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Source: Legislative Gazette

Lawmakers advance Earth Day legislation

BY LENINA MORTIMER

Posted: April 28, 2010
Originally Published: April 26, 2010

Though the cash-strapped state scaled back on many Earth Day activities in Albany this year, both houses of the Legislature passed two dozen bills related to the environment to commemorate the observance.

For the first time in the 40-year history of Earth Day both the Senate and Assembly, which are now both controlled by their Democratic majorities, passed environmentally conscious legislation in celebration of Earth Day, according to the Senate majority conference.

The Senate passed seven Earth Day bills that run the gamut from the promotion of electronic-waste recycling to limiting pesticide use on school playgrounds.

"The programs and safeguards we are putting into effect are necessary to preserve the health and well-being of both New Yorkers and the environment. These initiatives are long overdue, and I am pleased that our conference could be the ones to take care of them," said Senate Democratic Conference Leader John Sampson, D-Brooklyn, in a prepared statement.

Not to be out done, the Assembly passed a 14-bill Earth Day package that included legislation to regulate greenhouse gas emissions.

"As environmental issues have moved into the forefront of the public consciousness, it's imperative that we institute greater regulatory measures to ensure the health of New Yorkers and the preservation of limited natural resources," reads a statement from Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver, D-Manhattan.

Senate Environmental Conservation Committee Chairman Antoine Thompson, D-Buffalo, sponsored bill (S.6047-a) that establishes a statewide electronic equipment reuse and recycling program has won the praises of environmental activists.

The bill passed unanimously in the Senate with 60 votes. It was forwarded to the Assembly Environmental Conservation Committee and then recalled from the Assembly last Wednesday.

"This bill would require manufacturers to take back their toxin-containing used electronics from consumers for responsible recycling," said Kate Sinding senior attorney at the Natural Resources Defense Council.

"This not only gets these dangerous products out of our landfills and incinerators where they can contaminate our water and air, it removes the burden of handling this fastest-growing part of the municipal waste stream from municipalities and taxpayers," reads a press release from the NRDC.

Although Assembly Republicans were not the main sponsors of bills included in the Assembly's Earth Day package "many did sign on to be co-sponsors and multi-sponsors," said Assembly minority conference spokesman Josh Fitzpatrick.

One bill included in the Senate Earth Day package (S.3788-c/A.199-c) that passed with bipartisan support in the upper house, was sponsored by Republican Sen. Thomas Libous of Binghamton. The bill would authorize the state Health Department to use Department of Environmental Conservation data to create a cancer mapping program.

The program, according to the bill memo, would enable health officials to determine if there are any environmental, occupational or social factors that can lead to specific forms of cancer.

The bill is sponsored in the Assembly by Richard Brodsky, D-Greenburgh, where it has been ordered to a third reading.

"[Senate Democrats] decide unilaterally what's on the agenda," said Senate minority conference spokesman Scott Reif when asked about the low participation of Senate Republicans in the Earth Day package. "We've certainly put forward legislation when we were in the majority," he added.

The Earth Day bills came to a vote on April 20 — two days before Earth Day was actually observed. The bills were debated for four hours on the Senate floor. A bill (S.1635/A.9480) sponsored by Senate Environmental Conservation Committee Chairman Antoine Thompson that would expand the definition of who can make legal challenges under the state Environmental Quality Review Act, proved to be contentious, and it failed 29-32.

The bill would have allowed any member of the public to file a claim if they could show they would be been harmed by a SEQRA violation at least as much as any other member of the public at large. "They could make a plea but they have to be able to demonstrate that they've been harmed and then take that to court," said Thompson on the Senate floor.

"This is a dangerous bill," said Sen. John Flanagan, R-East Northport, arguing on the Senate floor. Flanagan maintained that the bill would open development projects to delay by "outside interests." "Since anyone can sue, private development could be held hostage by the court system," he said.

All Senate Republicans voted in opposition, and three Democrats crossed party lines to vote the bill down.

In the Assembly, the bill is sponsored by Environmental Conservation Committee Chairman Robert Sweeney, D-Lindenhurst. It was moved to a third reading on April 15.

Earth Day legislation that did pass in the Senate included a bill (S.5119/A.8577) sponsored by Sen. Andrea Stewart-Cousins, D-Yonkers, that would prohibit state government from purchasing and using nonrecyclable paper and mailing products.

Golden rod envelops used by the Legislature cannot be recycled because the gold-hued dye they contain is hard to remove, which renders them nonrecyclable as dye-removal is essential to the process. The bill passed 40-21.

The bill is sponsored in the Assembly by George Latimer, D-Rye, where it was referred to the Governmental Operations Committee last Wednesday.

Bills in the Senate Earth Day package intended to protect the health of children were also passed. Bill S.3296-g/A.9867-a would prohibit the distribution of child care products such as pacifiers, bottles and sippy cups containing bisphenol-A, a suspected carcinogen.

The bill is sponsored in the Senate by Thompson and in the Assembly by Steven Englebright, D-Setauket, where it is under review by the Environmental Conservation Committee.

The Assembly did pass a similar bill (A.6919-c/S.7123) that would ban the use of bisphenol-A in children's products. The bill is also sponsored by Englebright and Thompson.

"As we celebrate the 40th anniversary of Earth Day, let us reflect on the problems of the past to implement solutions for the future. Actions this Legislature takes today can and will affect tomorrow, said Citizens Campaign for the Environment Executive Director Adrienne Esposito.

"That's why it is critical to move forward with recycling our e-waste, removing pesticides from school playing fields and forging a renewable energy path. These issues embrace all walks of life, all political spectrum and all generations," she said.