February 8, 2011
Sigh of relief heard over EPF funding
By Trevor T. Alford
Although there are proposed budget cuts all across the board, environmental groups are relieved
that Gov. Andrew Cuomo's budget axe has left the Environmental Protection Fund intact at $134
"While we know that programs in the [Environmental Protection Fund] could desperately use
more money, we are grateful that Governor Cuomo has recognized, through this budget, that
previous years' cuts to environmental funding were disproportionately deep," said Laura Haight,
senior environmental associate for the New York Public Interest Research Group.
The Environmental Protection Fund will remain at the same funding level as the current fiscal
year, but several programs and agencies are being cut or eliminated, and $19 million in cuts have
been proposed for the state park's budget.
Still, compared to other policy areas, environmentalists feel relatively fortunate.
"We have to consider this a victory," said Neil Woodworth, the executive director of the
Adirondack Mountain Club, an organization that protects New York's Forest Preserve and
promotes responsible recreation. "Under the circumstances, it could have been much worse.
Deep cuts in the EPF would have had a substantial and long-lasting impact on New York's
natural resources. Fortunately, Governor Cuomo had the wisdom and foresight not to do that."
Broken down by allotment, the fund provides $10.8 million for solid waste programs, $52.7
million for parks and recreation, and $70.5 million for open space programs.
Within these categories, $17.5 million will be allocated for land acquisition, $3.8 million for the
management of invasive species, $2.9 million to manage water quality and $16.2 million for
stewardship and public access costs for state land.
"This budget essentially maintains the status quo," Woodworth said. "And hopefully, under
Governor Cuomo's leadership, the state will soon be able to renew its commitment to adequately
funding environmental programs that are essential to maintaining the public health and quality of
life of all New Yorkers."
The Adirondack Mountain Club is one of many environmental groups that have been calling for
an increase in funding to the Environmental Protection Fund, to bring it back to the $222 million
level that was approved by the Legislature two years ago. However, in the current economic
climate, they are relieved that there were no more cuts to the fund.
"In this difficult economic recession, Audubon New York applauds Governor Andrew Cuomo
for maintaining funding for the Environmental Protection Fund at $134 million and ensuring that
this critical funding is used for its intended purposes," said Albert E. Caccese, the executive
director of Audubon New York.
Not all environmental groups were happy to hear Cuomo's budget proposal. Parks & Trails New
York has said a proposed $19 million cut to state parks will cause many to close.
"Last year 88 parks were on the chopping block in order to save the state $11 million. How can
parks not close this year with a $19 million reduction in the budget?" asked Robin Dropkin, the
executive director of Parks & Trails New York. "We don't yet know how many or which ones,
but if the governor's proposed budget is adopted, parks across New York will implode."
The group says that closing parks will end up costing the state money, and points out that park
attendance rose by 1 million visitors in 2010. The advocacy group points to a report from 2009,
The New York State Park System: An Economic Asset to the Empire State, that showed every
dollar cut from parks is a loss of five dollars in economic benefits to New York state.
The budget would also reduce the amount the General Fund will allocate to environment and
energy agencies by 10 percent. Without naming specifics, the governor's office has said this cut
will be achieved through a "redesign effort" and a reduction in workforce spending.
Many individual programs have also been targeted for elimination and reduction by Cuomo's
The Tug Hill Commission, a group that provides reports to the governor's office on the needs of
the Tug Hill area, will be completely disbanded if the budget passes. The 2,100-square-mile
region is located between Lake Ontario and the Adirondack Park.
Tug Hill Commission Executive Director John Bartow said, "We provide a tremendous range of
services to our communities: planning and zoning, community development. … The governor's
proposal indicated he feels these needs would be met through other services. … At the end of the
day, what our commissioners and our staff are most concerned about is that our communities get
what they need."
Meanwhile, a cut of 10 percent would be made to the Adirondack Park Agency headquartered in
Ray Brook, and the Olympic Regional Development Authority headquartered in Lake Placid.
The Adirondack Park Agency has been operating below its authorized staffing level, according
to the Adirondack Council, a group that works to preserve the Adirondack Park. "This may not
cause the elimination of any further positions. Five years ago, [the Adirondack Park Agency] had
had 72 employees. Today it has fewer than 55," said John Sheehan, director of communications
for The Adirondack Council."
The Olympic Regional Development Authority manages Whiteface Mountain, Gore Mountain,
the Olympic Sports Complex and the Olympic Ice and Jumping complexes.
"To be honest with you [the Olympic Regional Development Authority] certainly understands
the difficult financial times that the state is in," said Jon Lunbin, a spokesman for authority.
"This is something that wasn't unexpected. We knew that ORDA wasn't going to be an
There is also a proposed 5 percent cut to the Department of Environmental Conservation, and a 6
percent cut to the Office of Parks, Recreation and Historic Preservation. Sheehan said "this
appears to be recognition that the state's environmental agencies already suffered deep cuts under
Gov. David Paterson and can no longer withstand the same proportion of cuts that are planned
for other state agencies."