Written by Bill Ulfelder, New York State Director, The Nature Conservancy Friday, 05 March 2010 00:00
The lands, waters, and wildlife of New York are vital to our state’s identity and strength. If enacted, Governor Paterson’s FY2010/11 Executive Budget proposal would strike a harsh blow to the state’s ability to address critical environmental issues now and for years to come. Our rich natural resources protect our drinking water, contribute billions of dollars a year in revenue through tourism and other industries, provide green spaces for millions of city residents, and support a breathtaking variety of wildlife. From the Adirondacks to the shores of the Hudson to the bays and beaches of Long Island, our precious lands and waters must be protected—for our health, for our prosperity and for our children’s future.
The proposed cuts to the EPF will be acutely felt here on Long Island as important lands such as the Pine Barrens go unprotected and parks are closed. As we work to continue our economic recovery, the protection of open space will be critical. Long Island’s tourism-based economy thrives because of our protected beaches, bays, grasslands, forests, and farmlands. People want to live, work and play on Long Island because they can swim at the beach, hike and bike our trails, view wildlife, and enjoy our neighborhood parks. These budget cuts would not only put our community’s lands, waters, and wildlife in danger, but all of our livelihoods as well.
Protecting natural resources, especially those essential to public health and the region’s economy, is not a luxury. The EPF was created to be a permanent, dedicated fund. To date, however, nearly 25 percent of the total $2 billion set aside for the EPF has been used for other purposes. There is no denying that difficult decisions will have to be made in order to close the 2010/2011 budget gap, but slashing the Environmental Protection Fund appropriation by 33 percent while the state budget remains flat is irresponsible. That decrease, combined with a reduction of environmental agency budgets by as much as 34 percent from last fiscal year (at the same time agencies in other sectors will only see a one to two percent cut), will do serious harm to present and future generations and yet barely make a scratch in the state’s budget woes.
Such drastic cuts to environmental funding are not in line with public opinion. A recent national survey of registered voters that assessed attitudes toward conservation and larger investments for the protection of land, water and wildlife showed that American voters are highly committed to conservation. In fact, three out of four Americans believe that we can protect land and water and have a strong economy at the same time. The same national survey showed that 65 percent of voters support an increase in public investments in conservation at the state, local, or federal levels – and are willing to pay a small increase in taxes to support them as Long Islanders have done so often over the last 30 years. Together, this data gives ample evidence that American voters have a strong and undiminished desire to conserve the nation’s land, water, and wildlife. This is not a public that wants to see New York State cut 34 percent from its budget for environmental protection.
For all of these reasons, and because of our moral obligation to our children and all of the future inhabitants of our state, we urge the Legislature to restore the $222 million EPF appropriation and the governor to lift the ill-advised moratorium on land acquisition.