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For Release: Friday, April 2, 2021

DEC Announces Winners of 17th Annual Environmental Excellence Awards

New York State Recognizes Four Organizations and Institutions as Leaders in Innovation and Sustainability

New York State Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) Commissioner Basil Seggos today recognized four organizations and institutions as winners of the 17th annual Environmental Excellence Awards. The Environmental Excellence Awards are presented in recognition of each organization's innovative programs and outstanding commitment to environmental sustainability, social responsibility, and economic viability. A review committee of representatives from the public and private sectors helped select the award winners, recognized this year for pioneering projects to ensure inclusivity, explore clean energy, and improve water quality.

"The winners of the 17th annual Environmental Excellence Awards are committed to reducing energy use, combating climate change, and implementing environmentally sustainable practices that support economic growth," Commissioner Seggos said. "We applaud these awardees for leading by example and inspiring other institutions, industries, and communities to partner with New York State in our efforts to build a more sustainable future."

The 17th annual Environmental Excellence Award winners are:

WE ACT Youth Environmental Health & Justice Training, New York City - WE ACT builds healthy communities by ensuring people of color and/or low-income residents participate in the creation of sound environmental health and protection policies and practices. WE ACT offers a series of learning modules geared toward the "next generation of Environmental Justice Leaders," with topics including Environmental Justice, Food Justice, and Health and Toxic Products. Since 2016, approximately 450 students have received training through this effort.

Taylor Morton, Director of Environmental Health & Education at WE ACT for Environmental Justice, said, "We are thrilled that our Environmental Health & Justice Leadership Training program has earned an Environmental Excellence Award from the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation. As low-income communities and communities of color face increasing environmental threats from climate change and the cumulative effects of pollution, our program provides participants the skills and knowledge they need to advocate on behalf of their community and environment to build power and effect change."

SUNY Buffalo (UB) Advancing Climate Change Through Clean Energy, Erie County - UB reduced its carbon footprint by 33 percent each of the last three years by transitioning to renewable energy sources. UB accomplished this significant feat through a host of initiatives including direct purchasing of clean energy through a 4.5-megawatt solar array on the former Bethlehem Steel site, on-campus solar generation, offsite purchases and most recently leveraging innovative power purchase agreements to assist with its goal of achieving 100 percent renewable energy. This work has been fueled through several New York State incentive programs including the REV Campus Challenge's Energy to Lead initiative.

Satish K. Tripathi, President of the University at Buffalo, said, "We truly appreciate the State's recognition of our ongoing commitment to environmental stewardship and sustainability. The impactful measures we are taking to respond to the increasing pace and intensity of climate change are putting UB on a path to achieve net-zero emissions by 2030. As we build on our leadership in climate action mitigation, we are fostering a culture of sustainability for our university, our region, and well beyond."

Upper Susquehanna Coalition (USC) Best Management Practices for Agriculture, Flood Plain Management, and Habitat, Tioga County - USC developed its water quality improvement program in 2018 to reduce and prevent pollution in local waterways throughout the Chesapeake Bay, serving 18 New York counties. Methods include Best Management Practices for agriculture, flood retention, wildlife/habitat restoration, and riparian and wetland restoration. The program has implemented 200 acres of riparian buffer, more than 12 acres of wetland, and 440 acres of rotational grazing.

Wendy Walsh, USC Watershed Coordinator, said, "With the USC Water Quality Program we have accelerated implementation of riparian forest buffers, rotational grazing, and wetland restoration on agricultural land throughout the watershed by filling gaps in existing programs, as one program is often not sufficient to fund water quality and habitat restoration projects."

Suffolk County Department of Health Services Septic Improvement Program, Suffolk County - This program seeks to transition older, failing septic systems to newer, more efficient systems. In Suffolk County, 380,000 cesspools and septic systems are the largest single cause of degraded water quality, contributing to beach closures, restrictions on shellfish harvest, and algal blooms. To combat this nitrogen pollution, in 2017 the county initiated a program to transition aging systems to more efficient Alternative Onsite Water Treatment Systems. Residents may apply for up to $30,000 in State and county funding to offset installation costs. By the end of 2019, 202 new systems had been installed, removing a total of 6,817.5 pounds of wastewater nitrogen.

Steve Bellone, Suffolk County Executive, said, "This recognition by DEC that Suffolk County's Septic Improvement Program is an initiative of statewide importance is very much appreciated. Suffolk County greatly values the strong support it continues to receive from New York State, and from Commissioner Seggos and the water quality team at DEC in particular. This Environmental Excellence Award is a tribute to the hard work of staff in our departments of Health Services and Economic Development and Planning, and the ever-growing interest of Suffolk County residents, who continue to apply to participate in the SIP in record numbers."

DEC established the Environmental Excellence Awards program in 2004 to recognize organizations, businesses, and institutions with outstanding, innovative, and sustainable projects or programs and unique partnerships that are helping to achieve a more sustainable New York. A statewide review committee, made up of 20 representatives from the public and private sectors, provided guidance in selecting the award winners from an array of competitive applications. For additional information about the program and past winners, please visit the DEC website.

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