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NY DEC needs strong, creative leader -- and more money

John Rhodes, left, president of the New York

John Rhodes, left, president of the New York State Energy Research and Development Authority, stands beside a wood-pellet heating system along with Lou Okonski, center, CEO of the Evoworld heating system company, and Joe Martens, commissioner of the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation, on Tuesday, July 29, 2014 in Troy, N.Y. Credit: AP

Job opening: New commissioner for the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation.

Required skills: Ability to work miracles and deal with being micromanaged.

With the resignation of Joe Martens, Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo has an important hire to make for the top spot at the DEC. The position is especially critical for Long Island, given the role the DEC plays in so many important environmental issues -- water quality, pine beetle infestations, illegal dumping, garbage transportation, control of the rising deer population, climate change and endangered species.

Martens, a good commissioner, understood and was engaged on Long Island's issues. His former deputy, Marc Gerstman, is now the acting commissioner and also is highly regarded. But even the most qualified candidate in the world will struggle in the position if the problems that handcuffed Martens are not addressed.

The DEC is woefully underfunded and understaffed. Dollars and personnel are down about 25 percent since 2007-08. Enforcement actions and inspections have plummeted. It's been 19 years since the state passed an environmental bond act to fund infrastructure for clean water and air and to protect natural resources. And Environmental Protection Fund appropriations -- for needs like clean water protection, farmland preservation and recycling programs -- are still down more than $75 million from their 2007-08 high of $255 million.

Cuomo needs to find a strong commissioner and allow his appointment to be creative. And then Cuomo and the State Legislature must provide enough resources so the DEC can fulfill all aspects of its vital mission.