I was grateful to be appointed chairman of the Senate Environmental Conservation in 2015. It’s one of the Senate’s key committees and, most importantly, it has an enormous impact on local communities, local environments, local economies and local taxpayers.
I’ll focus on 2016, because it was the most important and successful session for environmental conservation in many years.
Don’t just take my word for it.
For example, here’s what the New York League of Conservation Voters (NYLCV) wrote following the enactment of this year’s state budget, “Historic is a word that we try not to use lightly, but it’s truly appropriate to describe how the environment fared in this budget.”
This year’s budget does makes great environmental and economic sense.
Senator O’Mara has served as the chairman of the Senate Environmental Conservation Committee since 2015.
It includes, following years of hard work and effort by so many conservation advocates and others, a fully funded, $300-million Environmental Protection Fund (EPF). The EPF supports critical environmental initiatives including clean air and water projects, flood control and restoration, and open space preservation.
The EPF helps create local jobs and studies have shown that for every dollar of EPF funds invested in land and water protection, the state and localities get back seven dollars in economic benefits. That’s a pretty solid investment by any measure. The EPF enjoys an impressive record of government achievement which has brought benefits to a broad-based segment of New York’s citizens and communities like very few government programs ever have.
Strengthening the EPF to the fullest extent possible within the context of the entire state fiscal plan makes great economic and environmental sense. It will be an enduring and proud achievement for future generations of New Yorkers and New York communities.
The budget also includes a $200-million increase for the “Water Quality Infrastructure Improvement Grant Program” established last year to help localities undertake water infrastructure improvement projects including sewer and municipal water line repairs – an action which has become particularly timely as drinking water quality concerns and crises regionally, statewide and across the nation become increasingly acute.
It also includes additional funding to reimburse counties for costs associated with the collection and recycling of electronic waste – and here’s what the New York State Association of Counties (NYSAC) had to say about this action, “Many counties end up absorbing the costs of recycling the electronic waste disposed of by their residents. This reimbursement will provide much needed financial support to our counties for the responsible collection and recycling of electronic waste.” Read the most recent announcement on the beginning of the new E-Waste Recycling Grant Program, including Steuben County’s initiative and participation, HERE.
Also on the environmental front, the budget includes a rebate program for consumers and municipalities who purchase electric and “zero-emission” vehicles. The rebate program contained in the budget mirrors legislation I introduced earlier this year and would provide up to a $2,000-per-vehicle rebate for individual buyers and a $5,000-per-vehicle rebate for local municipalities. Rebates would also be granted to municipalities for building related infrastructure, such as charging stations and hydrogen refueling stations.
The Irish have a saying about offering “a thousand welcomes” and I’ve certainly recalled that expression a thousand times over the past two years. So I’ll take this opportunity to say thank you to so many of the organizations who have welcomed me so kindly to this Chairmanship. Thank you for your advocacy and input on so many of the critical challenges and crises we face – but equally important, thank you for the many welcomes you’ve extended and which have helped make the past two years enjoyable, informative, enlightening and full of new experiences.
Senator O’Mara recently hosted a Pollinator Protection forum sponsored by Cornell University.
At the Annual Meeting of the Finger Lakes Land Trust at Brook Farm of Skaneateles, I learned how Louise Robinson and her daughters carry on an incredible family legacy and commitment to the protection and preservation of special corner of the Finger Lakes Region.
The Nature Conservancy provided a spectacular welcome to Boreas Ponds in the Adirondacks.
At the 21st Western Regional Conference of the New York State Federation of Lake Associations in Western New York, an organization representing more than 200 lake associations across the state of New York, I received a valuable reminder that in addition to our grand and well-known lakes, like the Finger Lakes, we’re a state of spectacular but lesser-known and smaller lakes. It was an opportunity to engage yet another of our great conservation challenges, invasive species, and while we’ve achieved some important progress, both in terms of new laws and new funding, many more actions are needed.
And of course I’m constantly reminded as I travel throughout the 58th Senate District of the importance of our outdoor recreational economy, whether it’s the fields and forests of Steuben County, one of New York’s premiere hunting destinations, or the Bath Fish Hatchery which stocks an abundance of our rivers, streams and lakes, or a visit to Watkins Glen State Park or any one of the number of spectacular network of parks and trails dotting the landscape of home.
So it truly has been a thousand welcomes, and it has certainly enhanced my already deep appreciation and amazement at all that our state and region have to offer, and my understanding of the critical work facing all of us.
“I truly believe that we all share a critical piece of common ground, and it’s a common ground that’s a vital starting point for our future success,” Senator O’Mara has said in reflecting on his role as Chairman of the Environmental Conservation Committee. “President Theodore Roosevelt expressed it as ‘the great central task of leaving this land even a better land for our descendants than it is for us.’ We will have differences and face controversies. But we have a responsibility to stewardship and conservation. We have a responsibility to do our best to address the challenges, to work through them, and consider and negotiate them in a balanced, deliberate, fair, serious and sensible way. I hope and I believe we will.”
What we’ve accomplished over the past two years has been important and meaningful in many ways, but it’s only the beginning and I’ll be fighting to keep building on these foundations.