EPF – A Critical Resouce for New York State
New York State’s environmental resources are critical for the health and prosperity of its residents. Protecting our natural heritage also is essential for ensuring a sustainable future. An excellent new report released by the Environmental Advocates of New York — The Environmental Protection Fund: Preserving New York’s Natural Heritage & Quality of Life — documents 12 success stories across the state made possible by the Environmental Protection Fund.
The New York State Legislature created the Environmental Protection Fund (EPF) in 1993. Today, the Environmental Protection Fund is the most significant source of funding for environmental projects in communities across New York. The Fund supports both government agencies (e.g. Department of Environmental Conservation and Office of Parks, Recreation, and Historic Preservation) and more than 75 non-profit organizations and universities working on behalf of the environment.
The EPF’s FY 2008/2009 budget is $205 million (reduced from $255 million in February 2009 as part of the State’s Deficit Reduction Plan). The Fund invests in three broad programs: 1) Open Space; 2) Parks and Recreation; and 3) Solid Waste. The Open Space Program (63% of the budget) supports land acquisition of environmentally important areas; biodiversity stewardship and research; invasive species management and research; agricultural and farmland protection; and non-point source abatement and control. The Parks and Recreation Program (30% of the budget) supports State and local municipal parks; historic preservation; urban cultural parks; support to zoos, botanical gardens, aquariums and nature centers; waterfront revitalization; and coastal rehabilitation. The Solid Waste Program (7% of the budget) supports non-hazardous municipal landfill closure; municipal waste reduction and recycling; and developing, updating or revising local solid waste management plans; and the development of the pesticide sales and use database.
The Environmental Protection Fund is financed through a dedicated source, “Real Estate Transfer Tax (REET),” and is allocated to specific budget lines (sub-programs) by the New York State Legislature and the Governor through annual appropriations. The original idea was that because of its dedicated revenue stream, the EPF can support projects in both good and bad fiscal times. Since its inception in 1993, the EPF has gradually grown from its original appropriation of $31 million to $205 million. It is especially important to know that in 2007, the State Legislature overwhelmingly passes a law (Chapter 258 of the Laws of 2007) to provide nearly $300 million to the Fund in FY 2009/2010, and each year thereafter.
As a result of the recent economic crisis, the EPF as a whole has already been reduced by 20%, with some sub-programs facing much larger reductions or elimination. Governor Patterson has proposed in FY 2009/2010 that EPF be funded at $205 million, a 30% reduction from the promised $300 million made by the Legislature in 2007. The Governor also has proposed that the bulk of EPF funding come from revenues generated from an improved (“bigger, better”) bottle bill, rather than the REET. This alarms environmentalists, because the details of the revenue stream from the bottle bill is uncertain. Also, the Governor’s proposed FY 2009/2010 budget makes draconian cuts on many important efforts, like the Hudson River Estuary Program, invasive species control, and the support to zoos, botanical gardens, aquariums and nature centers.
In these economically difficult times – should we reduce the EPF? How much? What priority should the EPF have relative to other State programs?