Highlights and Happenings: May 2019


Help CCE build on our success, and support our campaigns to protect public health and the environment in NY and CT. Make a contribution today.



Celebrating 34 Years of Advocacy at Our Annual Gala


We celebrated 34 years of working to protect public health and the natural environment at our annual Environmental Equinox Gala this May. We were proud to honor Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone for his commitment to protecting Long Island’s waters, and Estee Lauder Companies for their dedication in fighting climate change by investing in renewable energy. Thanks so much to everyone who attended and celebrated with us!

Say NO to Plastic Pollution

  • Victory! Nassau County, NY Bans Polystyrene: Long Island will soon be Styrofoam-free! In April, Suffolk County banned polystyrene foam, aka Styrofoam. In May, the Nassau County Legislature voted unanimously to pass its own ban on polystyrene. Big thanks to all who came to the public hearing and vote, and special thanks to Legislators Ford, Schaefer, and Mule for their leadership on this bill. Next up – Westchester County!

  • Victory! Westport, CT Bans Plastic Cups, Straws, Stirrers, and Polystyrene Containers: After being the first municipality east of the Mississippi River to ban plastic bags over a decade ago, Westport, CT is once again leading the way in the fight against plastic pollution. With this ban on many of the most common single-use plastic items found in our parks and beaches, Westport has one of the most comprehensive laws to curb plastic pollution in the nation.

  • Stamford, CT BYOBag Law Takes Effect. Stamford’s ban on plastic bags, along with a 10 cent fee on paper, went into effect in May. Thanks again to the Stamford Board of Representatives for their leadership in the BYOBag movement.


Cleaning Up the Navy/Grumman Plume in Bethpage, NY

The contaminated groundwater plume in Bethpage continues to threaten drinking water and public health on Long Island, but there is some good news. NYS recently released a comprehensive plan to contain and remediate the plume. In May, we attended a roundtable discussion hosted by Congressman Tom Suozzi, and included the EPA, NYS DEC, Congressman King, the Supervisor of Oyster Bay, water providers, and other stakeholders. The attendees discussed the Navy’s plan and the state plan, and the crucial next steps we must take to remediate the plume. Now, we need your help. Join us on June 10th at 5pm at Bethpage High School for a public meeting and support the plan to finally clean up the Navy/Grumman Plume.

Fighting to Ban Offshore Drilling off of CT


CCE’s Lou Burch joined Senator Richard Blumenthal for a press conference highlighting the need to protect the Atlantic coast from dangerous offshore drilling and supporting a federal ban on offshore drilling. We spoke about how we must embrace renewable energy, not remain “fossil fools,” and the dangers posed to our waterways and our communities by allowing offshore oil and gas exploration in our region.

Collaborating in Buffalo, NY on Water Equity

In May, we participated in a water equity learning exchange held by the U.S. Water Alliance. Representatives from Buffalo, Detroit, Pittsburgh, Atlanta, Camden and other cities around the nation shared information on challenges and best practices to ensure clean water is available to all, particularly those in low-income communities.   Issues included drinking water affordability, lead in drinking water, climate change and urban flooding, and workforce development.

Tackling Odors from the Brookhaven Landfill

After years of complaints about the landfill being ignored by the Town of Brookhaven, we went to NYS Senator Monica Martinez for help. CCE joined residents, as well as teachers and parents from the nearby Frank P. Long School, for a meeting with the Senator to discuss the unbearable odors impacting local quality of life and the myriad of health impacts experienced by those living and working near the landfill. If the Town won’t help the community, we need our NYS leaders to step up and protect our air, health, and quality of life!

Protecting a National Treasure in the Atlantic Ocean

The Northeast Canyons and Seamounts Marine National Monument is located 150 miles off the coast of Cape Code and is about the size of Connecticut. It is the only marine national monument in the Atlantic and is home to a plethora of marine life including endangered sea turtles, whales, seabirds, and rare deep-sea corals. Unfortunately, the Northeast Canyons and Seamounts are under attack from the Trump Administration’s attack on national monuments. In May, CCE and our allies met with U.S. Senator Murphy to discuss the importance of this national treasure. We are now gearing up for a big campaign to protect this National Monument, so stay tuned for more on how you can help to protect this treasure.

Talking Plastic Pollution in Western New York


CCE’s Brian Smith presented at an event held by the Tonawanda Commission for Conservation of the Environment on the threat that plastic pollution poses to the Great Lakes, and how the public can help address this problem. By bringing your own reusable bag, coffee mug, takeout container, straw, and more, everyone can help protect our lakes from plastic pollution.   Furthermore, he urged the public to contact their elected officials and support common sense policies to reduce single use plastic pollution, such as a ban on Styrofoam containers.

Working with our Great Lakes Allies in Detroit

In May, we attended the Healing Our Waters Great Lakes conference that was held in Detroit, MI.  This is the region’s largest Great Lakes gathering, and allowed us an opportunity to collaborate with stakeholders from all the Great Lakes States on how to continue to advance Great Lakes restoration.  Critical issues included ensuring increased federal funding, upgrading failing water infrastructure, drinking water affordability, keeping Asian carp out of the lakes, and more.

CCE’s Adrienne Esposito Makes City and State’s Long Island Power 100 List


CCE's Executive Director made the Long Island Power 100 List from City and State, which identify Long Island leaders making a difference on Long Island. Adrienne was honored for her work fighting to protect drinking water, reduce food waste, combat plastic pollution, and more.  Check out the full list here.

Heat Your Home Without Fossil Fuels!

We are an active member of the HeatSmart CNY campaign, which has been working to help CNY residents and businesses install modern, clean geothermal systems. HeatSmart CNY is a grassroots community initiative to support residents and businesses in exploring ways to improve the efficiency of their buildings, including air source, ground source, and hot water heat pump technologies. To learn more about geothermal technologies, join us at upcoming HeatSmart events. If you own a home or business in Cayuga, Cortland, Madison, Onondaga, or Oswego Counties, you can sign up for a free, no obligation energy assessment!

Central New York: Heat Your Home Without Fossil Fuels


Upcoming HeatSmart CNY Events Near You!

HeatSmart CNY has several FREE upcoming events in Central New York. Registration and additional information for these events can be found on HeatSmart CNY’s website.

  • Cortland Open House Sun, May 26 - 2:00pm, 3996 Crestwood Court, Cortland, NY 13045

  • Homer Renewable Heating and Cooling Workshop Wed, June 5 - 6:30pm, Center for the Arts of Homer, 72 S Main St. homer, NY 13077

  • Truxton Open House Sun, June 9- 2:00pm, 6635 Morgan Hill Rd, Truxton, NY 13158

  • Preble Open House Sun, June 30 – 2:00pm, 1981 Preble Rd, Preble, NY 13141

  • Tully Presentation Mon, July 8 – 5:00pm 12 State St, Tully NY 13159   

Geothermal heating systems are a great way to heat your home or business without using fossil fuels. About a third of greenhouse gas emissions in CNY come from heating homes. Switching to a geothermal system could not only reduce your carbon footprint, but also save you some money. Fossil fuels can be expensive in comparison to the natural heat that geothermal systems capture from underground.

HeatSmart CNY is a grassroots community initiative to support residents and businesses in exploring ways to improve the efficiency of their buildings, including air source, ground source, and hot water heat pump technologies. To learn more about geothermal technologies, join us at upcoming HeatSmart events. If you own a home or business in Cayuga, Cortland, Madison, Onondaga, or Oswego Counties, you can sign up for a free, no obligation energy assessment!

How does geothermal work?
Really, it’s quite simple. Pumps bring air up from an underground pipe system where the temperature is constant regardless of the weather. Then this air is pushed through air vents in the house much like it would be in a furnace heating system. The temperature underground is relatively warm in the winter, and cool in the summer so a geothermal system can keep your house comfortable all year long!

Thank you for taking action. Together we make a difference!

All of Us at CCE

Join us for a beach cleanup at Sunken Meadow State Park and the unveiling of the first metal sculpture teaching tool in NYS

Unveiling of “Shelley the Sea Turtle”

A 6-foot metal sculpture designed to educate the public to fight plastic pollution in Long Island Sound!


Plastic pollutes our beaches, bays, and harbors; and is harmful to fish, turtles, birds, and other wildlife.  Help us to combat plastic pollution by participating in a beach cleanup and the unveiling of a giant sea turtle metal sculpture.  This event brings together art and environmental activism. Citizens Campaign for the Environment and Atlantic Marine Conservation Society are hosting a beach cleanup at Sunken Meadow State Park, followed by the unveiling of Shelley the Sea Turtle, a 3D art instillation crafted from mesh metal and will be filled with the plastic pollution we collect.

 The end result will be a large-scale sculpture of a sea turtle, which will symbolize the hazards of marine debris and serve as a reminder for the public to never leave garbage on the beach! Please RSVP to education@amseas.org or 631.317.0030 to participate in the beach cleanup.


  • Sunday June 2, 2019

  • Beach Cleanup: 9:30 a.m.

  • Press Rally and Sculpture Unveiling: 11:00 a.m.


Sunken Meadow State Park, Kings Park, NY 11754
Field # 1

Thank you for your support. Together we make a difference!
All of Us at CCE 

Modernize the Bottle Bill!

Help Increase Recycling in Connecticut
Tell Hartford Lawmakers to Modernize Connecticut’s Bottle Bill!

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Connecticut’s Container Deposit Law (aka “the Bottle Bill) is a proven, effective way to incentive recycling and keep our communities clean and litter free. Unfortunately, Connecticut’s container recycling program has not been updated in over 30 years and as a result, our redemption rate is now the lowest of any Bottle Bill state!

The CGA Finance, Revenue & Bonding committee recently advanced legislation (HB 7294) that would help modernize the Bottle Bill, by expanding the program to include juices, teas and other non-carbonated beverages not currently covered by the law. Additionally, the bill would better incentive recycling by raising the deposit value on covered containers from 5 to 10 cents.

This is an important step forward, but now we need you to contact House leadership and urge them to bring this important legislation out for a vote as soon as possible!

Modernizing the CT Bottle Bill would benefit our communities and the environment:

  • States that have container deposit programs recycle PET plastic, glass and aluminum at more than twice the rate of states that do not.

  • The container deposit saves taxpayers money on recycling, at a time when municipal recycling costs are skyrocketing out of control. Experts estimate the Bottle Bill saves CT municipalities more than $2 million/year in recycling costs.

  • By expanding the Bottle Bill to include juices, teas and other non-carbonated soft drinks, Connecticut could increase container recycling by more than 100 million bottles and cans each year.

  • Expanding the Bottle Bill program helps create green jobs in our state!

Thank you for taking action.

All of us at CCE




Highlights and Happenings: April 2019


Help CCE build on our success, and support our campaigns to protect public health
and the environment in NY and CT. 
Make a contribution today.


Victory! Governor Cuomo Signs Offshore Drilling Ban


While the federal government may want to open the Atlantic to offshore oil and gas drilling, NYS has stood up and said NO! We were thrilled to join our partners, Governor Cuomo, and Billy Joel at Jones Beach for the signing of this critical legislation that will prohibit drilling off of NY’s coast to protect our waters and coastal communities. Thank you again to Senator Kaminsky and Assemblyman Englebright for your leadership.

Victory! NYS Atlantic Menhaden Protection Bill Becomes Law

Atlantic Menhaden (AKA bunker fish) are one of the most important species in the ocean and a major food source for whales, dolphins, coastal sharks, predatory fish, seals, and seabirds. Great efforts have been made to restore the once overfished Menhaden, with the species reaching historic levels in New York’s waters, but this increase in Menhaden population comes with an increased risk of overfishing by industrial fishing operations. With the signing of the Atlantic Menhaden Protection bill, NYS has stepped up to further protect this crucial species.

Ramping Up the Fight Against Plastic Pollution

  • NYS Victory! April was a big month for our campaign to reduce plastic pollution. We joined Governor Cuomo on Long Island as he signed NYS’s plastic bag ban into law on Earth Day. This is a huge leap forward in the fight to break our single-use plastic habit and we are beyond excited to see a plastic bag-free NY in March of 2020.

  • NYC Victory! To compliment the statewide ban on plastic bags, NYC passed a law placing a 5-cent fee on paper bags that will go into effect the same day as the state’s plastic bag ban. This will incentivize reusable bags and ensure that millions of New Yorkers don’t just switch from plastic to paper.

  • Suffolk County Victories! After showing great leadership by implementing a carryout bag fee in 2018, Suffolk continues to tackle single-use plastics. In April, the Suffolk County Legislature passed bills to ban plastic straws, ban polystyrene (Styrofoam) packaging, and ban single-use plastics in county parks.

  • CT BYOBag and Bottle Bills: We are fighting to pass a statewide #BYOBag law and modernize the bottle bill during the last six weeks of the legislative session in CT this year.  In April, we joined together with UConnPIRG and League of Women Voters of CT to lobby our legislators these much-needed plastic reduction bills.


Victories! NYS Legislature Passes “Earth Day” Package of Bills

The NYS legislature passed a package of critical measures to protect public health and the environment in April, which will next be sent to the Governor’s desk for his signature.  CCE priority bills that passed include:

  • Child Safe Products Act: This bill, which we have been working on for several years, will prohibit toxic chemicals like mercury and arsenic from being used in products designed for children.

  • Ban on Chlorpyrifos: This bill will ban the dangerous pesticide chlorpyrifos, which islinked to impaired brain development in children and lower IQs, and declines in pollinators such as bees.


CCE Celebrates Earth Day!

April was Earth Month, and CCE participated in great events throughout NY and CT focused on protecting our air, land, water, and public health.  Some of the highlights include:

  • Keeping Plastics out of Long Island Sound Forum – We joined Atlantic Marine Conservation Society, Wildlife Conservation Society, and Town of Huntington for a great public forum and discussion on the impact plastic pollution has on Long Island Sound and what you can do to help.

  • Rock to Rock Earth Day Bike Ride – We participated in the 2019 Rock to Rock Bike Ride for Environmental Awareness. Thanks to all who donated and all who came out for a great event.

  • St. Joseph’s College, Stony Brook University, and Half Hollow Hills Library Earthstock – On Long Island, we tabled at Earth Week events focusing on protecting our drinking and surface waters from nitrogen, pharmaceuticals, and other emerging contaminants.

  • Speaking about plastic pollution in Western New York: We joined with University of Buffalo and other local partners for a Beyond Plastics event with former EPA regional administrator Judith Enck for a discussion on how to reduce plastic pollution, including bags, straws, and Styrofoam.  We also presented to the Orchard Park Garden Club on the threats that plastic pollution poses to the Great Lakes.

Tackling Food Waste and Hunger


New York generates an estimated 4 million tons of excess food annually, which makes up 18% of the state’s municipal solid waste stream (most goes to landfills).  To address this problem, NYS passed the Food Redistribution and Recycling law, which requires commercial establishments that produce more than 2 tons of food waste each week to donate the edible food to food banks and the food scraps for compost/anaerobic digestion.  In April, we were proud to stand with Senator Kaminsky, Assemblyman Englebright, other legislative champions, and our partners for a press conference celebrating the passage of this game-changing law.

NYS: Ban 1,4-Dioxane in Products!

Last month, we reported that 65 out of 80 common household products we tested contained hidden carcinogen 1,4-dioxane. The only way to prevent further contamination of our water resources and protect public health is to ban 1,4-dioxane from products. In April, we headed to Albany for a lobby day and press conference where we presented 12,000+ petition signatures urging our state representatives to ban 1,4-dioxane in consumer products. If you haven’t yet, find out how you can take action to support legislation banning 1,4-dioxane in household products.

Next Steps on Restoring the Western Bays

CCE, Operation SPLASH and The Nature Conservancy hosted a forum to update community members in south shore Nassau County on the plan to divert sewage from the Western Bays. It was great to hear from the scientists, local and state agencies, and wastewater experts on how far we have come with the proposal to connect the South Shore Water Reclamation Facility and Long Beach Sewage Treatment Plant to an existing ocean outfall pipe at the Cedar Creek Sewage Treatment Plant. We also got some important updates on the upgrades that have been made to South Shore WRF to reduce nitrogen and other pollutants entering our local waterways. Thanks to all who came out!

Expanding Bottle Recycling in CT

CCE’s Louis Burch joined legislators, municipal recycling coordinators, town mayors and first selectmen for a press conference in April urging the state to modernize the bottle bill. The 5-cent deposit on bottles is one of the most successful environmental laws in the state’s history, but it needs to be updated and expanded to improve recycling and ease the burden on municipalities faced with skyrocketing recycling costs. We are pushing to ensure legislation modernizing the bottle bill is passed in 2019.

Brookhaven Town Residents Fight Back Against Landfill


In April, residents of Brookhaven, along with teachers and parents at the Frank P. Long School, filed a lawsuit against the Town due to excessive odors and numerous health impacts from the Brookhaven Landfill. CCE has worked with residents and those at the school to fight to control odors at the landfill for years, but the Town continues to turn a blind eye to the problems faced by the community. Now, with no options left, over 20 impacted community members will be taking the Town to court.

Please Join Us: “Keeping Plastics Out of Long Island Sound”

Learn About the Impact of Plastics on our Marine Environment & What We Can Do to Prevent Plastic Pollution

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Plastic pollution is a growing threat to our waterways globally and to our marine life locally.  An estimated 267 species of marine and avian life—including including whales, turtles, seals, shorebirds, and dolphins that populate the Long Island Sound and surrounding NY waters—are  impacted by our addiction to throw-away plastics.

What we can we do to protect marine life and keep plastics out of Long Island Sound?

Join us for a free educational forum to hear leading experts in the field discuss impacts of  plastic pollution on our wildlife, water, and communities.  Find out how you can get involved in the fight against plastic pollution.

RSVP for “Keeping Plastics out of Long Island Sound” here.

When: Thursday, April 25, from 7:00-9:00pm

Where: Huntington Town Hall, 100 Main Street, Huntington, NY


  • Introduction by Huntington Town Supervisor Chad Lupinacci

  • Rob DiGiovanni, Atlantic Marine Conservation Society

  • Christina Manto, Wildlife Conservation Society

  • Adrienne Esposito, Citizens Campaign for the Environment

Thank you for joining us!  Together we make a difference.

 Your friends at CCE

Environmentalists Hail 'Landmark' Green Initiatives In NYS Budget



By Darwin Yanes

The New York State budget will provide funds to create a food scrap recycling program, help Long Island’s water infrastructure and ban plastic bags.

Environmentalist groups hail this as “landmark” legislation.

Adrienne Esposito, executive director of Citizens Campaign for the Environment, says the food scrap program will set a precedent for other states.

“We think that this is the beginning of a new technology and a new way to deal with food scraps throughout the state of New York and our nation. Food waste should not be looked as a waste item, but rather as a resource.”

She says food scraps will be recycled for renewable energy.

The budget also gives $500 million to pay for sewer upgrades and water filtration systems throughout the state.

Long Island’s Problem With Recycling Glass May Have Fix In Oyster Bay



April 4, 2019 at 5:08 pm

SYOSSET, N.Y. (CBSNewYork) – A worldwide recycling crisis has forced many local governments to stop collecting or recycling glass.

But the Town Of Oyster Bay will become the first in Nassau County to set up glass recycling stations for residents, CBSN New York’s Carolyn Gusoff reports.

They call it “wishful recycling.” Folks hope their glass bottles are getting recycled. Chances are, these days, they’re not.

Much of our glass ends up in landfills mixed in with non-recyclables. The Town of Oyster Bay, like municipalities around the nation, had to give up glass recycling because oversea markets dried up.

“China wouldn’t take that, because once the glass was involved with paper it’s really… they can’t make another product out of it. And it was also breaking down their equipment,” said Daniel Pearl, the deputy commissioner of public works of Oyster Bay.

Heavy glass is too expensive to haul out of state for limited recycling options.

Now, there’s a possible local use. Oyster Bay is the first in Nassau County to set up five glass collection igloo pods and asking the public to drop off their cleaned-out glass.

The pilot program requires residents to do their part.

“Residents have to take tops off,” noted Commissioner of Public Works Richard Lenz. “They have to remove all the labels and make sure they are washed out.”

“We hear the public’s cry that these products need to be recycled,” said Town Supervisor Joseph Saladino. “We’re coming up with alternatives, we’re coming up with solutions.”

A company in Jamaica, Queens, plans to take Oyster Bay’s glass and grind it down into the consistency of sand and turn it into landscaping gravel.

“We are looking for ways to keep the glass here on Long Island,” Saladino said. “We are looking for a regional approach as a bigger solution.”

Glass is no longer accepted for recycling by many municipalities since there is no commercial market for it.

Last fall, communities across Long Island that had adopted single-stream recycling ran into trouble. While single-stream sorting can mechanically separates different materials that consumers throw out all at once, they found the end product in single stream was not pure enough to be sold.

China, the world’s leading buyer, no longer accepts such mixed recyclables. As a result, neither do many Long Island municipalities.

Environmentalists say solving the crisis means more ways to recycle closer to home.

“We can’t just sit around and blame China. We have to have American markets to utilize recycled glass,” said Adrienne Esposito of the Citizens Campaign for the Environment.

While Oyster Bay currently pays to haul away its household trash, paper and plastics, it’s glass will now be recycled for free.

After a 90 day pilot program, both the town and the recycling company will evaluate whether or not to continue.

Lynbrook, East Rockaway residents react positively to New York's plastic bag ban



Under an agreement reached as part of the state budget passed by lawmakers over the weekend, plastic bags will be banned in all New York retail stores starting next March. 

“You drive through urban areas in this state and you see plastic bags hanging from trees like some bizarre Christmas ornaments,” Gov. Andrew Cuomo told reporters on March 31. “You see [them] in waterways all across this state, plastic bags.”

The ban is supported locally by many Lynbrook and East Rockaway residents. Reacting to a Herald post on Facebook about the legislation, many wrote that they were happy to see it pass.

“It’s about time we start to care about the future,” Vicki Perlman wrote. 

Julie Sheehan Bergin wrote that she was also pleased to see the legislation approved, and noted that she keeps reusable bags in her car. “You get used to it, and it’s going to help the environment,” she said. “It’s a shame to see the plastic bags all along highways and roads, stuck in trees. Hope the new law helps.”

Kenny Olson said he approved of the measure because “we don’t need plastic bags killing our oceans.” 

With the agreement, New York becomes the second state to ban plastic bags — California was the first. State Sen. Todd Kaminsky, a Democrat from Long Beach who heads the Senate Environmental Conservation Committee, sponsored the bill to ban the bags. “We will score a big win for our environment and our future,” he said in a social media post shortly before the budget was approved.

Plastic bags are used for 12 minutes on average before they become garbage, according to Adrienne Esposito, executive director of the Farmingdale-based Citizens Campaign for the Environment. At that point, she said, they can blow into waterways, where marine life might suffocate on them or ingest them. Plastic in general, Esposito said, breaks down into micro-particles, which have been found in a variety of oceangoing wildlife. 

“It’ll take a generation to fix, but we must start now,” Esposito said, acknowledging that using reusable bags can be a challenging transition for residents. “Sometimes it’s inconvenient to protect the Earth, but it’s worth it.”

Under the plan, counties can opt to levy a 5-cent fee on paper bags, with 3 cents going to the state’s Environmental Protection Fund, used to expand New York’s Forest Preserve and restore historic sites. Two cents would go to counties to purchase and hand out reusable shopping bags. A spokeswoman for Nassau County Executive Laura Curran did not respond to a call requesting comment on whether the county would seek a 5-cent fee on paper sacks. 

Some municipalities had already sought to decrease the use of plastic bags in stores — Long Beach and the Village of Sea Cliff had implemented a 5-cent surcharge on plastic bags. In Long Beach, the legislation was passed in the hope of reducing plastic-bag use by 75 percent, according to city officials. Suffolk County also has a fee on plastic and paper bags. 

Nassau County Legislator Debra Mulé, a Democrat from Freeport, had sought the same fee countywide, but the Republican majority blocked a vote on legislation she propsed. After the announcement that bags would be banned statewide, Mulé said she would drop her bill. 

“I’m happy there’s a ban on plastic bags — it’s great,” she said. Mulé added, though, that she was disappointed that the fee on paper bags would not be mandatory, a point that many environmentalists agreed with. 

Lynbrook resident Susan Brockmann was a vocal supporter of Mulé’s proposed legislation. On May 7, 2018, Brockmann stood outside the county’s Legislative Building in Mineola wearing 500 plastic bags. She did so to demonstrate how the average person uses 500 plastic bags per year, contributing to an annual total in New York state of about 23 billion. The bags, Brockmann said at the time, get stuck in trees or end up in the ocean, where marine creatures can ingest them and die from the chemicals used to make them. 

“It’s such a good visual,” Brockmann said of her get-up. She could not be reached for comment after the state ban was approved. 

Students in the Lynbrook School District were also proponents of change. They presented the village’s board of trustees with letters urging officials to tax plastic bags in April 2017.

The state budget also made the 2 percent property tax cap permanent, a measure that the State Senate’s Long Island delegation advocated leading up to the spending plan’s passage. The cap limits the yearly growth of taxes levied by local governments and school districts to 2 percent or the rate of inflation, whichever is smaller, in an effort to keep communities affordable for homeowners. The cap was first passed in 2011, and was set to expire in 2020. 

The budget also included congestion pricing, which will charge drivers $11.50 to enter Midtown Manhattan’s central business district, south of 60th Street. According to Newsday, the Long Island Rail Road could receive up to $4 billion over five years from money raised by congestion pricing and earmarked for capital improvements. 

Long Island’s state senators said they would not have supported congestion pricing if part of the revenue had not been allocated for the LIRR. “If we’re going to ask Long Island drivers to pay more,” Kaminsky said, “it better come with an incredible influx of money for the Long Island Rail Road.” It is not known when congestion pricing will take effect. 

Recreational marijuana was not included in the budget, as Cuomo had hoped.

Great Lakes funding restored



WASHINGTON — On Wednesday, Rep. Tom Reed (R-Corning) praised President Trump for his support of the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative after his budget originally called for cuts to the program.

“After continued advocacy over the last several years we are pleased to see the President recognizes the benefits of this great program – not only for the environment, but for jobs in our community,” Reed said. “We will continue to fight to ensure programs important to our region remain protected.”

“We are so fortunate to have the single largest source of freshwater in the world right here at our doorstep,” Chautauqua County Executive George Borrello said. Protecting and enhancing that precious resource is vital to our future here in Chautauqua county and throughout the region. GLRI funding is a critical component in that effort and I appreciate Tom’s unwavering support for this crucial funding.”

“The Great Lakes Restoration Initiative (GLRI) funding supports programs and projects that help protect the Finger Lakes and Great Lakes from the harm posed by invasive species,” Finger Lakes- Partnership for Regional Invasive Species Management Coordinator Hilary R. Mosher said. “GLRI funding has funded prevention programs such as the Finger Lakes Institute at Hobart and William Smith Colleges’ watercraft stewards on boat launches as well as education and control programs such as our giant hogweed, Hydrilla, Starry Stonewort and water chestnut programs. The GLRI funding is vital to protect the health and prosperity of the region.”

“By continuing to invest in the successful Great Lakes Restoration Initiative (GLRI), millions of New Yorkers will continue to benefit from clean drinking water, healthy fisheries, new jobs, and increased economic development,” said Brian Smith, Associate Executive Director for Citizens Campaign for the Environment (CCE). “Every dollar invested in the GLRI is providing over three dollars in economic returns—that’s a win for environment and economy. CCE commends Congressman Reed for his work to protect and restore the Great Lakes for current and future generations.”

Reed fought to guarantee a 900 percent increase from the President’s proposed budget for the Great Lakes Restoration initiative last year.

Sand Land Settlement Irks Many



Southampton urged to challenge D.E.C. mine ruling

Calling the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation’s reversal on the shutdown of the Sand Land industrial mine in Noyac “shocking” and “ridiculous,” local residents and environmentalists appeared at Southampton Town’s March 26 board meeting to urge the town to challenge the controversial settlement the D.E.C. announced with the mine on March 15.

Despite the test results by the Suffolk County Department of Health and an independent expert that showed dangerous contaminants at the 50-acre site on Middle Line Road are leeching into the soil, the D.E.C. extended the mine’s permit another eight years last month and granted permission to dig another 40 feet deeper at the site. 

The settlement is a sharp about-face from the D.E.C.’s ruling last September that ordered Sand Land to stop its mining operations when its permit expired in November and remediate the site by 2020. Now that might not happen until at least 2028.

The settlement was struck after Sand Land’s owner, John A. Tintle, exercised his right to appeal the original ruling.

But it still came as a surprise to local elected officials such as Assemblyman Fred W. Thiele Jr., and Southampton Town Supervisor Jay Schneiderman, who had no idea such talks were even underway. The Group for the East End and Citizens Campaign for the Environment were among the environmental organizations that also blasted the new agreement, calling it a “mind-boggling backroom deal.” 

They are not the only ones who remain upset.

“I am asking you to sue the pants off the D.E.C.,” Elena Loreto, president of the Noyac Civic Council, told the Southampton Town Board at last week’s meeting, after praising the town’s stiff opposition to the mine in the past.

“Do we wait till we have a Love Canal up there before we start acting?” asked John Arendt, another of the Noyac Civic Council’s 500-plus members. “We know there’s a problem.”

Sand Land “scares the hell out of me,” Larry Penny of Noyac told the board, noting that the D.E.C. has also extended the permit for Wainscott Sand and Gravel, another mining operation run by Mr. Tintle. “The D.E.C. has been just god-awful,” said Mr. Penny, a former East Hampton Town director of natural resources (and a Star columnist).

Sand Land is located over a special groundwater protection area that is important to the South Fork’s long-term drinking water supply, not just that of nearby residents. The mine and its numerous opponents have been locked in various iterations of this environmental impact fight for nearly two decades.

Southampton Town sued Sand Land a few years ago for reneging on an agreement to allow the town access to drill and monitor wells on the site. Using those data, the Suffolk Health Department issued a report in July of 2018 stating for the first time that Sand Land’s mining and other operations such as processing vegetative waste, construction debris, compost, and mulch resulted in the release of iron, manganese, ammonia, gross alpha (radioactivity) and numerous other contaminants into the aquifer and deep-water recharge area beneath the site. 

Iron was found in the deepest parts of the water table at concentrations over 200 times the drinking water standard and manganese was found at concentrations at almost 100 times the drinking water standard, the county report stated.

Sand Land’s attorney, Brian Matthews of Matthews, Kirst & Cooley in East Hampton, said in an interview Monday that part of Sand Land’s prevailing argument to the D.E.C. challenged the county’s findings. Mr. Matthews said Sand Land asserted that sand mining alone has never been conclusively shown to cause groundwater pollution, and that Sand Land’s own hired experts had found the vegetative/organic waste the mine was taking in was not polluting the groundwater.

“Still,” Mr. Matthews added, “our client voluntarily agreed to abandon that vegetative [and] organic waste use and focus on the mining operation to mitigate those concerns. We think that went a long way with the D.E.C. That, and there will be monitoring.”

Hardly anyone involved seems convinced the D.E.C.’s latest move is the end of this fight.

Mr. Thiele, speaking in a phone interview Monday, challenged Mr. Matthews’s assertions about sand mining, saying such soil disturbances can reduce the filtering buffer that protects the water table from the contaminants above. “That site is already contaminated, and you can’t wave a wand and make it pristine again,” Mr. Thiele said.

The assemblyman added the path ahead for him and Sand Land’s many other opponents likely will be three-pronged: demanding a formal public hearing on the D.E.C. settlement before the permit is granted, legal action, and legislative action. 

Mr. Thiele previously co-sponsored a bill that allows towns to monitor water quality at mines, and he said he is now researching how to craft new legislation to prevent the issuance of permits for mines over contaminated sites. “There has to be consequences if you find these mines have been contaminated,” he said.

Ms. Loreto, near the end of her remarks last week to the Southampton Town Board, polled the members one by one asking them to declare on the record whether they supported three actions the Noyac Citizens Council was asking for: legal action against the D.E.C., a resolution condemning the D.E.C. settlement, and that the town fight to insert more sophisticated monitoring wells at the mine where it wants them, and not where Sand Land wants them.

All four board members — Tommy John Schiavoni, John Bouvier, Christine Scalera, and Julie Lofsted — said they supported the requests, as did Town Supervisor Jay Schneiderman.

Mr. Schneiderman said the town will indeed seek greater control of the monitoring process and added, “We are exploring various legal options, and other options” to counteract the settlement.

When Bob DeLuca, president of the Group for the East End, also addressed the board, he said the D.E.C. settlement got the size of the mine wrong — again to the benefit of Sand Land. 

“They’ve added acreage,” Mr. DeLuca said, noting the mined portion of the 50-acre site is now listed at 34 acres, not 31. “This is madness.” 

Ms. Loreto agreed.

“There’s too much shady stuff going on,” she said by phone this week. “Sand Land is allowed to continue, yet the D.E.C. will bust the stones of a fisherman for taking a striped bass that’s a quarter of an inch too short. Many of us have written Governor Cuomo. He’s ignoring us. He needs to get involved.”

  NY State Expected To Ban Plastic Bags, But Lack Of Paper Bag Fee Raises Concerns



The state legislature is poised include a ban on plastic bags in the new budget, which will make New York the second state in the union to implement an outright ban on single-use plastic bags. The ban is expected to go into effect in March 2020.

Governor Andrew Cuomo proposed the plastic bag ban in January, saying at the time, "While the federal government is taking our environmental progress backwards and selling out our communities to polluters and oil companies, in New York we are moving forward with the nation's strongest environmental policies and doing everything in our power to protect our natural resources for future generations. These bold actions to ban plastic bags and promote recycling will reduce litter in our communities, protect our water and create a cleaner and greener New York for all." 

In 2017, Cuomo and the State Senate intervened to stop a plastic bag fee in NYC, which had been approved by the City Council.

Some critics don't think the current plastic bag ban goes far enough, because it doesn't charge a fee on paper bags—cities and counties will just have the option to charge 5 cents for paper bags. NYPIRG environmental policy director Liz Moran told the Times Union, “New York decided to trade one environmental issue for another by opting to ban plastic bags without including a fee on paper bags." 

She added, "The State should have learned from other areas that also only banned plastic bags without a paper bag fee—they just don’t work. California has documented success with a ban coupled with a fee, and New York missed the mark. Now, water resources and climate in New York will pay the price."

The NY Times reports there are "a number of carveouts, including food takeout bags used by restaurants, bags used to wrap deli or meat counter products and bags for bulk items. Newspaper bags would also be exempted, as would garment bags and bags sold in bulk, such as trash or recycling bags."

In January, Citizens Campaign for the Environment, the Natural Resources Defense Council, and Riverkeeper were glad Cuomo was taking this step—but with a caveat, "This is the beginning of the end for the scourge of plastic bag pollution in New York. However, experience shows that a fee on paper bags must accompany the proposed ban on plastic bags, to avoid a serious increase in paper waste and pollution."

Eric Goldstein, NYC Environment Director for the NRDC, told us last year, "It's a flawed solution. Experience elsewhere has shown that a simple ban on plastic bags leads to much greater use of paper bags—or thicker plastic bags—and doesn’t accomplish the primary objective of triggering a shift to reusables."

After California passed its plastic bag ban-and-paper bag fee, an LA Times editorial confirmed, "the world didn't end." Chicago has charged a fee for using either plastic or paper bags, and usage of both apparently was reduced by 42%

But last week, Cuomo signaled his intention to move forward with the no-fee bag ban no matter what, saying, “I don’t want to lose the plastic bag ban for disagreement over the paper fee." 

The state budget is due April 1st. 

Our View: Bag ban a first step forward



This week, a Cuvier beaked whale washed ashore in the Philippines with more than 40 kilos of plastic found in its stomach – the United Nations says 8 million tons of plastic ends up in the oceans each year. 

It’s proof the harm of plastics isn’t going away.

The state finally acted on a single-use plastic bag ban this week – the Environment Committee voted in favor of a bill that would ban the sale of single-use plastic bags starting in 2020, but stores would still be allowed to offer customers recyclable paper bags.

Stores that do not comply, according to the bill’s language, will be issued a warning on the first violation; after that a store would be fined $250 for a second and any subsequent violations.

More than 20 communities in Connecticut have passed plastic bag bans, joining neighboring states like Massachusetts, where 81 cities and towns have regulated plastic bags, either imposing a five or 10 cent fee per bag or banning them outright.

Recently, supermarket chain Big Y, which has 30 stores in Connecticut, announced it will phase-out single-use plastic bags in its stores by next year. National chains Costco and Aldi, which both have stores in Connecticut, already do not provide free single-use plastic bags.

A statewide ban on single-use plastic bags has been a top priority for environmental groups, and reaction to the panel’s plastic bag bill was mixed, drawing partial applause from environmental groups only because, like Amanda Schoen, deputy director of the Connecticut League of Conservation Voters, said of the committee’s action, “it’s a really big step forward.”

The Citizens Campaign for the Environment said a plastic bag is used for an average of only 12 minutes but can remain in oceans, landfills, parks and on beaches for thousands of years.

Bill Lucey, the Long Island Soundkeeper, told the Connecticut Post last August that “it’s become common in the ecosystem,” referring to plastic bags and other products. “It’s coming into the Sound from the shoreline and from rivers,” Lucey said. “This stuff can last for ... years.”

Along with banning plastic bags, the state can and should do more, including begin thinking about a ban on plastic straws.

If it did, it would follow in the footsteps of the Beardsley Zoo in Bridgeport that recently banned plastic straws and is now using only biodegradable food containers.

Lucey has seen the volume of plastic in Long Island Sound first-hand. He said boats towing a special net routinely pull up shellfish with plastic microfibers inside them.

Activists say plastic, whether in the form of a bag, bottle, straw or microfiber that slips through sewage treatment plants, causes severe damage to animals such as clams, fish, birds, turtles and seals.

Banning plastic bags is a great start, but we have a long way to go to cut down on plastic pollution.

Say so long to single-use bags: Budget bringing bag ban to NY



New York will soon become the third state in the nation to ban single-use plastic bags.

The measure was included in the $175.5 billion budget passed by lawmakers in Albany.

Lawmakers say the ban aims to get consumers to use reusable bags to bring home their groceries. The move is being heralded by environmentalists as a win for wildlife and nature.

Suffolk County has charged a 5 cent fee for paper or plastic bags for just over a year. But under the new law, plastic bags will not be available anywhere. For Nassau County consumers and stores owners, the bag change will bring a whole new shopping experience.

Not everyone is thrilled with the new state law, including many in the food and convenience store industry. They say the law is unfair because an exception is being carved out for restaurants and delis, but not grocery stores and big box retailers.

Jay Peltz, with the Food Industry Alliance of NY, says the law will likely lead to more paper bag use, which he says will cost stores more money.

"Under the state law, retailers will not be reimbursed at all," Peltz says.

But environmentalists say the ultimate goal is to encourage reusable bags.

"We want people to bring their own bag -- not use plastic, not use paper -- and that is what really helps the environment," says Adrienne Esposito, with Citizens Campaign for the Environment.

The single-use bag ban will take effect in New York on March 1, 2020.

California and Hawaii have statewide bans on the bags.

'Grand slam': From bag ban to water funding, NY budget boosts environment



Count New York environmental groups among those who are happy with the final 2019-20 state budget. 

One of the budget's main provisions is a ban on single-use plastic bags that will begin in March 2020. Several environmental advocates have called for a bag ban to reduce plastic waste. 

With passage of the state budget, New York is the second state to ban single-use plastic bags. 

There was strong support among Democrats for the plastic bag ban. While debating the budget Sunday, state Sen. Todd Kaminsky explained why the ban is necessary. Plastic, he said, is "really bad for the environment." 

Reports indicate that New Yorkers use 23 billion plastic bags annually. The bags wind up polluting the environment — on land and in waterways — because they aren't biodegradable. 

Kaminsky acknowledged there may be an adjustment period because of how many plastic bags New Yorkers have used in the past. 

"They're versatile," he said. "They'll use reusable bags. Our environment in New York will be better." 

Environmental groups that pushed for the ban didn't get all of what they wanted. The ban on plastic bags is paired with a 5-cent fee on paper bags. The fee, however, is optional. Cities and counties may opt in and charge the fee on paper bags in their municipalities. 

Jeremy Cherson, legislative advocacy manager for Riverkeeper, urged cities and counties to adopt the fee. 

"We encourage local governments to opt-in to the critical fee on paper to help ensure communities have policies on the books that will encourage consumers to use reusable shopping bags," he said. 

Other measures in the budget earned praise from environmentalists. The state will provide $500 million for water infrastructure. This is in addition to the state's $2.5 billion commitment to fund clean water projects. 

The funding will support projects to ensure clean drinking water. Pollution in many areas of the state have affected drinking water supplies. In central New York, harmful algal blooms have threatened the Finger Lakes, including Owasco and Skaneateles lakes. The lakes provide drinking water to the cities of Auburn and Syracuse, respectively. 

The budget contains $300 million for the state Environmental Protection Fund — maintaining record state support for various capital projects, such as farmland conservation, restoring habitats and sewage treatment plant upgrades. 

The spending plan also establishes an organic recycling program for food waste. When possible, food will be donated to serve those in need. If the food is no longer edible, it will be transferred to anaerobic digesters for energy production. 

Adrienne Esposito, executive director of the Citizens Campaign for the Environment, called the environmental provisions of the budget a "grand slam."

"Addressing the plastic pollution crises and implementing food waste recycling are programs that demonstrate New York is leading by providing a path forward in our nation for a cleaner future," Esposito said. 

Budget: Businesses must donate excess food; counties can decide paper bags fee



Also in the state budget: $500 million for water infrastructure needs, and a statewide ban on plastic bags.

Food scrap recycling, a plastic carryout bag ban and $500 million in water infrastructure funding were approved in New York's state budget, but there's no statewide fee for paper bags or expansion of the state's bottle bill to encourage recycling.

Some environmental groups hailed the budget as a landmark for environmental legislation, while others said work remains. Here's a look at environmental topics and how they fared in the legislature in Albany.

Food waste

In an effort to divert food from landfills and incinerators, organizations that produce large amounts of food waste will have to separate their excess food and donate edible items while sending food scraps to an "organics recycler," like a 50,000-square-foot anaerobic digester Long Island Compost plans to build in Yaphank. The requirement would apply to operations including hotels, supermarkets, colleges, large restaurants and correctional facilities that produce an annual average of at least 2 tons of food waste per week at a single location and are within 25 miles of a recycling facility. It would only apply outside of New York City.

Environmental advocates said the bill will reduce waste being sent to landfills and cut down on methane emissions.

Julie Tighe, president of the New York League of Conservation Voters, said food waste broken down in a digester can be used to create compost. The Long Island Compost facility is expected to break ground in August.

Hospitals, nursing homes and primary and secondary schools are exempt from the bill, which had been proposed in prior years.

"This is a program that will get us started, and hopefully will get expanded to many more programs in the future," said Adrienne Esposito, executive director of Citizens Campaign for the Environment, a Farmingdale-based advocacy group. "It's a gigantic accomplishment. It decreases the waste stream, feeds the hungry, and increases renewable energy."

There's no food waste recycling facility in Nassau or Suffolk now, though food scraps also could be donated for animal feed.

Most grocery stores already donate excess edible food to regional and local food banks, so the new law is "duplicative," said Mike Durant, president and CEO of the Food Industry Alliance of New York State Inc., an Albany-based trade group that represents 800 supermarkets, convenience stores and wholesalers. A Stop & Shop representative said organic perishable items that can't be donated to food banks are taken to compost or digester facilities — or used for animal feed — as opposed to going into a landfill. 

Durant said more details about how the law will be applied still need to be worked out, such as how the state will calculate the threshold of 2 tons of food waste per week at a site.

The impact on the grocery industry “is going to be determined as we go through the regulatory process over the next two years,” Durant said.

The state calculated there were nearly 1,000 facilities in 2018 that would be covered under the law, 56 of which were restaurants.

Bag ban

Plastic carryout bags will be banned statewide in March 2020. Now, fights are on in counties over whether to charge a 5-cent fee for paper bags, and where that money would go.

"It's really exciting we banned plastic bags. It's disappointing we're not following California's model, which has a statewide fee on paper bags," said Liz Moran, environmental policy director with Albany-based New York Public Interest Research Group. Leaving paper bag fees up to municipalities "creates a patchwork effect, and a lot of confusion."

A state task force studying different bag bans and fees found that governments in Hawaii and Chicago that banned plastic bags without a fee on paper simply saw an increase in paper bag use.

In Nassau County, prospects for a 5-cent fee on paper seem dim. "Dead on arrival in Nassau County," according to a media announcement from the legislature's presiding officer, Richard Nicolello (R-New Hyde Park), who plans to discuss the paper bag fee issue at a news conference Wednesday.

In counties that don't opt into the paper fee, state Sen. Todd Kaminsky (D-Long Beach) said towns and villages could opt to adopt a 5-cent fee, though that would be kept by grocery stores.

He said plastic pollution — including litter on beaches and in the stomachs of marine life — is a top issue among young people.

"Attacking the plastic problem has kicked around Albany for too long," Kaminsky said.

The new law will pre-empt Suffolk's law, which has put a 5-cent fee on both single-use plastic and paper bags since Jan. 1, 2018. Lawmakers there could choose to keep the fee on paper bags, which would be kept by grocery stores, or they could opt into the state law, where 3 cents of the paper bag fee would go to a state environmental fund and 2 cents to county programs for reusable bags.

The Food Industry Alliance also opposes the state’s plastic bag ban, said Jay Peltz, general counsel and senior vice president for government relations for the alliance.

“It is intended to supersede local laws, such as the one in Suffolk County, that have been working very well and we think will work much better than the ban,” he said.

The 5-cent bag fees that Uncle Giuseppe’s Marketplace collects from customers at its three Suffolk stores are donated to local charities and the St. Jude's Children's Hospital Foundation, spokeswoman Jillian Gundy said.

"The drawback of this tax is charging the 5 cents to customers that is to be put toward local governments as opposed to charitable endeavors and local environmental programs," she said in a statement of the new law. 

Bottle bill

Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo proposed expanding the 5-cent deposit on additional bottles to include iced tea, sports drinks, energy drinks and fruit and vegetable juices. While the proposal was embraced by many conservationists as the best way to ensure that bottles are recycled, it met resistance from recycling companies and municipalities that feared they’d lose valuable plastics and aluminum from curbside recycling programs, as well as beverage companies, which didn’t want a fee on more of their products and feared fraud, lawmakers said.

Kaminsky said, "I think there was a widespread understanding from all sides a more holistic look at recycling programs in the state was needed."

Many municipalities have made major changes to their recycling programs since China — a major importer of recycled material — started demanding higher quality materials.

Tighe, with the New York League of Conservation Voters, said, "I think we need to all work closely with local governments and the recycling community for a real viable solution to the recycling crisis we’re facing right now."

That could include putting a deposit fee on glass wine and liquor bottles.

Moran said expanding the bottle deposit program would increase recycling and reduce plastic waste. "This should be common sense to do. We’ve already had bottle bills on the books 40 years, and expanded them before," she said. 

Water infrastructure

The budget allocates $500 million for water infrastructure this year, including $85 million earmarked statewide for septic improvement grant programs.

State estimates have put water infrastructure needs at $80 billion over the next 20 years.

"This is a very important step. We continue to chip away at a need," Moran said. "With federal government cutting back on protections, we need bold investments. We would’ve preferred to see $2.5 billion in the budget. We're disappointed the promise wasn’t filled this year. We’ll be counting on the governor and legislature to fulfill that promise in future years."

The $500 million this year is on top of $2.5 billion allocated in 2017. Cuomo in January committed to funding an addition $2.5 billion over five years.

Esposito said the money can be leveraged with loans and local money to begin paying for the water upgrades.

"All of this funding is translating into protecting the public's health and protecting the public's resources," she said.

Environmental groups push property tax or water hike for septic improvements




The groups said the average annual cost to homeowners would be $75 for a tax increase, or $110 or higher for a water fee. But there's no guarantee the proposal will make it onto the November ballot.

James Minet, left, is joined by Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone and James' father Robert Minet as they watch a septic system being installed in front of their Nesconset home in 2015. The family was one of the winners in a lottery to have the septic system installed. Photo Credit: James Carbone

Environmental groups are pushing for a Suffolk County ballot measure that would raise $70 million a year through either property taxes or water bills to combat nitrogen in waterways by improving wastewater treatment.

The groups submitted ballot language to the county attorney’s office March 8 that will ask voters to approve a property tax line dedicated to grants for nitrogen-removing septic systems, sewer expansions and sewage treatment plant improvements.

Separately, the groups have circulated among civic and environmental organizations a draft letter to county lawmakers asking them to support a referendum on a property tax or a fee on water usage.

“The Long Island that many of us grew up with is being killed by sewage — and we must act to fix the problem now,” according to the letter from four Long Island environmental groups that formed the Long Island Clean Water Partnership.

According to advocates, average homeowners would pay about $75 a year under both scenarios, though the Suffolk County Water Authority estimated the costs for a water fee would be $110 or higher for the average residential water user.

The proposals face skepticism from county lawmakers and Suffolk County Water Authority officials concerned about imposing additional costs on Suffolk residents.

It’s no sure thing either measure will qualify for the ballot. Advocates said they’re still in the early stages and while they had originally been targeting November, some coalition members suggested this week that the effort might be pushed to 2020, as they continue to gather support among elected officials.

To get on the ballot, the water fee would need approval from the State Legislature. State lawmakers said they’d want to see support from the county legislature and Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone. In 2016, a proposed referendum to raise water rates for wastewater treatment, pushed by Bellone, failed to advance in the State Legislature.

But the proposed property tax could get on the ballot without any legislative support, if backers collect more than 13,000 signatures from Suffolk voters.

While the water fee is preferred by most groups, given residents’ opposition to property tax increases, the proposed property tax initiative could be a backup if elected officials balk.

“If the lawmakers don’t want to do it, the citizens can do it themselves,” said Richard Amper, executive director of the Long Island Pine Barrens Society. “We think the public is supportive of water protection today.”

Excess nitrogen has been tied to algal blooms that have decimated shellfish stocks, reduced eel grass populations, depleted oxygen levels in waters, closed swimming at freshwater lakes and damaged natural coastal barriers like marshlands, according to advocates, as well as many environmentalists and academics. A study of the Great South Bay attributed nearly 70 percent of nitrogen to unsewered homes.

About 360,000 homes in Suffolk County are not connected to sewers, and the county has identified 209,000 homes in priority areas to either connect to sewers or install septic systems designed to remove nitrogen.

“The water quality problem is an $8 billion infrastructure problem,” said Nicholas Calderon, public policy adviser for The Nature Conservancy, Long Island, citing countywide estimates to connect homes to sewers or advanced septic systems. “It’s not going to be fixed by itself. The only way to fix it is we have dedicated revenue stream. It’s the only way we can protect our water.”

The Long Island Clean Water Partnership is made up of advocacy groups Citizens Campaign for the Environment, The Nature Conservancy, Group for the East End and Long Island Pine Barrens Society.

“If we’re ever going to really address water quality, we’re going to need a consistent, reliable funding source,” said Adrienne Esposito, executive director of Farmingdale-based Citizens Campaign for the Environment.

Bellone, who has made fighting nitrogen the centerpiece of his environmental agenda, was noncommittal about the latest initiatives.

“We are reviewing the current proposal and having conversations with local stakeholders,” Bellone said in a statement. He, along with county legislators, are on the ballot for re-election this year.

Suffolk Legislature Presiding Officer DuWayne Gregory said residents struggling with the high cost of living already have been hit this year by federal tax law changes and water rates that could rise dramatically to treat emerging contaminants in drinking water.

“We have to do something to expand advanced wastewater treatment systems and sewers. But we have to come up with a way that’s suitable for the taxpayers,” Gregory (D-Copiague) said. “They’re under a lot of stress and burden. I’m not sure this is necessarily the way to do it.”

Jeffrey Szabo, chief executive officer of the Suffolk County Water Authority, said he would oppose a water fee, though he wouldn’t oppose a property tax line.

He said nitrogen is not a major concern for drinking water — only two wells out of the district’s 600 need treatment — and levels of nitrogen have stabilized or trended down, as he believes farmers improved how they use fertilizers.

“We believe nitrogen is an issue in surface water, in bays and estuaries. When it comes to a drinking water perspective, it’s not something that keeps me up at night,” Szabo said. “If environmentalists want a tax for sewer purposes, it should not be hidden in residents’ water bills.”

He said bills that will average $436 a year April 1 could increase an additional 25 percent to 33 percent in future years to pay for treatment of emerging contaminants, which the state is expected to regulate this year.

Additionally, an estimated 25,000 to 40,000 households are on private wells, and don’t get a water bill.

Advocates said while a water fee or property tax might not be perfect, it was necessary to find a revenue stream.

“Whether we do it this year or next year is being worked out. But it needs to be done,” Esposito said. She called the property tax proposal “a way to get legislators to act on their own. And help them not be so lethargic.”

Amper said the partnership would push forward with a referendum this year. “The need is too urgent to wait,” he said.

A recurring revenue stream for wastewater would be a capstone of efforts by Bellone and environmental groups that have focused on nitrogen since at least 2014, when the county released an updated water resources plan and Bellone declared nitrogen “public water enemy No. 1.”

The county successfully pushed for $362 million in state and federal grants to sewer areas of Mastic and Babylon as a wetland protection program, and built a county program to permit nitrogen-reducing advanced septic systems.

But the major unanswered question all along has been how to fund the plans. Suffolk County in February put out a bid for a study of a countywide wastewater district, which asked consultants to evaluate potential funding streams, including “a surcharge on water usage, and a modest monthly charge to property owners.”

A centerpiece of the county’s effort so far has been a county grant program to help homeowners pay for new systems, which cost on average of more than $20,000. Funding so far is limited to $10 million from the county over five years and $10 million from the state. Bellone and advocates said that the septic rebate program is threatened over the possibility that homeowners will have to pay taxes on the county and state grants. County Comptroller John Kennedy sent tax forms to homeowners who received the grant, while the Bellone administration said the tax should be paid by the installers who receive the check, citing an opinion from their tax counsel.

Assemb. Fred Thiele (I-Sag Harbor), who sponsored an Assembly bill to allow a water fee referendum three years ago, was waiting to see if there was support in the State Senate, county legislature and county executive.

Still, he saw a need for local funding.

“This is not a one-year, two-year or five-year program,” he said. “I don’t think we can make any progress on water quality unless we can commit to funding infrastructure projects over a long period of time.”

Republican Minority Leader Tom Cilmi (R-Bay Shore) said he “wouldn’t close the door on a referendum,” but said language would have to be clear about costs to homeowners. He also noted the county should re-examine how it spends sales tax money dedicated to open-space funding to see if that could be better spent on wastewater treatment.

“It’s pretty obvious to me that in order to reduce nitrogen, we need to spend some money,” he said. “But we’re already spending tens of millions on water quality, mainly through the purchase of open space … Perhaps it’s time to re-examine the allocation of that sales tax, rather than charge people additional money they don’t have.”

Legis. Robert Trotta (R-Fort Salonga) said he wouldn’t trust county leadership not to raid the fund, because it borrowed $171 million from a county sewer fund from 2014 to 2017 to pay operating expenses. That money came from a countywide sales tax.

Amper said the language of the proposals would put the money in a “lockbox” so it couldn’t be raided by future administrations.

“We’re going to do this one way or the other,” Amper said. “I’ve heard county legislators say to me in the last two or three years, I don’t want to be accused of raising taxes. You’re not going to be accused of raising taxes, you’re going to be accused of not letting people decide.”

But not everyone in the environmental community agree that unsewered homes represent a crisis.

John Tanacredi, a Molloy College professor and executive director of the Center for Environmental Research and Coastal Oceans Monitoring, said there’s been an overemphasis on the dangers of nitrogen coming from septic systems.

“The coastal environment of Long Island is outstanding,” he said, pointing to abundant populations of menhaden, sea turtles in Queens and a recent study showing the Long Island Sound’s recovery. Algal blooms and fish kills are all part of a natural process, he said.

“To blame it all on these septic systems is inaccurate,” he said.

Chris Gobler, a Stony Brook University professor at the School of Marine and Atmospheric Science who has worked with the county and environmental advocates, said sea grass levels, shellfish landings and wetland coverage all have declined dramatically in the Great South Bay.

Every year, he said, a variety of harmful algal blooms appear from May to October in Long Island waters.

“A series of studies have shown the main source of nitrogen is 360,000 homes not connected to sewage treatment plants,” he said

NYS debates the future of plastic bags



Daily Point

Paper or plastic with that?

One of the most fluid topics at this extremely fluid stage of Albany budget negotiations is a proposed ban on plastic bags.

While most everyone favors the ban itself, there is much debate about an accompanying 5-cent fee on paper bags. The general consensus is to let municipalities decide whether they want paper bags offered free of charge or to opt in to institute a fee. But while some negotiators want to give only counties the right to opt in, others say cities must be included as well to make sure that New York City, Buffalo, Rochester and others like Glen Cove and Long Beach have the option as well. And still others say if counties decide not to opt in, then the towns within those counties should have the option to opt in (as well as villages if the towns they are in do not).

Also being discussed is how to split that nickel between the state, local municipalities and/or stores, and how those shares can be spent (reusable bags, other environmental-related programs or other uses).

Environmental-minded lawmakers and advocates also were optimistic about getting approved a measure to reduce food waste and help feed the hungry by requiring big producers like hospitals, colleges and supermarkets to donate edible items to hunger-relief organizations and recycle the rest. It’s a plan Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo left out of his budget proposal after trying in vain to get it passed the last two years.

It’s also looking increasingly like the budget will include $500 million for clean water infrastructure, not the commitment for $2.5 billion over five years some advocates had been pushing. And Cuomo’s plan to use Environmental Protection Fund money to pay for staffing was still on the table, despite legislative opposition.

But the biggest environmental surprise might be that climate change, as one insider put it, “is apparently back on the table as of 4 this morning.”

The debate, which played out in legislative hearings on the Climate and Community Protection Act held by Sen. Todd Kaminsky’s environmental conservation committee earlier this year, centers on which emissions-reduction goal to adopt and by when. One camp is arguing that the state should get 100 percent of its energy from renewable sources by a date certain, while the other camp says that is not doable and a better target is to be carbon-neutral by that date. One difference: the second goal allows for nuclear energy, the first does not.

The conversation got so hot so fast that several organizations — Citizens Campaign for the Environment, The Nature Conservancy, National Resources Defense Council, New York League of Conservation Voters and Audubon New York — quickly whipped up a letter Wednesday morning to lawmakers arguing for the carbon-neutral goal as a way to “address climate change in a bold, progressive, meaningful way that achieves durable, lasting change.”

If there’s one thing folks in Albany understand this time of year, it’s change.

Michael Dobie

Help Combat Plastic Pollution in Connecticut

Tell Hartford lawmakers to ban single-use plastic bags for good!

CT ban.jpg

Connecticut, like many places across our nation and the globe, has a growing concern about pollution caused by single-use plastic bags. Plastic shopping bags are costly, environmentally harmful, and completely unnecessary. They are typically used for an average of 12 minutes, but have impacts on our environment that last for generations.

It is estimated that nearly a billion plastic bags are used in Connecticut every year! The free distribution of single-use checkout bags comes with significant economic and environmental costs to Connecticut:

  1. Littering our Communities: Plastic bags litter in our parks, beaches, roads, and waterways; costing taxpayers millions each year to clean them up.

  2. Polluting Waterways and Harming Wildlife: Plastic bags never fully break down. Instead, they break up into tiny microplastics, which are frequently mistaken for food by aquatic wildlife. At least 267 marine and avian species are adversely impacted by pollution from plastic bags!

  3. Damaging Municipal Infrastructure: Plastic bags are easily swept into storm drains where they lead to severe blockages, causing infrastructure damage and localized flooding. Plastic bags also frequently end up in the curbside recycling bin, where they become entangled in recycling equipment, creating costly delays for municipal recyclers and wasting taxpayer money.

Paper Bags Are Not the Solution

Unfortunately, paper bags also carry their own adverse impacts on our environment. Paper bags require cutting down approximately 14 million trees annually in the U.S., and they require large amounts of energy and fresh water to produce. Additionally, they take up more space in the municipal solid waste stream than plastic bags, and do nothing to change the throw-away culture that plastic bags perpetuate. Connecticut needs a policy that does not replace one disposable bag with another, but instead encourages consumers to bring their own bags!

Tell Hartford Lawmakers to Pass a Bag Ban for the 21st Century!

Proposed legislation in CT (SB 1003) would ban plastic checkout bags in Connecticut, without addressing paper bags. This is a good first step, but it can create an unintended consequence—encouraging consumers to switch to paper bag use, which also adversely impacts our environment. The goal is not to switch from plastic to paper; the goal is to switch from single-use bags to reusable bags!We need you to tell legislative leaders to ban plastic bags and also include a charge on paper bags.

Report: Plastic Bag Fees Show Dramatic Results On LI



By JAY SHAH  MAR 25, 2019

Nearly 1.1 billion fewer plastic bags were used in Suffolk County last year after lawmakers passed a bag fee. That's according to a county Health Services report.

The five cent single-use plastic and paper bag fee went into effect in January 2018, and it has had striking effects.

Fewer bags are being used and showing up as pollution on the shoreline.

Adrienne Esposito, executive director for the advocacy group Citizens Campaign for the Environment, says the report shows people are open to change if it helps the environment.

“The next thing that Suffolk County could do is ban styrofoam, ban plastic straws and any kind of single-use plastic. We all have to chip in and do our part. ”

New York is considering a statewide plastic bag ban as part of its budget negotiations.