CCE in the News

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

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.

Environmental group: 65 of 80 household products contain 1,4-dioxane



Environmentalists say many household products like laundry detergent, shampoo, body wash and hand soap are contaminated with a known possible carcinogen called 1,4-dioxane.

Because 1,4-dioxane is a byproduct and not technically an ingredient, manufacturers are not required to put it on their labels.

"It's actually a very disconcerting issue that's come up," says Adrienne Esposito, of Citizens Campaign for the Environment. "It's not about just one product and one exposure. We use all these products usually on a daily basis."

The group says there are products with low or no detectable amounts of 1,4-dioxane.

There is legislation making its way through the state Legislature that would ban the 1,4-dioxane byproduct from all household items.

Environmental group says 65 of 80 household products contain 1,4-dioxane


The chemical, designated by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency as a likely carcinogen, has been found in dozens of Long Island drinking water wells.

Adrienne Esposito, executive director of Citizens Campaign for the Environment, with Tide Original laundry detergent, which has among the highest levels of 1,4-dioxane, on July 9, 2018, in Farmingdale. Photo Credit: Joseph D. Sullivan

By David M.  @schwartznewsNYUpdated March 26, 2019 11:00 AM

Tests found the chemical 1,4-dioxane in 65 of 80 household products, including baby products, shampoos, detergents and body washes, according to a study released Tuesday.

The products with the highest levels include Victoria Secret’s shower gels, Tide Original laundry detergent and Dreft (Stage 1/Newborn) baby laundry detergent, according to the test commissioned by Citizens Campaign for the Environment, a Farmingdale-based group that is pushing a statewide ban of 1,4-dioxane in household products.

1,4-dioxane, designated by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency as a likely carcinogen, has been found in dozens of Long Island drinking water wells, and water providers have estimated it will cost $840 million to install treatment systems.

While 1,4-dioxane is primarily associated with industrial solvents, the chemical is also found in household products as a byproduct from the manufacturing process.

“It’s a critical concern for contaminating our groundwater and drinking water,” said Adrienne Esposito, executive director of Citizens Campaign for the Environment, who added it also could be a concern for skin exposure. "We really were shocked at some of these results."

A study in July by the group found 23 of 30 products contained 1,4-dioxane.

Manufacturers said their products are safe to use and called the study a “distraction” from the real issue with 1,4-dioxane, which is industrial sites.

“Consumers can feel confident in the safety of their favorite and highly trusted household products,"James Darr, manager of state government relations and public policy for the Household & Commercial Products Association, said in a statement Tuesday. "The evidence clearly shows that they are not the source of Long Island’s decades-long water contamination issues.”

No federal or state standard exists for the amount of 1,4-dioxane that can be contained in household products, Esposito said, though she said one recommendation from the European Union was not to use products that contain 1,000 parts per billion of the product. According to the report released Tuesday, products tested contained up to 17,000 parts per billion of the contaminant.

Lifelong exposure to 0.35 parts per billion of 1,4-dioxane in drinking water represents a 1-in-a-million cancer risk, according to the EPA. In December, the panel of state health and environmental officials, water providers and academics recommended a drinking water standard of nearly three times that — 1 part per billion for 1,4 dioxane.

Citizens Campaign for the Environment tested 80 products bought at Long Island stores and found the chemical in both high-end products and less-expensive alternatives, and products for men and women. Esposito said that on the positive side, many of the products marketed as environmentally friendly had no detectable levels of 1,4-dioxane.

"A lot of these green products really are green," she said.

She said the group originally tested the household products after seeing 1,4-dioxane contamination in drinking water supplies in areas without a history of industrial use.

The products were tested by ALS Laboratory in Rochester, New York, which is certified by the state Department of Health and can detect down to 25 parts per billion.

The products with the highest levels of 1,4-dioxane were Victoria's Secret Bombshell Body Wash, Victoria's Secret Love Body Wash, Tide Original Detergent, Ivory Snow 2X Ultra Detergent, Dreft Stage1/Newborn Detergent, Gain Original Detergent, Tide Simply + Oxi Detergent, The Home Store Lemon Scented Dish Soap, Baby Magic Hair and Body Wash, Up&Up (Target) Free + Clear Dish Soap, Persil Original Detergent, Pantene Pro-V Nature Fusion Shampoo.

Environmentalists and water providers are pushing to ban 1,4-dioxane from products as state health officials have said they plan to set an enforceable drinking standard for 1,4-dioxane.

Removing 1,4-dioxane from drinking water is costly and expensive. Only one system in New York — owned by the Suffolk County Water Authority — has been approved for use in a drinking water system. There's no way for households to remove the chemical on their own, experts said.

This is a developing story. Check back for updates.

Plastic Bag Ban Sails Through Environment Committee


by Jack Kramer | Mar 25, 2019 5:12pm

HARTFORD, CT — Perhaps pushed into it by towns that have moved on the issue far quicker, the Environment Committee Monday voted 25-4 in favor of a bill that would ban the sale of single-use plastic bags starting in 2020.

The bill also said that any paper bags provided by stores to customers who don’t bring their own shopping bags must be 100 percent recyclable.

The bill now goes to the Senate.

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 violation.

It seems every day a new Connecticut town or city is passing a plastic bag ban. By advocates’ counts, more than 20 communities have passed bans — about half of which have been in the past few months as the momentum to ban the plastic bags is building around the state.

The bill takes note of that fact, stating that any town or city that has enacted a ban on its own should not have its law superseded by whatever final action the state winds up taking.

“This bill would not impede in anyway the plastic bans that any towns have already moved forward on this issue,” Sen. Christine Cohen, D-Guilford, co-chair of the committee said.

The Connecticut Food Association had submitted testimony during a public hearing on the bill, asking the state to act, stating it was difficult for the association to deal with it on a town-by-town basis.

“With 169 towns and cities in Connecticut, a one-by-one plan doesn’t make sense,” Wayne Pesce, president of the association, said. “This scenario is not broad enough, makes it difficult for retailers to comply, and is confusing to consumers.”

He said the statewide ban would reduce the amount of single-use bags distributed at retail and encourage consumers in Connecticut to use their own reusable bags for shopping.”

Pesce said grocers are trying to lead by example.

Recently Supermarket chain Big Y, which has 30 stores in Connecticut, announced that 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.

Gov. Ned Lamont has proposed a 10-cent tax on plastic bags, instead of calling for a ban. It’s unclear what that would mean the communities that have already banned them.

Meanwhile, the committee Monday passed a second bill pushed by environmentalists — one requiring the elimination of single-use styrofoam containers for a food establishment.

The goal of that bill is reduce litter in parks, waterways, and urban centers and also to create cost-savings in the recycling process.

The bill received strong support during the public hearing from Connecticut Program Director For Citizens Campaign For the Environment (CCE) Louis Burch.

“In addition to increasing public exposure to Styrene, expanded polystyrene is a significant contributor to the plastic pollution crisis choking our marine environment,” Burch said. EPS packaging never bully breaks down in our water, instead, it breaks into tiny pieces which persist for hundreds of years.”

He added: “Polystyrene waste also presents a problem for municipal recyclers. EPS foam cannot be easily recycled, it at all.”

That bill will move to the House.

Plastic Bag Ban Measure Passes In Rockland

 Zak Failla 

In an effort to “combat litter, help reduce greenhouse gas emissions and protect the environment for future generations,” Rockland County s banning single-use plastic bags at retailers, restaurants and grocery stores.

In a bipartisan 14-3 vote, legislators in Rockland easily backed a measure that would ban the use of bags. The bill was sponsored by County legislators Laurie Santulli and Nancy Low-Hogan and will be sent to County Executive Ed Day for approval in the next three weeks.

"Plastic bags not only make Rockland County look terrible, they cause problems for our solid waste facility and pose a significant threat to the environment," Santulli said. "A simple change in our habits – switching to paper and reusable bags, will help us address these problems for the betterment of our county."

According to the United Nations Environment Programme, single-use plastic bags are one of the top five single-use plastics found in the environment by magnitude, and they are one of the top five items encountered in coastline clean-ups.

Under the law, department stores, home center and hardware stores, drug stores, supermarkets, liquor stores, gas station stores, restaurants, farmers' markets and other locations would be banned from providing single-use plastic carryout bags. They instead would be required to provide paper bags made of recyclable materials or reusable plastic bags with handles that are machine washable.

The law will not ban plastic bags used for loose bulk items such as fruit, vegetables, nuts, grains, candy, cookies, small hardware items or to wrap meats, fish, deli and frozen foods; nor does it ban bags used by pharmacies to contain prescription drugs, newspaper bags, door-hanger bags and laundry-dry cleaning bags.

If approved, the law will be enforced by the Rockland County Office of Consumer Protection. Fines would range from up to $250 for a first-time offense; up to $500 for a second offense within a 12-month period; and up to $1,000 for a third and each subsequent offense within a 12-month period.

"The blight of plastic bags takes a devastating toll on our streets, our water and our natural resources, and we need to take action to protect our environment,” New York Gov. Cuomo said last year when supporting a statewide bill banning single-use plastic bags. "As the old proverb goes: 'We did not inherit the earth, we are merely borrowing it from our children,' and with this action, we are helping to leave a stronger, cleaner and greener New York for all.”

Between 500 billion and one trillion plastic bags are consumed worldwide each year, according to the United States Environmental Protection Agency. Less than 1 percent of plastic bags are recycled in the United States and they are not acceptable at certain recycling centers.

"Passing the plastic bag ban is an example of what can happen when a community comes together in support of what is best for the whole community, not only in the short term, but in the long term,” Low-Hogan stated. “We are ready to make the choice that will benefit our environment and ultimately our world.”

The EPA estimates that 80 percent of plastic pollution in the ocean originated on land, which includes plastic bags, and in New York, residents use 23 billion plastic bags annually, which contributes to pollution both on and off land. These bags do not biodegrade and they persist for years.

"Plastic pollution has become a serious threat to our lakes, rivers and marine environment as well as public health. Scientists are finding plastic pollution in shellfish and finfish, making its way to our dinner plates,” Citizens Campaign for the Environment Executive Director Adrienne Esposito said. “Giving up plastic bags and using reusable bags is one easy, reasonable step each member of the public can take to help combat the plastic pollution epidemic. It is time for everyone to get on the plastic bag 'ban wagon.”

Legislator: 1 billion fewer plastic bags in Suffolk thanks to new law

Posted: Mar 21, 2019 6:07 PM EDTcUpdated: Mar 21, 2019 6:07 PM EDT


It's been a little over a year since Suffolk County's plastic bag law went into effect, and lawmakers and environmentalists on Thursday released statistics that they say proves the effectiveness of the law.

Legislator William Spencer says there are now about 1 billion fewer bags in Suffolk alone.

The legislation required stores to charge 5 cents for each plastic and paper carryout bag. Supporters say the law did what it was supposed to do -- change the behavior of shoppers.

In 2017, 5 percent of customers brought their own bag. That jumped to 26 percent in 2018.

Also in 2017, 20 percent of people didn't use any bags. It was 37 percent the following year.

Seventy-one percent of shoppers used plastic bags in 2017. That dropped to 28 percent in 2018.

Adrienne Esposito, of Citizens Campaign for the Environment, says the numbers show that the law works.

Suffolk County Sees 80 Percent Drop In Plastic Bag Use


MARCH 21, 2019 - 5:28 PM


Local News

NEW YORK (WCBS 880) — The results of the plastic bag law in Suffolk County have been announced.

For some it was a rocky start in January 2018, when the plastic bag law took effect requiring all shoppers to bring their own reusable bag, use no bag at all or be charged a five cent fee for each plastic bag they used.

Though, after a year, most shoppers have adjusted to the change and many are seen leaving stores with their own bags and Adrienne Esposito, of the Citizens Campaign for the Environment, says it’s paying off.

“Suffolk County is now using 1.1 billion less plastic bags each year,” she said.

According to WCBS 880’s Sophia Hall, stores are also reporting plastic bag use is down 80 percent.

“This legislation has changed the public’s behavior in three ways. Number one, more members of the public are bringing their own bags; number two, is more members of the public are foregoing any bag at all; and number three, the members of the public that are still using plastic bags are using much less,” Esposito explains.

She adds that there are multiple proposals for a New York statewide ban on plastic bags. 

Plastic bag use plummets with fees, report finds

By Jodi Goldberg

NEW YORK (FOX 5 NY) - A new report claims that shoppers on Long Island are using more than a billion fewer plastic bags due to a fee to use them went into effect a year ago.

In 2018, stores in Suffolk County were required to start charging customers five cents for each plastic or paper bag.  The purpose was to encourage shoppers to use their own reusable bags and ultimately reduce waste.

"Plastic and paper use in stores has seen an eighty-percent reduction, forty-one perfect less bag litter is also being found on our beaches," said Dr. William Spencer. 

A recycling report was released Thursday.  plummeted the carryout bag law.   The findings show that people are becoming more aware of how they shop.

In 2017, five percent of the public brought their own bag to the grocery store. Last year it was 26 percent. In 2017, 71 percent of the public used plastic bags, last year only 28 percent used them. 

"Suffolk County is now using 1.1 billion less plastic bags each year," said Adrienne Esposito, Executive Director of Citizens Campaign for the Environment.

Statewide, New York Governor Andrew Cuomo proposed banning plastic bags in this year’s budget. The plan is still  being negotiated with lawmakers and could  be decided on by April 1. 

Lawmakers discuss proposal for statewide plastic bag ban


Lawmakers discuss proposal for statewide plastic bag ban

Proposal also includes a five-cent fee for use of individual paper bags

By:   Mariann Cabness 

BUFFALO, N.Y. (WIVB) - A little over a week before the state budget deadline, Democratic Assemblyman Sean Ryan discussed a statewide proposal which would ban plastic bags and place a fee on paper bags in retail stores on March 23, 2019. 

“This ban will help us to protect our environment, and encourage consumers to bring reusable bags with them, which will drastically reduce the amount litter in our environment," said Ryan. 

Ryan, joined by Erie County Executive Mark Poloncarz and Brian Smith, Executive Director of Citizens Campaign for the Environment, gave details about the proposal at Delaware Park. 

The proposal is currently being considered for inclusion in the upcoming New York State Budget, according to Ryan. 

In addition to the plastic bag ban, the budget proposal calls for a five-cent fee to be charged for the use of individual paper bags. 

Ryan said the five-cent fee charged for paper bags will go to the environmental protection fund. 

The environmental protection fund would allot funds to go towards education for decreasing plastic pollution, distributing reusable bags to low or fixed-income communities, and cleanup of roads, shorelines, and waterways. 

"We all must work together to decrease plastic pollution and at the same time increase the distribution of reusable shopping bags," said Poloncarz.

The deadline for the 2019-2020 New York State Budget is April 1, 2019. 

$1M for tick-borne illness research back in state budget


An engorged blacklegged tick, otherwise known as a deer tick (Provided photo — Andre Karwath via Wikimedia Commons)

The New York state Senate reinstated $1 million in funding for Lyme and tick-borne illness research in its draft budget for 2019-20.

While that funding is still not guaranteed, the line item had been zero earlier this year.

Researchers such as Lee Ann Sporn at Paul Smith’s College and Holly Ahern at SUNY Adirondack have been advocating for the funding to be put back in the budget.

The $1 million last year helped fund Sporn’s unprecedented study of harvested deer blood in the Adirondacks. The study found that a potentially lethal virus called Powassan is more widespread than previously thought.

Others, including the Adirondack Mountain Club, have called on state leaders to secure the funding. In an op-ed, Executive Director Neil Woodworth said research supported by the state funding has “resulted in new ways for people to protect themselves through clothing and lawn treatments, and through tick bio-controls.”

With ticks found at higher elevations and in more northern areas of the country, the diseases and illnesses they carry are traveling with them.

The executive budget deadline is April 1.

To learn more about what ticks are carrying in your county, check out the state Department of Health’s tick collection data by searching for “ticks” on

Water infrastructure funding also in flux

Environmental organizations are also calling on state leaders to invest more funding in the Clean Water Infrastructure Act.

The state Senate budget proposal includes $2.5 billion, and groups like the New York Public Interest Research Group, Natural Resources Defense Council and Riverkeeper are looking for the Assembly and Gov. Andrew Cuomo to approve that.

Studies show that over the next two decades, $38 billion will be needed to update drinking water infrastructure across the state and $36 billion will be needed to upgrade wastewater infrastructure.

“The Clean Water Infrastructure Act has funded critical projects in every region of the state, helping to address emerging contaminants in drinking water, fight harmful algal blooms, reduce sewage overflows that foul our waters, and more,” said Adrienne Esposito, executive director for Citizens Campaign for the Environment, in a release. “Despite the program’s success, water infrastructure needs continue to vastly exceed available resources.”

Ryan, Poloncarz urge plastic bag ban as budget deadline looms


By Robert J. McCarthy|Published March 23, 2019|Updated March 23, 2019

A pair of top Democrats urging a ban on plastic bags by New York retailers could not have gained a better “prop” for their Saturday morning press conference.

County Executive Mark C. Poloncarz and Assemblyman Sean M. Ryan only had to point to Delaware Park’s Rose Garden and a plastic grocery bag caught in the rosebushes. That bag and more than 20 billion others used throughout the state each year, Ryan and Poloncarz said, are causing serious problems and the new budget waiting approval in Albany should mandate the end of their regular use.

County Exec Poloncarz retrieves plastic bag in Delaware Park Saturday while calling for their ban in new state budget .

With an April 1 deadline for budget adoption looming, the pair called on the Legislature to follow through on Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo’s proposal to ban plastic bags that never fully decompose after an average use of about 12 minutes. They also want Albany to enact a 5 cent charge on use of paper bags that require more water and energy to manufacture than plastic bags and use more than 14 million trees each year to make.

“We can’t fix the world’s use of plastic bags, but we can start with the 20 billion that we are currently using in New York State,” Ryan said, pointing to major reductions in their use following bans in cities like San Jose and Washington.

“Such measures work,” he said.

A ban would apply to all stores, all retail and all restaurants, the assemblyman said, adding that his proposal would funnel the 5 cent paper bag fee into the state’s environmental fund.

“We need to focus on making reusable bags part of our daily life,” he said.

“A couple of years go by and you don’t think of it,” he added, pointing to the gradual and now almost universally acceptance of seat belts after initial opposition to their mandated use.

Poloncarz joined the Saturday effort by pointing to the practical benefits of a plastic bag ban. Erie County crews are constantly unclogging sewer drains and lines, he said, requiring continuous attention and unnecessary work.

“It is a big issue because it is not something that is easily remedied,” the county executive said. “Unfortunately, the bag that we use from whatever store we use … will be here a lot longer than each and every one of us.”

Poloncarz said while county efforts to ban plastic proved unsuccessful, a statewide law will prove far more effective.

“This is not something Erie County can do alone,” he said. “That’s why it’s very important this be handled on a statewide level.”

Brian Smith, associate executive director of Citizens Campaign for the Environment, appeared with Ryan and Poloncarz to add his group’s endorsement. He said the “scourge of plastic bags” has contributed to Great Lakes pollution — about 5.5 million pounds in Lake Erie alone each year. They also cause between $300,000 and $1 million in damage to recycling facilities across the state each year, he said.

“As a society, we can no longer afford the single use plastic bag and it is time to ban them,” he said.

Ryan’s proposal to couple the plastic ban with a fee on paper bags appears to mirror one recently advanced by the State Senate in its budget negotiations. He said most of the discussion now centers around the nickel charge on paper bags, noting the Assembly remains wedded to direct deposit in an environmental fund, while retail lobbyists are also seeking some type of compensation.

Senate Democrats said earlier this month they will go along with Cuomo’s plan for a plastic ban, but are insisting on the paper bags fee to better encourage use of reusable bags. Ryan said retailers are opposed to the idea, but noted any problems they face will amount to a “short hiccup.”

The grocery industry has pushed back against the idea in recent years, with Wegmans telling The Buffalo News in 2018 that education and recycling also proves effective. Wegmans also noted that plastic bags are made of recycled plastic and natural gas, are lighter than reusable and paper bags and take up less space, requiring fewer trucks and fuel to transport.

Wegmans’ plastic bags are made from 40 percent recycled plastic, and its plastic bag recycling rate averaged nearly 50 percent in 2017, the company said.