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History of DEC- 1980s

The 1980s begin with protecting the athletes and the environment during the 1980 Winter Olympics in Lake Placid. They continue with expanded attention focused on environmental areas hardly even considered in prior decades; for example, what to do about hazardous wastes and the issue of acid rain. DEC continues its tradition of excellence in forestry, fish and wildlife programs. A new bond act is passed, which provides funding for DEC to continue its work in land acquisition and waste management. Several important pieces of legislation are passed building upon environmental progress made in the 1970s. Milestones include:


  • DEC-operated winter sports facilities at Lake Placid host the Winter Olympics. ECOs perform security details and other DEC personnel work to minimize the impact of the games on the environment.
  • DEC opens the Salmon River Fish Hatchery in Oswego County to raise Pacific salmon and steelhead trout for stocking in Lake Ontario, and also modernizes its other fish hatcheries to increase production.
  • Building on earlier efforts to clean up toxic waste sites, EPA develops a nationwide program for toxic waste site cleanups under the new Superfund law, as well as establishing a list of the most hazardous toxic sites in the U.S.


  • New York State Coastal Erosion Law provides protection for shoreline erosion-hazard areas.
  • Enhanced oil and gas well programs are implemented to improve safety and protect surface and groundwater resources.


  • The Division of Law Enforcement creates the Bureau of Environmental Conservation Investigations to conduct investigations of inactive hazardous waste dump sites and transportation and disposal of hazardous waste. The bureau's name was later changed to the Bureau of Environmental Crimes Investigations.
  • Return A Gift to Wildlife program begins, enabling New Yorkers to voluntarily contribute to DEC's Conservation Fund through personal income tax returns.
  • The "Bottle Bill" is passed, requiring deposits on certain beverage containers in order to encourage recycling and reduce litter.


  • The Hazardous Waste Remedial Fund legislation increases criminal sanctions for violations and establishes a fund to supplement federal Superfund money in site cleanups.
  • Falcons nest in New York City after a 20-year absence.


  • New York passes the nation's first legislation to address the problem of "acid rain" from in-state sources of air pollution.
  • DEC initiates an acid rain control policy called the State Acid Deposition Control Act (SADCA), identifying the Adirondacks, Catskills, and Hudson Highlands as susceptible to acid rain.
  • DEC and the Empire State Electric Energy Research Corporation sponsor a three-year water chemistry and fish survey of 1,469 Adirondack lakes and ponds for acid rain.
  • Concerns about gasoline and hazardous chemicals seeping from storage tanks and landfills into underground drinking water supplies prompt new amendments to the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act. EPA begins efforts to prevent such contamination and require treatment of hazardous wastes prior to land disposal.
  • DEC assumes responsibility for the oil and hazardous substance spill program from the Department of Transportation and sets up a statewide, toll-free information line for spill reporting.


  • Catskill Park State Land Master Plan is adopted.
  • The Omnibus Oil, Gas and Solution Mining Law passes, regulating oil and gas drilling and production across New York State.
  • After British scientists report a giant hole in the Earth's protective atmospheric ozone layer, EPA joins an international convention in Vienna calling for worldwide cooperative efforts to eliminate use of substances that deplete the ozone layer.


  • The New York State Environmental Quality Bond Act passes, providing $1.2 billion to clean up hazardous waste sites and $250 million to acquire parks and other environmentally sensitive lands.
  • Reinstein Woods is acquired by New York State; DEC later builds an environmental education center there.
  • Public concern about explosions and leaks of toxic chemicals, such as occurred in Bhopal, India in 1984, leads to passage of the U.S.'s first community right-to-know law directing manufacturers, users and storers of certain chemicals to keep records about the location, quantity, use, and any release of those materials. EPA is required to make such information available to the public and begins to work with states and localities to prevent accidents and develop emergency plans in case of releases of dangerous chemicals.


  • DEC, EPA, Environment Canada, and the Ontario Ministry of Environment enter into an international agreement to clean up toxic chemicals in the Niagara River.
  • The New York State Atmospheric Deposition Monitoring Network is set up to assess the effectiveness of DEC's acid rain control policy and other strategies aimed at reducing the effects of acid rain.
  • The Division of Law Enforcement concludes an undercover investigation of illegal deer and bear hunting called Operation Berkshire. Lasting 2.5 years and stretching over seven states and one Canadian province, the investigation results in 28 arrests and more than 1,000 charges and sets a precedent for including undercover surveillance in day-to- day operations of fish and wildlife investigations in New York.
  • The Adirondack State Land Master Plan is approved.
  • The U. S. is one of 24 nations to sign the Montreal Protocol, pledging to phase out production of chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs), linked to destruction of the protective atmospheric ozone layer.
  • From March until October, the Mobro 4000, which would come to be known as the infamous "garbage barge," began its odyssey from New York to ports in the U.S. and even as far as the Central American country of Belize without being allowed to unload its rotting cargo. The widely publicized incident led to significant improvements in solid waste management.
  • DEC creates an integrated state solid waste management plan and implements Part 360 solid waste regulations, bringing New York State into compliance with the provisions of the federal Resource Conservation and Recovery Act. The plan sets visionary and aggressive, yet achievable, goals, with periodic updates to ensure continued progress.


  • The Atlas of Breeding Birds in New York State is published, listing the species of birds observed to be breeding in the state, as well as their estimated population and distribution.
  • Virtually all U.S. cities have either built, or committed to build, sewage treatment plants, resulting in rivers and lakes safe for swimming and commercial and recreational fishing.
  • The Solid Waste Management Act is passed, providing grants for municipal solid waste projects and recycling programs, and creating the Bureau of Waste Reduction, Reuse and Recycling at DEC. The bureau's name states the order of priority before waste is considered for incineration or being sent to a landfill.
  • New York's solid waste regulations are revised and enhanced, including provisions for recycling, composting, solid waste transfer, beneficial uses of solid waste, waste-to-energy and landfills. As a result, New York's regulations become one of the nation's most comprehensive set of requirements for solid waste management facilities.
  • Aerial surveys record the largest number of nesting ospreys on Long Island since restoration began in 1977.
  • New York passes laws on infectious medical waste, which are later broadened to include all medical waste.


  • DEC and the Environmental Facilities Corporation (EFC) begin providing low-interest loans to local governments for projects to protect drinking water supplies and prevent water pollution through the New York State Revolving Fund (SRF).
  • DEC helps form the Niagara River Toxics Management Plan and Lake Ontario Toxics Management Plan with EPA, Environment Canada and the Ontario Government to jointly reduce the discharge of contaminants that accumulate in the bodies of the fish of those waters.
  • New York State ends operation of low-level radioactive waste disposal site in West Valley, the only commercial radioactive waste disposal and burial site in the state.
  • State regulations are drafted specifying water quality standards for 95 toxic chemicals, and how sites for petroleum bulk storage facilities should be chosen, as well as how they should be built, monitored and shut down.
  • The New York State Solid Waste Management Plan is issued, detailing how recycling, source separation and closure of landfills will take place in New York State.
  • DEC requires that gasoline vapors be recovered during refueling at service stations and that low volatility gasoline be marketed statewide during the summer.
  • DEC's Bald Eagle Restoration Project reaches its goal of 10 nesting pairs.

Other Milestones of the 1980s

  • About 250,000 acres of land were acquired or otherwise protected by the state, including the purchase of 4,163 acres from Camp Harriman; acquisition of Tivoli Bay National Estuarine Research Preserve; acquisition of Valcour Island on Lake Champlain; receipt of Reinstein Woods in Western NY as a gift; Sloop Hill in Orange County; 14,400 acres of land and 40,000 acres of easements on Diamond International lands in Adirondacks; and 341 acres of Barcelona Neck on Sag Harbor Bay, Long Island.

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