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Gov. Andrew Cuomo proposes $3B environmental bond act

Gov. Andrew Cuomo delivers his State of the

Gov. Andrew Cuomo delivers his State of the State address at the Empire State Plaza Convention Center in Albany Wednesday.   Credit: Newsday/J. Conrad Williams Jr.

ALBANY — Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo, in his most sweeping environmental protection plan yet, on Wednesday proposed a statewide $3 billion bond act that would include more funding for water quality projects on Long Island and create new artificial reefs in Long Island Sound and the Atlantic Ocean.

“No policy … will be worth a damn if we don’t have a planet to live on,” Cuomo said in his 10th State of the State address.

“It is the most pressing generational change for which our children will hold us accountable. In fact, they already are,” he said. “The clock is ticking.”

Cuomo's “Restore Mother Nature" bond act would be the state’s first major borrowing for environmental projects since 1996. It would go before voters in November.

“It’s the most ever in a State of the State devoted to environmental protection,” said Peter M. Iwanowicz, executive director of Environmental Advocates of New York, a nonprofit advocacy group. 

“We are thrilled to see the $3 billion Restore Mother Nature Bond Act included,” said Riverkeeper’s legislative advocacy manager, Jeremy Cherson. “State investments protecting vulnerable animals and their habitats also help communities across the region at risk from sea-level rise and increased flooding through projects such as wetland restoration.”

The environmental borrowing act would bolster flood protection, purchase and preserve open space, create four more artificial reefs in Long Island Sound and in the Atlantic and expand renewable energy such as wind power.

Cuomo also would also create a “conservation corridors program” to restore habitats for fish and wildlife in an effort to boost sport fishing tourism and commercial fishing.

A proposed Long Island Shellfish Restoration Initiative would restock the Great South Bay with nearly 200 million shellfish. Cuomo also would expand freshwater fishing through stocking of popular sport fish and construction of more boat launches to lure tourism dollars.

Bond acts traditionally provide state government with capital for a wide variety of uses without tapping the state budget. That’s critical for Cuomo, who uses construction projects to try to stimulate economic development even as he faces a $6.1 billion deficit this year.

His budget proposal, scheduled for release this month, will detail his plans for addressing the largest deficit he’s faced since his first year in office, when the state was recovering from the recession.

The bonding would require approval by the State Legislature, which has strongly supported such borrowing for environmental and public health issues in the past.

“We must make an unprecedented and aggressive investment with the singular mission of preserving our environment,” said Senate Environmental Conservation Committee chairman Todd Kaminsky (D-Long Beach).

Others said Cuomo didn't go far enough.

"If Cuomo is at all serious about fighting climate change, he’d make an immediate commitment to stop building fossil fuel projects,” said Alex Beauchamp of Food & Water Action, a nonprofit activist group that opposes hydrofracking for natural gas. Cuomo has blocked fracking in New York.

Cuomo’s environmental plans would expand the number of charging stations — currently about 4,000 statewide — for electric-powered vehicles. At least 800 new charging stations would be installed statewide over the next five years, and all New York Thruway toll plazas would have chargers by 2024.

Cuomo also would require the state’s five largest bus lines, including Suffolk County Transit, to operate fleets in which 25 percent of buses are electric-powered by 2025.

The biggest fleets statewide could run only electric buses by 2035. The Metropolitan Transportation Authority has committed to buying only electric-powered buses after 2029 and to run a full electric fleet by 2040.

Cuomo did not mention Nassau County in his speech.

“It is our responsibility to leave our planet cleaner and greener for future generations,” said Cuomo, whose three daughters were in the audience. “We can and we will start this year.”

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