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Source: The Buffalo News

Adrienne Esposito: In sacking DECís Grannis, Paterson shows his colors


Posted: October 28, 2010
Originally Published: October 27, 2010

In a move that continues Gov. David A. Paterson’s legacy of dismantling environmental protection, Department of Environmental Conservation Commissioner Pete Grannis was abruptly fired for telling the truth on how additional draconian cuts to his agency would degrade New York’s environment and endanger public health.

All state agencies have been asked to cut staff, but the DEC staff has been cut by 22 percent, or 850 employees, since 2008. The governor wants to ax an additional 224 staffers by the end of the year, resulting in deeper cuts than any other agency.

The DEC was requested to provide a memo discussing the impacts of additional staff reductions. The memo states “further staff reductions may result in potential serious risks to human health and safety and environmental quality, and could seriously limit or eliminate the public’s use of state assets.” The memo identifies key areas where reduced staff will directly threaten public health including reduced responses to petroleum spills, less monitoring and inspection of hazardous waste sites, wastewater discharges, shellfish safety, air emissions, storm water management and more.

The memo also states that the “DEC is in the weakest position that it has been in since it was created 40 years ago. . . . Many of our programs are hanging from a thread. The public would be shocked to learn how thin we are in many areas.”

Grannis was acting responsibly in apprising the governor of the ramifications of past and pending budget cuts. Yes, the memo was made public, but isn’t that what a “transparent” government is all about? When did alerting the public to the facts become grounds for termination?

Grannis has gone to bat many times for protection of our parks, waterways, land preservation, electronic waste recycling, expanding the bottle bill and more. He argued against Paterson’s plans for devastating cuts to the Environmental Protection Fund, closing our parks and DEC campgrounds, and ceasing the protection of open space. It would seem the governor wasn’t interested in someone who wanted to serve the public interest, but preferred someone to serve his interest.

But this sad state of affairs is not only one man’s saga. It’s about an agency in crisis. The laws enforced by the DEC and the programs it implements are urgently needed in good times and in bad. Assemblyman Robert K. Sweeney, chairman of the Committee on Environmental Conservation, said it best: “A functioning DEC is critical to the economic recovery of this state. Quality-of- life issues broadly affect health concerns and property values.”

We need to fix the DEC. The next governor has to understand that our economic growth can be done in a way that is complementary to protecting our health and our natural resources.

Adrienne Esposito is executive director of the Citizens Campaign for the Environment.