Budget cuts and staff reductions at the state Department of Environmental Conservation have slowed toxic cleanups, limited sewage treatment plant inspections and sharply curtailed environmental enforcement, speakers at a hearing in Albany said Thursday.

DEC officials, environmental advocates and labor representatives who spoke before the Assembly's environmental conservation committee painted a relatively gloomy picture of an agency in retrenchment. Most said the cuts had damaged DEC's ability to protect natural resources and public health.

"We're trying to do our best," said acting DEC commissioner Peter Iwanowicz. He said all state agencies had to work together to absorb a $9-billion budget reduction. Still, he said conditions were unlikely to improve in 2011.

DEC is to eliminate 140 jobs by 2011; that will reduce staff to about 2,995, down 800 workers in the past two years.

"You cut corners. It's inevitable," said Adrienne Esposito, of the Farmingdale advocacy group Citizens Campaign for the Environment.

Committee chair Assemb. Robert Sweeney (D-Lindenhurst) pressed officials about federal grants that had not been disbursed because DEC lacks staff to process the paperwork. Others voiced concern about plans to pull state workers off federal Superfund sites.

Former DEC commissioner Pete Grannis called the latest staff cuts a "shell game" that would do little to improve state finances. Grannis was fired last month by Gov. David A. Paterson after a DEC memo criticizing the mandated cuts was leaked to the media.

"It cannot simply continue, to reduce agency size and spending to subsidize the inability to achieve savings in other areas," Grannis said. "The result will be environmental backsliding . . . "

DEC officials said the agency was working to streamline operations to try and fulfill its mission with fewer workers.

But they cautioned that New Yorkers could not expect the same level of service and protection enjoyed in better times. Residents will see continued backlogs for environmental permit applications, they said, and fewer inspections to ensure businesses and utilities obey state pollution regulations.

"With fewer staff it's going to be hard to do things the way we've always done them," said DEC executive deputy commissioner Stuart Gruskin.

A tipster says he told the state about buried drums at Bethpage Community Park nearly a decade ago. Newsday's Ken Buffa reports. Credit: Newsday/Daddona / Pfost / Villa Loarca

Uncovering the truth about the chemical drums A tipster says he told the state about buried drums at Bethpage Community Park nearly a decade ago. Newsday's Ken Buffa reports.

A tipster says he told the state about buried drums at Bethpage Community Park nearly a decade ago. Newsday's Ken Buffa reports. Credit: Newsday/Daddona / Pfost / Villa Loarca

Uncovering the truth about the chemical drums A tipster says he told the state about buried drums at Bethpage Community Park nearly a decade ago. Newsday's Ken Buffa reports.

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