works program in critical environmental infrastructure projects. The coastal, dam, and flood control investments are mitigating the risks posed by the forces of nature, while putting New Yorkers to work. Last year, NY Works II allowed us to invest in improvements to recreational facilities, cleanup of municipal brownfields, and upgrades to wastewater treatment systems. This year, the Executive Budget proposes $40 million in NY Works III for DEC. We plan to use these funds to invest $6 million for 50 new public access projects and $4 million for fish hatcheries announced by the Governor. Funds will be used for repairs and improvements to existing DEC facilities, including campgrounds, education centers, dams, and a shellfish lab on Long Island. Funds will also be dedicated to plugging orphaned oil and gas wells, replacing air monitoring equipment, and investing in IT for the next phase of DEC's eBusiness Strategy.

Sandy Response:
It has been over a year since Superstorm Sandy, but we continue to work on recovery and rebuilding in keeping with the recommendations of the 2100 Commission. In partnership with the Army Corps, DEC is working on large-scale projects to repair and build coastal protection projects. DEC will continue to be thoroughly involved in all aspects of these projects, from environmental reviews to design and construction, and will seek to expedite these projects on every front.

Open For Business:
Another DEC accomplishment is our focus on efficient permitting by issuing timely permits for economic development projects, especially priorities of the Regional Economic Development Councils. We have succeeded in expediting project reviews and permitting all across New York. We also formed a special team in New York City to focus on dredging to allow important harbor deepening projects to proceed, fostering the success of the largest port on the east coast while assuring that contaminated sediment is safely managed.

Environmental Protection Fund:
Over the past 20 years, the EPF has provided more than $2.7 billion for a variety of key environmental programs. Much of that total has flowed to New York's cities and towns via grants for recycling, landfill closure, municipal parks, or water quality projects. As you know, the EPF supports the acquisition and stewardship of state lands and important agricultural programs. The Executive Budget for 2014-15 increases the EPF to $157 million. The EPF categories are generally unchanged, with the notable addition of a sub- category under Water Quality Improvement Projects to dedicate $2 million to research, assess, and address the issue of elevated levels of nitrogen in Long Island groundwater. These funds will be matched by our partner Suffolk County. DEC will work closely with SUNY Stony Brook and towns like Southampton that are eager to clean up Long Island's water resources.

Brownfield Cleanup Program:
Since it was adopted in 2003, the Brownfield Cleanup Program has resulted in the successful clean up of more than 150 sites, by offering liability relief and refundable tax credits. The Executive Budget extends the program for ten years while instituting necessary reforms, targeting redevelopment credits to priority economic development projects and sites that need incentives to get cleanups underway, and spur redevelopment. This proposal also includes a streamlined program for lightly contaminated sites where the developer waives the right to tax credits. This voluntary program will ensure that cleanups are completed to State standards and subject to DEC oversight while providing critical liability relief to enable sites to obtain financing, and save the State millions in tax credits.

The budget includes $100 million for Superfund to ensure that site investigations and construction projects can continue to move forward to address the State's most contaminated sites. This includes a $10 million carve out for the Environmental Restoration Program, the popular municipal brownfield cleanup program.

Transportation of Crude Oil:
Recently, several serious train derailments involving crude oil have heightened awareness and concern about the transportation of crude oil across the nation. In response, Governor Cuomo issued an Executive Order last night directing DEC and our sister agencies to petition our federal partners to ensure New Yorkers are safe and the State's irreplaceable natural resources are protected. The order also directs the agencies to evaluate the State's spill prevention, response, and inspection programs governing the rail, ship and barge transportation of crude oil and other petroleum products. We will report our recommendations to the Governor on or about April 30th for program improvements and enhanced coordination between State and federal agencies and the role of local governments. Following the Governor's Executive Order, the Commissioners of Transportation, Health, Homeland Security and I sent a letter calling on the federal government to expedite adoption of enhanced requirements governing the transport of crude oil by rail and water to reduce the potential for spills and accidents, and to pre-deploy appropriate spill response equipment and resources to protect New York State's communities, residents, land and waterways.

Between reforming the brownfield cleanup program, increasing EPF funding, investing in environmental infrastructure, and maintaining staff and funding for DEC, the Executive Budget demonstrates Governor Cuomo's continued commitment to the environment. Thank you for inviting me to testify. I look forward to working with you to enact the Governor's 2014-15 budget so that we can continue our forward progress. Thank you again for your support. I'd be happy to answer any questions you may have.


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