Gotham Gazette Gotham Gazette is an online publication covering New York policy and politics as well as news on public safety, transportation, education, finance and more. http://www.gothamgazette.com/component/tags/tag/water-contamination 2017-12-11T17:05:56+00:00 Webmaster webmaster@gothamgazette.com Immediate Steps We Must Take to Protect Our Drinking Water, and Ourselves 2017-01-29T05:00:00+00:00 2017-01-29T05:00:00+00:00 http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=6736:immediate-steps-we-must-take-to-protect-our-drinking-water-and-ourselves Ben Max <p><img src="http://www.gothamgazette.com/images/kaminsky.jpg" alt="kaminsky" width="600" height="400" /></p> <p>State Senator Todd Kaminsky, the author</p> <hr /> <p>New York State is facing a drinking water crisis and we cannot waste another moment in aggressively and adequately addressing it.</p> <p>Close to home for me, recent reports that the Environmental Protection Agency discovered a dangerous chemical — 1,4-Dioxane — that is more prevalent in our drinking water here on Long Island than anywhere else in our state raise serious questions about our health and safety that must be immediately addressed.</p> <p>Dioxane is a hazardous agent often used as a stabilizer for manufacturing solvents, and is present in many shampoos, lotions and detergents. Worse, it readily leaches from soil to groundwater, is resistant to biodegradation, and cannot be removed from water with conventional treatment technologies. An EPA report concluded that this toxin is “likely to be carcinogenic to humans" by all routes of exposure.</p> <p>Whether it is Dioxane, other chemicals, lead, or bad infrastructure, all over the state we have water quality problems that require our immediate attention.</p> <p>The time to act is now. All public institutions put in place to protect New Yorkers must marshal their resources to ensure we quickly learn the extent of this problem, create a plan to address it, and act swiftly to clean our drinking water however necessary, wherever necessary.</p> <p>Let’s start today. Here’s how:</p> <p>Pass legislation I put forth to direct the state’s health commissioner to immediately conduct a comprehensive health review of 1,4-Dioxane in our water and set a specific limit for this dangerous chemical. Currently, there is no specific standard for the amount of 1,4-Dioxane allowed in our water, which means it automatically defaults to a catch-all standard, which is way too high.</p> <p>Develop technology to remove 1,4-Dioxane from our water. There is a pilot program underway in Suffolk County to do just that, which must be expedited and expanded.</p> <p>Approve Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s proposal to invest $2 billion in critical clean water infrastructure across New York. Water treatment can cost nearly $1 million to rid each contaminated site of 1,4-Dioxane -- a bill local municipalities simply cannot afford to foot. The new funding stream would go a long way toward supporting the chemical-removing technology that we need.</p> <p>Water is our most critical natural resource, and Long Island relies heavily on its aquifer system to provide a clean and plentiful supply of potable water for our consumption. When we find out that the water we take for granted every day contains chemicals that can cause cancer, we must act without hesitation.</p> <p>I will fight tirelessly and work with my colleagues from both sides of the aisle to procure the necessary funding for the surveying, planning, and technology to purge our water of harmful substances and restore it to the clean and safe state we deserve. For all of the taxes we pay, we Long Islanders deserve the most basic service a government can provide: clean and safe drinking water. It’s a necessity of daily life that all New Yorkers deserve.</p> <p>***<br />Todd Kaminsky is the state Senator for New York’s 9th Senatorial District and was recently appointed to serve as the Ranking Member of the Senate Environmental Conservation Committee. On Twitter <a href="https://twitter.com/toddkaminsky" target="_blank">@ToddKaminsky</a>.</p> <p>

***
Have an op-ed idea or submission for Gotham Gazette? Email opinion@gothamgazette.com

</p>
<p><img src="http://www.gothamgazette.com/images/kaminsky.jpg" alt="kaminsky" width="600" height="400" /></p> <p>State Senator Todd Kaminsky, the author</p> <hr /> <p>New York State is facing a drinking water crisis and we cannot waste another moment in aggressively and adequately addressing it.</p> <p>Close to home for me, recent reports that the Environmental Protection Agency discovered a dangerous chemical — 1,4-Dioxane — that is more prevalent in our drinking water here on Long Island than anywhere else in our state raise serious questions about our health and safety that must be immediately addressed.</p> <p>Dioxane is a hazardous agent often used as a stabilizer for manufacturing solvents, and is present in many shampoos, lotions and detergents. Worse, it readily leaches from soil to groundwater, is resistant to biodegradation, and cannot be removed from water with conventional treatment technologies. An EPA report concluded that this toxin is “likely to be carcinogenic to humans" by all routes of exposure.</p> <p>Whether it is Dioxane, other chemicals, lead, or bad infrastructure, all over the state we have water quality problems that require our immediate attention.</p> <p>The time to act is now. All public institutions put in place to protect New Yorkers must marshal their resources to ensure we quickly learn the extent of this problem, create a plan to address it, and act swiftly to clean our drinking water however necessary, wherever necessary.</p> <p>Let’s start today. Here’s how:</p> <p>Pass legislation I put forth to direct the state’s health commissioner to immediately conduct a comprehensive health review of 1,4-Dioxane in our water and set a specific limit for this dangerous chemical. Currently, there is no specific standard for the amount of 1,4-Dioxane allowed in our water, which means it automatically defaults to a catch-all standard, which is way too high.</p> <p>Develop technology to remove 1,4-Dioxane from our water. There is a pilot program underway in Suffolk County to do just that, which must be expedited and expanded.</p> <p>Approve Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s proposal to invest $2 billion in critical clean water infrastructure across New York. Water treatment can cost nearly $1 million to rid each contaminated site of 1,4-Dioxane -- a bill local municipalities simply cannot afford to foot. The new funding stream would go a long way toward supporting the chemical-removing technology that we need.</p> <p>Water is our most critical natural resource, and Long Island relies heavily on its aquifer system to provide a clean and plentiful supply of potable water for our consumption. When we find out that the water we take for granted every day contains chemicals that can cause cancer, we must act without hesitation.</p> <p>I will fight tirelessly and work with my colleagues from both sides of the aisle to procure the necessary funding for the surveying, planning, and technology to purge our water of harmful substances and restore it to the clean and safe state we deserve. For all of the taxes we pay, we Long Islanders deserve the most basic service a government can provide: clean and safe drinking water. It’s a necessity of daily life that all New Yorkers deserve.</p> <p>***<br />Todd Kaminsky is the state Senator for New York’s 9th Senatorial District and was recently appointed to serve as the Ranking Member of the Senate Environmental Conservation Committee. On Twitter <a href="https://twitter.com/toddkaminsky" target="_blank">@ToddKaminsky</a>.</p> <p>

***
Have an op-ed idea or submission for Gotham Gazette? Email opinion@gothamgazette.com

</p>
New York’s Other Water Crisis 2016-09-13T04:00:00+00:00 2016-09-13T04:00:00+00:00 http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=6525:new-york-s-other-water-crisis Ben Max <p><img src="http://www.gothamgazette.com/images/graphics/2014/03/Cuomo_bridge_water.jpg" alt="Cuomo bridge water" width="600" height="400" /></p> <p>Gov. Cuomo (photo: Governor's Office on Flickr)</p> <hr /> <p>In 2014, Gov. Andrew Cuomo was looking at how to fund the construction of a new Tappan Zee Bridge and in such a way that he could promise minimal toll hikes. Construction had actually already begun on the $4 billion project despite no clear funding plan in place and pressure to detail the spending was mounting.</p> <p>On June 13, 2014 Cuomo announced that the state Environmental Facilities Corp. would loan the state up to $511 million for the multi-billion dollar project from the Clean Water State Revolving Fund. <a href="http://www.efc.ny.gov/Default.aspx?tabid=82" target="_blank">The fund</a>, which is actually backed by federal dollars, exists to dole out low-interest loans for projects like local sewer repairs and wastewater treatment plant upgrades. The state also has a similar Drinking Water Revolving Fund that gives out loans for water main repairs and upgrades.</p> <p>The move was met with immediate backlash from environmental groups that insisted the funds were simply not meant for a transportation project and that the move could set a bad precedent - perhaps undermining the very purpose for the federal funding and killing funding for clean-water infrastructure in New York and elsewhere. Budget watchdogs also attacked the plan as a &ldquo;gimmick&rdquo; and &ldquo;irresponsible.&rdquo; After much hand-wringing, it did not go forward as the Cuomo administration had sought.</p> <p>As the Cuomo administration struggles to divert blame for the debacle in Hoosick Falls, where the state resisted calls to notify residents of contaminated drinking water, environmentalists and others point to the Tappan Zee loan episode as evidence that the administration has repeatedly not fully recognized major clean water and water infrastructure issues facing the state, instead concentrating on costly transportation economic development projects that benefit developers while localities grapple with the costs and consequences of decaying water infrastructure. On the other hand, for some legislators and advocates say it represents the administration&rsquo;s ability to recognize a problem and tackle it head on with an efficient solution.</p> <p>Asked if the administration could do more to help localities struggling to pay for water-related infrastructure repairs, Cuomo told Gotham Gazette: &ldquo;I think this is a national crisis when it comes to water quality. I think we are just starting to learn about chemicals in the water and just how dangerous they can be. I think as time goes on you are going to see more and more dangerous chemicals being disclosed in the water we&rsquo;re drinking.&rdquo;</p> <p>Cuomo added that he was advocating for the EPA to update its regulations to force all municipalities to conduct water safety testing (there is currently a 10,000 person population threshold). If the federal government fails to act, Cuomo said he would introduced legislation to force localities of any size to do water quality testing and that the administration would pay for the testing of localities that are strapped for cash.</p> <p>Environmental groups estimated at the time of the Tappan Zee loan controversy that localities across the state were contending with $36 billion in costs related to clean water infrastructure demands over the next 20 years.</p> <p>&ldquo;Clean-water funds have never been used for a transportation project before &ndash; and we shouldn&rsquo;t start now,&rdquo; said Marcia Bystryn, president of The New York League of Conservation voter, in a 2014 statement. &ldquo;If approved, this would set a very bad precedent, especially considering the huge backlog of wastewater projects across the state. We urge the Environmental Facilities Corporation Board to reject this proposal.&rdquo;</p> <p>The federal Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), which provided the state with the billions of dollars for the fund over the last two decades, eventually rejected the proposal. But the state didn&rsquo;t back down and appealed the decision. In the end a compromise allowed the state to use $1.3 million for oyster bed restoration and the replacement of a falcon box, with none of the money going toward the &ldquo;New New York Bridge,&rdquo; the funding of which is still not completely clear.</p> <p>The ordeal leant new focus to clean water infrastructure demands faced by localities across the state. (As has the recent crisis in Hoosick Falls and questions about water contamination elsewhere in the state.) While Cuomo administration officials noted that millions of dollars were sitting in the revolving fund untouched as proof that they were unneeded, local leaders countered that they simply couldn&rsquo;t afford to take on anymore debt, regardless of the interest rate, because they would never be able to repay it. Meanwhile, municipalities have grappled with decaying and dilapidated water infrastructure and seen overflowing sewer lines, exploding water mains, and sinkholes.</p> <p>In 2015 the state Legislature pressed for a new program to help fund water infrastructure projects across the state. Cuomo signed the New York State Water Infrastructure Act to disperse $200 million in grants to localities for water infrastructure repairs and improvements. By December 2015, $75 million in grants had been awarded. This year the state Assembly successfully fought for a $200 million increase to the program.</p> <p>James Tierney, deputy commissioner for water at the state Department of Environmental Conservation, told Gotham Gazette that the grant program mixes and matches loans from the revolving fund and grants to kickstart projects proposed by municipalities. Tierney said his focus has been on helping &ldquo;hardship&rdquo; municipalities in both rural and urban areas. He noted that a lot of communities weren&rsquo;t in a position to utilize the revolving loan funds. &ldquo;A lot of communities were making the case after the Great Recession, saying &lsquo;Hey we&rsquo;ve got nothing here. We can&rsquo;t afford these loans.&rsquo;&rdquo;</p> <p>Tierney said that the pressure on municipalities and the state to fund water projects has increased as the federal government has altered the strategy behind the Clean Water Act. Early in the 1970s when the program was starting some water infrastructure projects would receive up to 75 percent funding with municipalities covering only 12 percent. &ldquo;In the olden days it was much more about funding infrastructure and regulations. Then it turned into grants and then loans and then the pot for loans began to sink.&rdquo; said Tierney.</p> <p>He noted that the Congressional Budget Office reports that only 4 percent of water infrastructure projects are funded by the federal government.</p> <p>A number localities, including Syracuse, are focused on advocating for more federal funds. But in the meantime many local officials and state legislators are pleased with the administration&rsquo;s efforts with the grant program. Advocates have noted a positive trend.</p> <p>&ldquo;We have seen a total &ldquo;180&rdquo; on water infrastructure funding,&rdquo; said Liz Moran of Environmental Advocates of New York. Moran said the Tappan Zee raid and the backlash that followed &ldquo;was a wake up call&rdquo; for the Cuomo administration about just how necessary water infrastructure funding is.</p> <p>&ldquo;After the raid ceased it became clear that the money was needed to go to these problems,&rdquo; said Moran. &ldquo;Maybe the governor didn&rsquo;t know about the need in the first place, but we are very happy he's embraced the programs now.&rdquo;</p> <p>The notion that taking on loans from the revolving fund wasn&rsquo;t the ideal solution to dire infrastructure needs faced by cash-strapped localities across the state wasn&rsquo;t new in 2014 or 2015.</p> <p>Syracuse Mayor Stephanie Miner, a Democrat like Cuomo who has clashed with the governor, has been calling for state and federal assistance in dealing with her city&rsquo;s water infrastructure needs for years. In 2014 Miner called for the state to create &ldquo;The Syracuse Billion,&rdquo; a take off of Cuomo&rsquo;s Buffalo Billion program that invested in major economic development projects. But Miner wasn&rsquo;t looking for deals to draw high-tech firms to the area. Instead she proposed using $750 million of the cash to replace and repair a 550-mile, 100-year-old water pipeline that is in constant disrepair.</p> <p>Cuomo responded that Syracuse was going &ldquo;bankrupt,&rdquo; adding, "You are unsustainable. You need jobs, an economy, business. Show us how you become economically stronger and create jobs. Then you fix your own pipes." He later added he was saying the city was &ldquo;metaphorically&rdquo; bankrupt, <a href="http://www.syracuse.com/politics/index.ssf/2015/02/cuomo_to_syracuse_bring_a_job_to_attract_jobs_then_fix_your_own_pipes.html" target="_blank">according to</a> The Post-Standard.</p> <p>Miner told Gotham Gazette that she thinks the Tappan Zee Bridge funding battle &ldquo;brought attention to the fund and the overwhelming need for water infrastructure funding throughout the state. Every municipality has water problems,&rdquo; Miner said, &ldquo;from Hoosick Falls to Long Island, Kingston and Buffalo.&rdquo;</p> <p>During a 2015 budget hearing Miner pressed the State to use bank settlement funds to help struggling localities across the state. She said municipalities are handicapped by the state&rsquo;s property tax cap and increasing state mandates, and can&rsquo;t afford to make major infrastructure repairs without drastic intervention.</p> <p>Cuomo did not grant Miner&rsquo;s wish, but the Assembly used discretionary funds to allocate $10 million to repair Syracuse&rsquo;s water infrastructure through the 2015 budget. Cuomo used settlement funds for transportation projects like the Tappan Zee replacement and for economic development grants.</p> <p>Assemblymember Steve Otis, a Democrat representing Rye who championed the state&rsquo;s grant program, is intimately familiar with infrastructure funding challenges faced by localities around the state. Otis served as mayor of Rye for 12 years. &ldquo;We knew there was a great need. But the loan fund does not receive applications for all the money that is available,&rdquo; Otis said in an interview. &ldquo;Why? Because these localities couldn't afford to incur 100 percent debt.&rdquo;</p> <p>Otis said the program was so successful and the need so great that the Legislature doubled funding for it in 2016. The first round of the program doled out $75 million in grants; the second $175 million; and the third round will come next year with the distribution of another $175 million.</p> <p>Otis praised the Cuomo administration for expediting the grants. &ldquo;These are simple projects that are helping communities maintain water quality and the Cuomo administration has done a fantastic job getting the grants out the door and recognizing the need.&rdquo;</p> <p>But Otis, as well as advocates and other government officials and workers charged with dealing with water infrastructure across the state, acknowledge the program can&rsquo;t help everyone. &ldquo;One or two municipalities could eat up all the funding in one shot,&rdquo; Otis said, indicating the scale of the need around the state.</p> <p>Miner said that in her experience the Environmental Facilities Corporation (EFC) grant programs have been targeted toward smaller communities and that some of them require extensive pre-design work even to apply. Syracuse was, however, <a href="https://www.governor.ny.gov/news/governor-cuomo-announces-146-million-grants-central-new-york-water-infrastructure-improvements" target="_blank">awarded</a> $679,444 for a water infrastructure project in August through the New York State Water Infrastructure Improvement Act of 2015.</p> <p>Asked about the program, Miner initially responded that Syracuse was ineligible because of its large population, though the program does not have a population restriction. Miner later clarified through a spokesperson that she was talking about other grant programs offered by the EFC and that she believes the EFC needs to offer a wide array of water infrastructure grant programs for communities of all sizes.</p> <p>Officials from the EFC, the agency tasked with overseeing both the revolving loan programs and the water grant initiative, confirmed that there are no population restraints on the grant program.</p> <p>Joe Coffey, the water commissioner for the city of Albany, is all too familiar with just how costly it is to maintain an aging water system. Albany&rsquo;s dates to the 19th century. The city&rsquo;s water treatment plant was built in the 1930s, as was the transfer line. And as Coffey points out, age is the greatest indicator of the possibility of infrastructure failure.</p> <p>This summer residents have had to contend with a number of water main breaks and sinkholes that have gnarled traffic on busy roads not far from the Capitol building while the city continues to remedy sewer system overflows into the Hudson River, which functions not only as a source of recreation and food for some locals but as a water source for those down river.</p> <p>&rdquo;You can't print enough money to replace our water and sewer system,&rdquo; said Coffey. &ldquo;You are looking at asset management and the probability of failure--if it fails what's the consequence of failure?&rdquo;</p> <p>Albany recently won an $837,500 grant from the State. Coffey said the cash will allow Albany&rsquo;s water department to leverage other funds for more projects and to expedite urgent repairs.</p> <p>&ldquo;It&rsquo;s a tough call on how to balance investment in aide for water infrastructure,&rdquo; said Coffey. &ldquo;But without water you have nothing. In this state we are were blessed with an abundant supply of safe, reliable drinking water and from that we can leverage economic development and all the things that come after that. If you don&rsquo;t make repairs you don&rsquo;t have that base and these issues become real quality-of-life problems.&rdquo;</p> <p>Miner, the Syracuse mayor, echoes Coffey&rsquo;s concerns about infrastructure. &ldquo;I don&rsquo;t want to undercut the [grant] program, but nobody wants to cut a ribbon underground--but at least people are talking about it now,&rdquo; said Miner, hitting on one of the key reasons for a lack of focus on essential, basic infrastructure repairs.</p> <p>Miner estimates the total cost of replacing the city&rsquo;s most troublesome water lines would be around $730 million. <a href="http://www.syracuse.com/news/index.ssf/2016/05/its_official_syracuse_has_suffered_more_than_100_water_main_breaks_this_year.html" target="_blank">According to</a> the Syracuse Post-Standard the city hit its 102nd water main break of this year in May--a lower total than the 171 water main breaks it had suffered by the same time last year.</p> <p>Tierney, of the DEC, acknowledged that a number of cities across the state are facing problems so large that they can&rsquo;t be addressed as a whole. &ldquo;The first step is recognizing the problem. Some of this infrastructure is very old and they are dealing with combined problems and it is a lot. Our approach has been to phase things in in a reasonable way, to use grant programs and EFC loans and coach communities how to apply for funds.&rdquo;</p> <p>Miner said Syracuse is now focusing on utilizing data analysis to predict and pinpoint where fixes should be made to preempt major problems, rather than pushing for a comprehensive replacement project.</p> <p>She remains concerned that the state&rsquo;s economic development spending may be undermined if it does not provide more assistance to localities facing dire infrastructure needs. &ldquo;You can&rsquo;t build a high-tech center if people can&rsquo;t make coffee or flush their toilets,&rdquo; said Miner.</p> <p>

***
by David King, Albany editor, Gotham Gazette
     

Read more by this writer.

</p>
<p><img src="http://www.gothamgazette.com/images/graphics/2014/03/Cuomo_bridge_water.jpg" alt="Cuomo bridge water" width="600" height="400" /></p> <p>Gov. Cuomo (photo: Governor's Office on Flickr)</p> <hr /> <p>In 2014, Gov. Andrew Cuomo was looking at how to fund the construction of a new Tappan Zee Bridge and in such a way that he could promise minimal toll hikes. Construction had actually already begun on the $4 billion project despite no clear funding plan in place and pressure to detail the spending was mounting.</p> <p>On June 13, 2014 Cuomo announced that the state Environmental Facilities Corp. would loan the state up to $511 million for the multi-billion dollar project from the Clean Water State Revolving Fund. <a href="http://www.efc.ny.gov/Default.aspx?tabid=82" target="_blank">The fund</a>, which is actually backed by federal dollars, exists to dole out low-interest loans for projects like local sewer repairs and wastewater treatment plant upgrades. The state also has a similar Drinking Water Revolving Fund that gives out loans for water main repairs and upgrades.</p> <p>The move was met with immediate backlash from environmental groups that insisted the funds were simply not meant for a transportation project and that the move could set a bad precedent - perhaps undermining the very purpose for the federal funding and killing funding for clean-water infrastructure in New York and elsewhere. Budget watchdogs also attacked the plan as a &ldquo;gimmick&rdquo; and &ldquo;irresponsible.&rdquo; After much hand-wringing, it did not go forward as the Cuomo administration had sought.</p> <p>As the Cuomo administration struggles to divert blame for the debacle in Hoosick Falls, where the state resisted calls to notify residents of contaminated drinking water, environmentalists and others point to the Tappan Zee loan episode as evidence that the administration has repeatedly not fully recognized major clean water and water infrastructure issues facing the state, instead concentrating on costly transportation economic development projects that benefit developers while localities grapple with the costs and consequences of decaying water infrastructure. On the other hand, for some legislators and advocates say it represents the administration&rsquo;s ability to recognize a problem and tackle it head on with an efficient solution.</p> <p>Asked if the administration could do more to help localities struggling to pay for water-related infrastructure repairs, Cuomo told Gotham Gazette: &ldquo;I think this is a national crisis when it comes to water quality. I think we are just starting to learn about chemicals in the water and just how dangerous they can be. I think as time goes on you are going to see more and more dangerous chemicals being disclosed in the water we&rsquo;re drinking.&rdquo;</p> <p>Cuomo added that he was advocating for the EPA to update its regulations to force all municipalities to conduct water safety testing (there is currently a 10,000 person population threshold). If the federal government fails to act, Cuomo said he would introduced legislation to force localities of any size to do water quality testing and that the administration would pay for the testing of localities that are strapped for cash.</p> <p>Environmental groups estimated at the time of the Tappan Zee loan controversy that localities across the state were contending with $36 billion in costs related to clean water infrastructure demands over the next 20 years.</p> <p>&ldquo;Clean-water funds have never been used for a transportation project before &ndash; and we shouldn&rsquo;t start now,&rdquo; said Marcia Bystryn, president of The New York League of Conservation voter, in a 2014 statement. &ldquo;If approved, this would set a very bad precedent, especially considering the huge backlog of wastewater projects across the state. We urge the Environmental Facilities Corporation Board to reject this proposal.&rdquo;</p> <p>The federal Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), which provided the state with the billions of dollars for the fund over the last two decades, eventually rejected the proposal. But the state didn&rsquo;t back down and appealed the decision. In the end a compromise allowed the state to use $1.3 million for oyster bed restoration and the replacement of a falcon box, with none of the money going toward the &ldquo;New New York Bridge,&rdquo; the funding of which is still not completely clear.</p> <p>The ordeal leant new focus to clean water infrastructure demands faced by localities across the state. (As has the recent crisis in Hoosick Falls and questions about water contamination elsewhere in the state.) While Cuomo administration officials noted that millions of dollars were sitting in the revolving fund untouched as proof that they were unneeded, local leaders countered that they simply couldn&rsquo;t afford to take on anymore debt, regardless of the interest rate, because they would never be able to repay it. Meanwhile, municipalities have grappled with decaying and dilapidated water infrastructure and seen overflowing sewer lines, exploding water mains, and sinkholes.</p> <p>In 2015 the state Legislature pressed for a new program to help fund water infrastructure projects across the state. Cuomo signed the New York State Water Infrastructure Act to disperse $200 million in grants to localities for water infrastructure repairs and improvements. By December 2015, $75 million in grants had been awarded. This year the state Assembly successfully fought for a $200 million increase to the program.</p> <p>James Tierney, deputy commissioner for water at the state Department of Environmental Conservation, told Gotham Gazette that the grant program mixes and matches loans from the revolving fund and grants to kickstart projects proposed by municipalities. Tierney said his focus has been on helping &ldquo;hardship&rdquo; municipalities in both rural and urban areas. He noted that a lot of communities weren&rsquo;t in a position to utilize the revolving loan funds. &ldquo;A lot of communities were making the case after the Great Recession, saying &lsquo;Hey we&rsquo;ve got nothing here. We can&rsquo;t afford these loans.&rsquo;&rdquo;</p> <p>Tierney said that the pressure on municipalities and the state to fund water projects has increased as the federal government has altered the strategy behind the Clean Water Act. Early in the 1970s when the program was starting some water infrastructure projects would receive up to 75 percent funding with municipalities covering only 12 percent. &ldquo;In the olden days it was much more about funding infrastructure and regulations. Then it turned into grants and then loans and then the pot for loans began to sink.&rdquo; said Tierney.</p> <p>He noted that the Congressional Budget Office reports that only 4 percent of water infrastructure projects are funded by the federal government.</p> <p>A number localities, including Syracuse, are focused on advocating for more federal funds. But in the meantime many local officials and state legislators are pleased with the administration&rsquo;s efforts with the grant program. Advocates have noted a positive trend.</p> <p>&ldquo;We have seen a total &ldquo;180&rdquo; on water infrastructure funding,&rdquo; said Liz Moran of Environmental Advocates of New York. Moran said the Tappan Zee raid and the backlash that followed &ldquo;was a wake up call&rdquo; for the Cuomo administration about just how necessary water infrastructure funding is.</p> <p>&ldquo;After the raid ceased it became clear that the money was needed to go to these problems,&rdquo; said Moran. &ldquo;Maybe the governor didn&rsquo;t know about the need in the first place, but we are very happy he's embraced the programs now.&rdquo;</p> <p>The notion that taking on loans from the revolving fund wasn&rsquo;t the ideal solution to dire infrastructure needs faced by cash-strapped localities across the state wasn&rsquo;t new in 2014 or 2015.</p> <p>Syracuse Mayor Stephanie Miner, a Democrat like Cuomo who has clashed with the governor, has been calling for state and federal assistance in dealing with her city&rsquo;s water infrastructure needs for years. In 2014 Miner called for the state to create &ldquo;The Syracuse Billion,&rdquo; a take off of Cuomo&rsquo;s Buffalo Billion program that invested in major economic development projects. But Miner wasn&rsquo;t looking for deals to draw high-tech firms to the area. Instead she proposed using $750 million of the cash to replace and repair a 550-mile, 100-year-old water pipeline that is in constant disrepair.</p> <p>Cuomo responded that Syracuse was going &ldquo;bankrupt,&rdquo; adding, "You are unsustainable. You need jobs, an economy, business. Show us how you become economically stronger and create jobs. Then you fix your own pipes." He later added he was saying the city was &ldquo;metaphorically&rdquo; bankrupt, <a href="http://www.syracuse.com/politics/index.ssf/2015/02/cuomo_to_syracuse_bring_a_job_to_attract_jobs_then_fix_your_own_pipes.html" target="_blank">according to</a> The Post-Standard.</p> <p>Miner told Gotham Gazette that she thinks the Tappan Zee Bridge funding battle &ldquo;brought attention to the fund and the overwhelming need for water infrastructure funding throughout the state. Every municipality has water problems,&rdquo; Miner said, &ldquo;from Hoosick Falls to Long Island, Kingston and Buffalo.&rdquo;</p> <p>During a 2015 budget hearing Miner pressed the State to use bank settlement funds to help struggling localities across the state. She said municipalities are handicapped by the state&rsquo;s property tax cap and increasing state mandates, and can&rsquo;t afford to make major infrastructure repairs without drastic intervention.</p> <p>Cuomo did not grant Miner&rsquo;s wish, but the Assembly used discretionary funds to allocate $10 million to repair Syracuse&rsquo;s water infrastructure through the 2015 budget. Cuomo used settlement funds for transportation projects like the Tappan Zee replacement and for economic development grants.</p> <p>Assemblymember Steve Otis, a Democrat representing Rye who championed the state&rsquo;s grant program, is intimately familiar with infrastructure funding challenges faced by localities around the state. Otis served as mayor of Rye for 12 years. &ldquo;We knew there was a great need. But the loan fund does not receive applications for all the money that is available,&rdquo; Otis said in an interview. &ldquo;Why? Because these localities couldn't afford to incur 100 percent debt.&rdquo;</p> <p>Otis said the program was so successful and the need so great that the Legislature doubled funding for it in 2016. The first round of the program doled out $75 million in grants; the second $175 million; and the third round will come next year with the distribution of another $175 million.</p> <p>Otis praised the Cuomo administration for expediting the grants. &ldquo;These are simple projects that are helping communities maintain water quality and the Cuomo administration has done a fantastic job getting the grants out the door and recognizing the need.&rdquo;</p> <p>But Otis, as well as advocates and other government officials and workers charged with dealing with water infrastructure across the state, acknowledge the program can&rsquo;t help everyone. &ldquo;One or two municipalities could eat up all the funding in one shot,&rdquo; Otis said, indicating the scale of the need around the state.</p> <p>Miner said that in her experience the Environmental Facilities Corporation (EFC) grant programs have been targeted toward smaller communities and that some of them require extensive pre-design work even to apply. Syracuse was, however, <a href="https://www.governor.ny.gov/news/governor-cuomo-announces-146-million-grants-central-new-york-water-infrastructure-improvements" target="_blank">awarded</a> $679,444 for a water infrastructure project in August through the New York State Water Infrastructure Improvement Act of 2015.</p> <p>Asked about the program, Miner initially responded that Syracuse was ineligible because of its large population, though the program does not have a population restriction. Miner later clarified through a spokesperson that she was talking about other grant programs offered by the EFC and that she believes the EFC needs to offer a wide array of water infrastructure grant programs for communities of all sizes.</p> <p>Officials from the EFC, the agency tasked with overseeing both the revolving loan programs and the water grant initiative, confirmed that there are no population restraints on the grant program.</p> <p>Joe Coffey, the water commissioner for the city of Albany, is all too familiar with just how costly it is to maintain an aging water system. Albany&rsquo;s dates to the 19th century. The city&rsquo;s water treatment plant was built in the 1930s, as was the transfer line. And as Coffey points out, age is the greatest indicator of the possibility of infrastructure failure.</p> <p>This summer residents have had to contend with a number of water main breaks and sinkholes that have gnarled traffic on busy roads not far from the Capitol building while the city continues to remedy sewer system overflows into the Hudson River, which functions not only as a source of recreation and food for some locals but as a water source for those down river.</p> <p>&rdquo;You can't print enough money to replace our water and sewer system,&rdquo; said Coffey. &ldquo;You are looking at asset management and the probability of failure--if it fails what's the consequence of failure?&rdquo;</p> <p>Albany recently won an $837,500 grant from the State. Coffey said the cash will allow Albany&rsquo;s water department to leverage other funds for more projects and to expedite urgent repairs.</p> <p>&ldquo;It&rsquo;s a tough call on how to balance investment in aide for water infrastructure,&rdquo; said Coffey. &ldquo;But without water you have nothing. In this state we are were blessed with an abundant supply of safe, reliable drinking water and from that we can leverage economic development and all the things that come after that. If you don&rsquo;t make repairs you don&rsquo;t have that base and these issues become real quality-of-life problems.&rdquo;</p> <p>Miner, the Syracuse mayor, echoes Coffey&rsquo;s concerns about infrastructure. &ldquo;I don&rsquo;t want to undercut the [grant] program, but nobody wants to cut a ribbon underground--but at least people are talking about it now,&rdquo; said Miner, hitting on one of the key reasons for a lack of focus on essential, basic infrastructure repairs.</p> <p>Miner estimates the total cost of replacing the city&rsquo;s most troublesome water lines would be around $730 million. <a href="http://www.syracuse.com/news/index.ssf/2016/05/its_official_syracuse_has_suffered_more_than_100_water_main_breaks_this_year.html" target="_blank">According to</a> the Syracuse Post-Standard the city hit its 102nd water main break of this year in May--a lower total than the 171 water main breaks it had suffered by the same time last year.</p> <p>Tierney, of the DEC, acknowledged that a number of cities across the state are facing problems so large that they can&rsquo;t be addressed as a whole. &ldquo;The first step is recognizing the problem. Some of this infrastructure is very old and they are dealing with combined problems and it is a lot. Our approach has been to phase things in in a reasonable way, to use grant programs and EFC loans and coach communities how to apply for funds.&rdquo;</p> <p>Miner said Syracuse is now focusing on utilizing data analysis to predict and pinpoint where fixes should be made to preempt major problems, rather than pushing for a comprehensive replacement project.</p> <p>She remains concerned that the state&rsquo;s economic development spending may be undermined if it does not provide more assistance to localities facing dire infrastructure needs. &ldquo;You can&rsquo;t build a high-tech center if people can&rsquo;t make coffee or flush their toilets,&rdquo; said Miner.</p> <p>

***
by David King, Albany editor, Gotham Gazette
     

Read more by this writer.

</p>
5 Things to Watch For at State ‘Water Contamination’ Hearings 2016-08-28T04:00:00+00:00 2016-08-28T04:00:00+00:00 http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=6503:5-things-to-watch-for-at-state-water-contamination-hearings Ben Max <p><img src="http://www.gothamgazette.com/images/graphics/2014/03/25730694296_c20ebccbc8_z_1.jpg" alt="Cuomo DOH Hoosick Falls" width="600" height="400" /></p> <p>photos via The Governor's Office on Flickr</p> <hr /> <p>After months of refusal and delay, the state Legislature is set to begin a series of hearings on drinking water contamination in New York. It became clear many months ago that the water in Hoosick Fall had been contaminated by a chemical known as PFOA and the first of three scheduled hearings will take place Tuesday in the village.</p> <p>Tuesday&rsquo;s hearing is a joint one by two state Senate committees, health and environmental conservation. The other two hearings are set to be joint Senate and Assembly hearings; they are scheduled for September 7 in Albany and September 12 on Long Island.</p> <p>The hearings, especially the first one, are expected to deal with how the administration of Gov. Andrew Cuomo responded to reports that the water in Hoosick Falls was contaminated and why it took so long to notify residents of the threat; as well as examining how to prevent and respond to future contamination.</p> <p>On the legislative hearings <a href="http://assembly.state.ny.us/leg/?sh=he" target="_blank">website</a>, Tuesday's Senate hearing in Hoosick Falls is titled "Drinking Water Contramination," while the Sept. 7 and 12 joint hearings are titled "Water Quality and Contamination."</p> <p>Assembly Democrats, who hold that chamber&rsquo;s majority, announced in February that they would hold such hearings in April but <a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/index.php/state/6299-will-for-water-contamination-hearings-nearly-vanishes-after-budget-deal" target="_blank">they never materialized</a>. The Assembly announced in early July that it would hold hearings in early September.</p> <p>Republicans in the Senate majority stood steadfast against hearings when they were first proposed last December. Public pressure mounted all legislative session and in July <a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/index.php/state/6430-public-outcry-leads-to-action-on-hoosick-falls-water-contamination" target="_blank">the Senate announced it would hold hearings</a>, six months after the plight of the residents of the small town came into public focus.</p> <p>Senate Majority Leader John Flanagan announced his conference would hold hearings &ldquo;in an effort to explore the sources of water contamination, examine state and federal oversight issues, and determine how we can prevent this from happening in the future.&rdquo;</p> <p>In his statement on the hearings, Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie said, "Recent reports of water contamination in municipalities across the state have highlighted the need for a thorough review of measures to ensure clean and healthy water in our communities. Ensuring a safe water supply for our children and families is a top priority for us."</p> <p>After announcing intentions to hold hearings, the two houses subsequently said they would hold the two joint hearings.</p> <p>After months of advocacy, pressure, outrage, and denial, it is unclear what exactly the hearings will look like and what would make them successful.</p> <p><em><strong>Here are five important things to watch:</strong></em></p> <p><strong>1. Are all the stakeholders present?</strong></p> <p>Advocates warn that there won&rsquo;t be a full accounting of how the pollution in Hoosick Falls went unidentified and then was left unacted on for months without the presence of all stakeholders.</p> <p>&ldquo;They all have to be there from the polluters to the regulators; Honeywell, the EPA and DEC; we need them all there to figure out who knew what happened when and what went wrong,&rdquo; said Liz Moran of Environmental Advocates of New York, referring to the company believed to be responsible for poisoning the Hoosick Falls water and the federal and state environmental agencies.</p> <p>The Cuomo administration has put significant blame on the federal Environmental Protection Agency for not having adopted uniform standards for the impact of PFOA and pushed back heavily on assertions that it was slow to respond to the problem. How much the Cuomo administration will participate in the hearings and how open it will be remain to be seen.</p> <p>Tuesday&rsquo;s Hoosick Falls hearing begins at 10:30 a.m. and is expected to go all day and into the evening, with members of the public testifying both by appointment and on a walk-in basis later in the day.</p> <p>According to the August 12 Senate majority press advisory about the hearing, Senate Health Committee Chair Kemp Hannon and Senate Environmental Conservation Committee Chair Tom O&rsquo;Mara will lead the hearing; they&rsquo;ll be joined by Senator Kathy Marchione, who represents the Hoosick Falls area, and other senators. &ldquo;The purpose will be to explore the sources of water contamination, examine local, state, and federal oversight issues, and hear from experts, local residents, and others on what can be done to assist affected communities and mitigate future incidents.&rdquo;</p> <p><strong>2. Will hearings lead to a plan?</strong></p> <p>During this year&rsquo;s legislative session, while fallout from Hoosick Falls was fresh and media was focused heavily on the issue, the Legislature passed one bill that had anything to do with the contamination, and passing that bill was no simple task. The legislation extended the time victims of environmental contamination have to sue polluters.</p> <p><img src="http://www.gothamgazette.com/images/graphics/2014/03/25459519510_7a1a6bd8c2_z.jpg" alt="marchione hoosick falls" width="300" height="200" style="margin: 5px; float: left;" />The bill appeared set to pass until late in session when Marchione (pictured), a Republican who represents Hoosick Falls, introduced a pro-business amendment that would have ensured that the bill did not become law. After outcry from her constituents she reversed herself and the bill passed both houses of the Legislature.</p> <p>In May the EPA released new standards for safe PFOA levels in drinking water that are significantly lower than its 2009 standards. Wells in Suffolk County have been shown to be over the EPA&rsquo;s recommended limits at the impacted communities have taken action. Meanwhile, more communities are grappling with lead found in their drinking water supply and it is clear that the state needs a plan of action.</p> <p>Environmental groups say the Legislature will need to move to actually prevent these kinds of incidents and prepare the state to respond quickly before the public is impacted. &ldquo;We need a plan for the rest of the state,&rdquo; said Moran. &ldquo;Anything less than that would count as failure.&rdquo;</p> <p><strong>3. Is there enough political will?</strong></p> <p>A number of legislators and many Hoosick Falls residents believe that the Legislature stalled on holding hearings knowing that they would anger the Cuomo administration. The Assembly scheduled hearings for April, right around the time the budget was due, and they never came to fruition.</p> <p>At the time Republican Assemblymember Steve McLaughlin, who represents Hoosick Falls, <a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/index.php/state/6299-will-for-water-contamination-hearings-nearly-vanishes-after-budget-deal" target="_blank">told Gotham Gazette</a> he was concerned the hearings were being used as a bargaining chip in budget negotiations. &ldquo;I told them in February: &lsquo;Don&rsquo;t use my constituents as leverage,&rsquo; and it looks like that is exactly what happened,&rdquo; McLaughlin <a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/index.php/state/6299-will-for-water-contamination-hearings-nearly-vanishes-after-budget-deal" target="_blank">told Gotham Gazette in late April</a>&nbsp;not long after the new budget was finalized.</p> <p>It will now be up to the Legislature to probe the Cuomo administration&rsquo;s response and perhaps delve where the administration would rather they didn&rsquo;t. The administration has repeatedly stated they took proper action but, <a href="http://www.politico.com/states/new-york/albany/story/2016/06/new-documents-show-cuomo-administration-dismissal-of-epa-warnings-on-hoosick-falls-102373" target="_blank">as reported by Politico New York</a>, documents show they resisted the EPA&rsquo;s calls for action.</p> <p>In June, Cuomo defended his administration. &ldquo;I don&rsquo;t know how the state could have been more aggressive or what else we could have possibly done,&rdquo; the governor told reporters, <a href="http://www.nystateofpolitics.com/2016/06/cuomo-defends-state-response-to-hoosick-falls-contamination/" target="_blank">according to State of Politics</a>. &ldquo;We did the testing, we installed filters on every home that needed them, we added filters in buildings frankly that didn&rsquo;t need them just to make people more comfortable. I don&rsquo;t think we could have been more aggressive.&rdquo;</p> <p>Shaun Francis, a Democrat who is challenging Marchione for her seat, said he is concerned that Senate Republicans won&rsquo;t want to fully explore the response to Hoosick Falls. &ldquo;They were the last ones on board for hearings and my fear is they are going to try to paper over the failures,&rdquo; Francis told Gotham Gazette last month. &ldquo;It&rsquo;s hard to believe people sounding the alarm bells didn&rsquo;t let Marchione know.&rdquo;</p> <p><strong>4. Will the two houses be able to work together?</strong></p> <p>The Democrat-controlled Assembly and Republican-controlled Senate are diametrically opposed on a number of issues, but advocates hope the they can find a way to get on the same page as voters have become increasingly aware of potential water contamination and the state&rsquo;s inadequate response.</p> <p>Republicans have traditionally been opposed to increased regulations on businesses so the issue could become a flashpoint.</p> <p>A number of Assembly Members have voiced concerns about underfunding the Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC), and they may push for increased staffing, something that would make their union allies happy.</p> <p>Each house may also have different considerations when it comes to relationships with the Cuomo administration. Senate Republicans have been close to Cuomo since he took office, with the governor doing little to help his fellow Democrats win seats in that house. They also helped Cuomo on a number of thorny issues in recent budgets. Meanwhile, Heastie has clashed with Cuomo on the governor&rsquo;s treatment of Mayor Bill de Blasio and various New York City issues.</p> <p>Cuomo has had harsh words for the Legislature on a few occasions in recent weeks.</p> <p><strong>5. Will election-year concerns come into play?</strong></p> <p>All 213 seats of the state Legislature are on the ballot this year -- 150 Assembly and 63 Senate. Voters are evaluating the effectiveness and responsiveness of their local elected officials and the function of state government as a whole.</p> <p>Both houses of the Legislature put off hearings for months and only gave in after intense protest from Hoosick Falls residents and environmentalists, as well as calls from members of Congress like Democratic Senators Kirsten Gillibrand and Charles Schumer, as well as Republican Rep. Chris Gibson.</p> <p>Gillibrand held an emotional hearing in Hoosick Falls where she heard from residents who described learning they had been poisoned by their own drinking water.</p> <p>Now both state legislative houses will have to examine whether the laws they put into place over the years were inadequate. Senate Republicans will have to assess how to confront the issue given that Marchione faces a general election challenge from an opponent who is running principally on the notion that government failed the district.</p> <p>Many expect legislators to present the issue as one that caught everyone by surprise and must be acted on quickly now that everyone&rsquo;s eyes are open to it. Environmentalists and Hoosick Falls residents are unlikely to accept that response.</p> <p>&ldquo;Clean drinking water is now on the forefront of voters&rsquo; minds,&rdquo; said Travis Proulx of Environmental Advocates of New York. &ldquo;It is something everyone takes for granted until people get sick. People assume the government will protect them and they are finding out that wasn&rsquo;t the case. Water quality has entered the political realm in a way that we haven&rsquo;t seen in modern New York politics.&rdquo;</p> <p>Moran said she thinks that after feeling the pressure from Hoosick Falls residents at the end of legislative session, legislators got the message that not only did hearings have to happen, but they have to produce results. &ldquo;Kathy Marchione felt the voters&rsquo; wrath after she amended her bill. I hope everyone is taking this very seriously,&rdquo; Moran said. &ldquo;There are very high expectations in Hoosick Falls for what these hearings will deliver. New York voters have high expectations.&rdquo;</p> <p>

***
by David King, Albany editor, Gotham Gazette
     

Read more by this writer.

</p>
<p><img src="http://www.gothamgazette.com/images/graphics/2014/03/25730694296_c20ebccbc8_z_1.jpg" alt="Cuomo DOH Hoosick Falls" width="600" height="400" /></p> <p>photos via The Governor's Office on Flickr</p> <hr /> <p>After months of refusal and delay, the state Legislature is set to begin a series of hearings on drinking water contamination in New York. It became clear many months ago that the water in Hoosick Fall had been contaminated by a chemical known as PFOA and the first of three scheduled hearings will take place Tuesday in the village.</p> <p>Tuesday&rsquo;s hearing is a joint one by two state Senate committees, health and environmental conservation. The other two hearings are set to be joint Senate and Assembly hearings; they are scheduled for September 7 in Albany and September 12 on Long Island.</p> <p>The hearings, especially the first one, are expected to deal with how the administration of Gov. Andrew Cuomo responded to reports that the water in Hoosick Falls was contaminated and why it took so long to notify residents of the threat; as well as examining how to prevent and respond to future contamination.</p> <p>On the legislative hearings <a href="http://assembly.state.ny.us/leg/?sh=he" target="_blank">website</a>, Tuesday's Senate hearing in Hoosick Falls is titled "Drinking Water Contramination," while the Sept. 7 and 12 joint hearings are titled "Water Quality and Contamination."</p> <p>Assembly Democrats, who hold that chamber&rsquo;s majority, announced in February that they would hold such hearings in April but <a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/index.php/state/6299-will-for-water-contamination-hearings-nearly-vanishes-after-budget-deal" target="_blank">they never materialized</a>. The Assembly announced in early July that it would hold hearings in early September.</p> <p>Republicans in the Senate majority stood steadfast against hearings when they were first proposed last December. Public pressure mounted all legislative session and in July <a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/index.php/state/6430-public-outcry-leads-to-action-on-hoosick-falls-water-contamination" target="_blank">the Senate announced it would hold hearings</a>, six months after the plight of the residents of the small town came into public focus.</p> <p>Senate Majority Leader John Flanagan announced his conference would hold hearings &ldquo;in an effort to explore the sources of water contamination, examine state and federal oversight issues, and determine how we can prevent this from happening in the future.&rdquo;</p> <p>In his statement on the hearings, Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie said, "Recent reports of water contamination in municipalities across the state have highlighted the need for a thorough review of measures to ensure clean and healthy water in our communities. Ensuring a safe water supply for our children and families is a top priority for us."</p> <p>After announcing intentions to hold hearings, the two houses subsequently said they would hold the two joint hearings.</p> <p>After months of advocacy, pressure, outrage, and denial, it is unclear what exactly the hearings will look like and what would make them successful.</p> <p><em><strong>Here are five important things to watch:</strong></em></p> <p><strong>1. Are all the stakeholders present?</strong></p> <p>Advocates warn that there won&rsquo;t be a full accounting of how the pollution in Hoosick Falls went unidentified and then was left unacted on for months without the presence of all stakeholders.</p> <p>&ldquo;They all have to be there from the polluters to the regulators; Honeywell, the EPA and DEC; we need them all there to figure out who knew what happened when and what went wrong,&rdquo; said Liz Moran of Environmental Advocates of New York, referring to the company believed to be responsible for poisoning the Hoosick Falls water and the federal and state environmental agencies.</p> <p>The Cuomo administration has put significant blame on the federal Environmental Protection Agency for not having adopted uniform standards for the impact of PFOA and pushed back heavily on assertions that it was slow to respond to the problem. How much the Cuomo administration will participate in the hearings and how open it will be remain to be seen.</p> <p>Tuesday&rsquo;s Hoosick Falls hearing begins at 10:30 a.m. and is expected to go all day and into the evening, with members of the public testifying both by appointment and on a walk-in basis later in the day.</p> <p>According to the August 12 Senate majority press advisory about the hearing, Senate Health Committee Chair Kemp Hannon and Senate Environmental Conservation Committee Chair Tom O&rsquo;Mara will lead the hearing; they&rsquo;ll be joined by Senator Kathy Marchione, who represents the Hoosick Falls area, and other senators. &ldquo;The purpose will be to explore the sources of water contamination, examine local, state, and federal oversight issues, and hear from experts, local residents, and others on what can be done to assist affected communities and mitigate future incidents.&rdquo;</p> <p><strong>2. Will hearings lead to a plan?</strong></p> <p>During this year&rsquo;s legislative session, while fallout from Hoosick Falls was fresh and media was focused heavily on the issue, the Legislature passed one bill that had anything to do with the contamination, and passing that bill was no simple task. The legislation extended the time victims of environmental contamination have to sue polluters.</p> <p><img src="http://www.gothamgazette.com/images/graphics/2014/03/25459519510_7a1a6bd8c2_z.jpg" alt="marchione hoosick falls" width="300" height="200" style="margin: 5px; float: left;" />The bill appeared set to pass until late in session when Marchione (pictured), a Republican who represents Hoosick Falls, introduced a pro-business amendment that would have ensured that the bill did not become law. After outcry from her constituents she reversed herself and the bill passed both houses of the Legislature.</p> <p>In May the EPA released new standards for safe PFOA levels in drinking water that are significantly lower than its 2009 standards. Wells in Suffolk County have been shown to be over the EPA&rsquo;s recommended limits at the impacted communities have taken action. Meanwhile, more communities are grappling with lead found in their drinking water supply and it is clear that the state needs a plan of action.</p> <p>Environmental groups say the Legislature will need to move to actually prevent these kinds of incidents and prepare the state to respond quickly before the public is impacted. &ldquo;We need a plan for the rest of the state,&rdquo; said Moran. &ldquo;Anything less than that would count as failure.&rdquo;</p> <p><strong>3. Is there enough political will?</strong></p> <p>A number of legislators and many Hoosick Falls residents believe that the Legislature stalled on holding hearings knowing that they would anger the Cuomo administration. The Assembly scheduled hearings for April, right around the time the budget was due, and they never came to fruition.</p> <p>At the time Republican Assemblymember Steve McLaughlin, who represents Hoosick Falls, <a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/index.php/state/6299-will-for-water-contamination-hearings-nearly-vanishes-after-budget-deal" target="_blank">told Gotham Gazette</a> he was concerned the hearings were being used as a bargaining chip in budget negotiations. &ldquo;I told them in February: &lsquo;Don&rsquo;t use my constituents as leverage,&rsquo; and it looks like that is exactly what happened,&rdquo; McLaughlin <a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/index.php/state/6299-will-for-water-contamination-hearings-nearly-vanishes-after-budget-deal" target="_blank">told Gotham Gazette in late April</a>&nbsp;not long after the new budget was finalized.</p> <p>It will now be up to the Legislature to probe the Cuomo administration&rsquo;s response and perhaps delve where the administration would rather they didn&rsquo;t. The administration has repeatedly stated they took proper action but, <a href="http://www.politico.com/states/new-york/albany/story/2016/06/new-documents-show-cuomo-administration-dismissal-of-epa-warnings-on-hoosick-falls-102373" target="_blank">as reported by Politico New York</a>, documents show they resisted the EPA&rsquo;s calls for action.</p> <p>In June, Cuomo defended his administration. &ldquo;I don&rsquo;t know how the state could have been more aggressive or what else we could have possibly done,&rdquo; the governor told reporters, <a href="http://www.nystateofpolitics.com/2016/06/cuomo-defends-state-response-to-hoosick-falls-contamination/" target="_blank">according to State of Politics</a>. &ldquo;We did the testing, we installed filters on every home that needed them, we added filters in buildings frankly that didn&rsquo;t need them just to make people more comfortable. I don&rsquo;t think we could have been more aggressive.&rdquo;</p> <p>Shaun Francis, a Democrat who is challenging Marchione for her seat, said he is concerned that Senate Republicans won&rsquo;t want to fully explore the response to Hoosick Falls. &ldquo;They were the last ones on board for hearings and my fear is they are going to try to paper over the failures,&rdquo; Francis told Gotham Gazette last month. &ldquo;It&rsquo;s hard to believe people sounding the alarm bells didn&rsquo;t let Marchione know.&rdquo;</p> <p><strong>4. Will the two houses be able to work together?</strong></p> <p>The Democrat-controlled Assembly and Republican-controlled Senate are diametrically opposed on a number of issues, but advocates hope the they can find a way to get on the same page as voters have become increasingly aware of potential water contamination and the state&rsquo;s inadequate response.</p> <p>Republicans have traditionally been opposed to increased regulations on businesses so the issue could become a flashpoint.</p> <p>A number of Assembly Members have voiced concerns about underfunding the Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC), and they may push for increased staffing, something that would make their union allies happy.</p> <p>Each house may also have different considerations when it comes to relationships with the Cuomo administration. Senate Republicans have been close to Cuomo since he took office, with the governor doing little to help his fellow Democrats win seats in that house. They also helped Cuomo on a number of thorny issues in recent budgets. Meanwhile, Heastie has clashed with Cuomo on the governor&rsquo;s treatment of Mayor Bill de Blasio and various New York City issues.</p> <p>Cuomo has had harsh words for the Legislature on a few occasions in recent weeks.</p> <p><strong>5. Will election-year concerns come into play?</strong></p> <p>All 213 seats of the state Legislature are on the ballot this year -- 150 Assembly and 63 Senate. Voters are evaluating the effectiveness and responsiveness of their local elected officials and the function of state government as a whole.</p> <p>Both houses of the Legislature put off hearings for months and only gave in after intense protest from Hoosick Falls residents and environmentalists, as well as calls from members of Congress like Democratic Senators Kirsten Gillibrand and Charles Schumer, as well as Republican Rep. Chris Gibson.</p> <p>Gillibrand held an emotional hearing in Hoosick Falls where she heard from residents who described learning they had been poisoned by their own drinking water.</p> <p>Now both state legislative houses will have to examine whether the laws they put into place over the years were inadequate. Senate Republicans will have to assess how to confront the issue given that Marchione faces a general election challenge from an opponent who is running principally on the notion that government failed the district.</p> <p>Many expect legislators to present the issue as one that caught everyone by surprise and must be acted on quickly now that everyone&rsquo;s eyes are open to it. Environmentalists and Hoosick Falls residents are unlikely to accept that response.</p> <p>&ldquo;Clean drinking water is now on the forefront of voters&rsquo; minds,&rdquo; said Travis Proulx of Environmental Advocates of New York. &ldquo;It is something everyone takes for granted until people get sick. People assume the government will protect them and they are finding out that wasn&rsquo;t the case. Water quality has entered the political realm in a way that we haven&rsquo;t seen in modern New York politics.&rdquo;</p> <p>Moran said she thinks that after feeling the pressure from Hoosick Falls residents at the end of legislative session, legislators got the message that not only did hearings have to happen, but they have to produce results. &ldquo;Kathy Marchione felt the voters&rsquo; wrath after she amended her bill. I hope everyone is taking this very seriously,&rdquo; Moran said. &ldquo;There are very high expectations in Hoosick Falls for what these hearings will deliver. New York voters have high expectations.&rdquo;</p> <p>

***
by David King, Albany editor, Gotham Gazette
     

Read more by this writer.

</p>
The Week Ahead in New York Politics, August 29 2016-08-28T04:00:00+00:00 2016-08-28T04:00:00+00:00 http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=6501:the-week-ahead-in-new-york-politics-august-29 Ben Max <p><img src="http://www.gothamgazette.com/images/graphics/2014/03/640px-New_York_City_Hall.jpg" alt="New York City Hall" width="600" height="450" /></p> <p><span style="font-size: 10pt;">New York City Hall</span></p> <hr /> <p><strong>What to watch for this week in New York politics:</strong></p> <p>This pre-Labor Day weekend week is looking like a fairly quiet one in New York politics, though there are a few things to watch for. Mayor Bill de Blasio is due to return Sunday evening from a vacation week traveling throughout New England with his family and could have an active week. The mayor starts the week with one public event on his schedule: he'll be in Queens Monday evening to deliver&nbsp;remarks at the opening ceremony for the 2016 U.S. Open.</p> <p>One certainty for the week ahead is that much attention will be turning to the fist of three scheduled legislative hearings on water quality and the Cuomo administration's <a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/index.php/state/6430-public-outcry-leads-to-action-on-hoosick-falls-water-contamination" target="_blank">response to water quality problems</a> in Hoosick Falls and elsewhere - the initial hearing is Tuesday in Hoosick Falls.</p> <p>That first hearing on "drinking water contamination" is being held by two state Senate committees. The other two hearings scheduled - on September 7 in Albany and September 12 on Long Island - will be joint hearings of the Senate and Assembly.</p> <p>Neither Gov. Andrew Cuomo nor city Comptroller Scott Stringer nor Public Advocate Letitia James has any public events scheduled for Monday. City Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito did not release a public schedule as of Monday morning at 8 a.m.</p> <p>At noon on Monday, Lieutenant Governor Hochul will address students and faculty about Governor Cuomo’s Enough is Enough initiative to combat sexual assault on college campuses, at SUNY Geneseo. At 1:15 p.m., Hochul will highlight state investment in state parks at Letchworth State Park Nature Center.</p> <p>The City Council is silent this week in terms of hearings, returning to action after the Labor Day weekend.</p> <p>On Monday evening on NY1's Inside City Hall there will be a debate between the two candidates in the Democratic primary for the 10th state Senate district in Queens: incumbent Senator James Sanders and challenger&nbsp;Adrienne Adams.</p> <p>A few <strong>Tuesday</strong> events:</p> <p>At 8:30 a.m. on Tuesday, the New York City Food Policy Center is hosting its <a href="http://www.nycfoodpolicy.org/eventcalendar/naomi-starkman-founder-editor-chief-civil-eats-civileats-com-2016-john-s-knight-foundation-journalism-fellow-stanford/" target="_blank">Food Policy For Breakfast Series</a> with Naomi Starkman, the founder and editor-in-chief of Civil Eats who will discuss food policy with executive director of the Food Policy Center, Charles Platkin.</p> <p>On Tuesday at 11 a.m., "State Senator James Sanders Jr. will host a press conference...at the Sutphin Boulevard / Archer Avenue train station to announce that $7.65 million in state funding has been allocated for improvements to the Jamaica Transportation Center Station Plaza. This money was set aside in the 2016 budget for a multi-year state transportation plan agreed upon by Senator Sanders along with his colleagues in the legislature and Governor Cuomo."</p> <p>"On Tuesday, Mayor de Blasio will host a roundtable discussion regarding tenant protections...After the roundtable, [at 12:30 p.m.] the Mayor will host a press conference to make an announcement regarding legal representation for tenants in housing court."</p> <p>On Tuesday evening, NY1's Inside City Hall will host a debate between incumbent Bronx State Senator Gustavo Rivera and his Democratic primary challenger City Council Member Fernando Cabrera (Cabrera also challenged Rivera in 2014). <a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/index.php/state/6450-super-pac-begins-flyering-bronx-senate-race" target="_blank">Read our latest coverage of this race.</a></p> <p>On <strong>Thursday:</strong></p> <p>NY1's Inside City Hall will host a debate between incumbent Brooklyn Assembly Member Pamela Harris and her Democratic primary challenger Kate Cucco.</p> <p>On Thursday evening,&nbsp;at 6:30 p.m. at the Sikh Cultural Society in Queens, "Deputy Mayor for Strategic Policy Initiatives Richard Buery will lead a panel discussion on ThriveNYC, the City’s mental health roadmap for all. He will be joined by Vishavjit Singh, creator of Sikh Captain America and Sikhtoons; Dr. Muninder Kaur Ahluwalia, an associate professor at Montclair State University; and Arvind Kaur, clinical psychologist and host of Jus Galbaat. This event is organized by Mayor Bill de Blasio’s Community Affairs Unit and Office for Immigrant Affairs, in conjunction with the Sikh Cultural Society and United Sikhs."</p> <p>***<br />Have events or topics for us to include in an upcoming Week Ahead in New York Politics? E-mail Gotham Gazette executive editor Ben Max any time:&nbsp;<a href="mailto:bmax@gothamgazette.com">bmax@gothamgazette.com</a>&nbsp;(please use "For Week Ahead" as email subject).</p> <p>***<br />by Libby Wetzler and Ben Max<br /><a href="https://twitter.com/GothamGazette" target="_blank">@GothamGazette</a></p> <p><img src="http://www.gothamgazette.com/images/graphics/2014/03/640px-New_York_City_Hall.jpg" alt="New York City Hall" width="600" height="450" /></p> <p><span style="font-size: 10pt;">New York City Hall</span></p> <hr /> <p><strong>What to watch for this week in New York politics:</strong></p> <p>This pre-Labor Day weekend week is looking like a fairly quiet one in New York politics, though there are a few things to watch for. Mayor Bill de Blasio is due to return Sunday evening from a vacation week traveling throughout New England with his family and could have an active week. The mayor starts the week with one public event on his schedule: he'll be in Queens Monday evening to deliver&nbsp;remarks at the opening ceremony for the 2016 U.S. Open.</p> <p>One certainty for the week ahead is that much attention will be turning to the fist of three scheduled legislative hearings on water quality and the Cuomo administration's <a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/index.php/state/6430-public-outcry-leads-to-action-on-hoosick-falls-water-contamination" target="_blank">response to water quality problems</a> in Hoosick Falls and elsewhere - the initial hearing is Tuesday in Hoosick Falls.</p> <p>That first hearing on "drinking water contamination" is being held by two state Senate committees. The other two hearings scheduled - on September 7 in Albany and September 12 on Long Island - will be joint hearings of the Senate and Assembly.</p> <p>Neither Gov. Andrew Cuomo nor city Comptroller Scott Stringer nor Public Advocate Letitia James has any public events scheduled for Monday. City Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito did not release a public schedule as of Monday morning at 8 a.m.</p> <p>At noon on Monday, Lieutenant Governor Hochul will address students and faculty about Governor Cuomo’s Enough is Enough initiative to combat sexual assault on college campuses, at SUNY Geneseo. At 1:15 p.m., Hochul will highlight state investment in state parks at Letchworth State Park Nature Center.</p> <p>The City Council is silent this week in terms of hearings, returning to action after the Labor Day weekend.</p> <p>On Monday evening on NY1's Inside City Hall there will be a debate between the two candidates in the Democratic primary for the 10th state Senate district in Queens: incumbent Senator James Sanders and challenger&nbsp;Adrienne Adams.</p> <p>A few <strong>Tuesday</strong> events:</p> <p>At 8:30 a.m. on Tuesday, the New York City Food Policy Center is hosting its <a href="http://www.nycfoodpolicy.org/eventcalendar/naomi-starkman-founder-editor-chief-civil-eats-civileats-com-2016-john-s-knight-foundation-journalism-fellow-stanford/" target="_blank">Food Policy For Breakfast Series</a> with Naomi Starkman, the founder and editor-in-chief of Civil Eats who will discuss food policy with executive director of the Food Policy Center, Charles Platkin.</p> <p>On Tuesday at 11 a.m., "State Senator James Sanders Jr. will host a press conference...at the Sutphin Boulevard / Archer Avenue train station to announce that $7.65 million in state funding has been allocated for improvements to the Jamaica Transportation Center Station Plaza. This money was set aside in the 2016 budget for a multi-year state transportation plan agreed upon by Senator Sanders along with his colleagues in the legislature and Governor Cuomo."</p> <p>"On Tuesday, Mayor de Blasio will host a roundtable discussion regarding tenant protections...After the roundtable, [at 12:30 p.m.] the Mayor will host a press conference to make an announcement regarding legal representation for tenants in housing court."</p> <p>On Tuesday evening, NY1's Inside City Hall will host a debate between incumbent Bronx State Senator Gustavo Rivera and his Democratic primary challenger City Council Member Fernando Cabrera (Cabrera also challenged Rivera in 2014). <a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/index.php/state/6450-super-pac-begins-flyering-bronx-senate-race" target="_blank">Read our latest coverage of this race.</a></p> <p>On <strong>Thursday:</strong></p> <p>NY1's Inside City Hall will host a debate between incumbent Brooklyn Assembly Member Pamela Harris and her Democratic primary challenger Kate Cucco.</p> <p>On Thursday evening,&nbsp;at 6:30 p.m. at the Sikh Cultural Society in Queens, "Deputy Mayor for Strategic Policy Initiatives Richard Buery will lead a panel discussion on ThriveNYC, the City’s mental health roadmap for all. He will be joined by Vishavjit Singh, creator of Sikh Captain America and Sikhtoons; Dr. Muninder Kaur Ahluwalia, an associate professor at Montclair State University; and Arvind Kaur, clinical psychologist and host of Jus Galbaat. This event is organized by Mayor Bill de Blasio’s Community Affairs Unit and Office for Immigrant Affairs, in conjunction with the Sikh Cultural Society and United Sikhs."</p> <p>***<br />Have events or topics for us to include in an upcoming Week Ahead in New York Politics? E-mail Gotham Gazette executive editor Ben Max any time:&nbsp;<a href="mailto:bmax@gothamgazette.com">bmax@gothamgazette.com</a>&nbsp;(please use "For Week Ahead" as email subject).</p> <p>***<br />by Libby Wetzler and Ben Max<br /><a href="https://twitter.com/GothamGazette" target="_blank">@GothamGazette</a></p> Hoosick Falls Residents, and All New Yorkers, Deserve Water Contamination Hearings 2016-06-13T04:00:00+00:00 2016-06-13T04:00:00+00:00 http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=6392:hoosick-falls-residents-and-all-new-yorkers-deserve-water-contamination-hearings Ben Max <p><img src="http://www.gothamgazette.com/images/graphics/2014/03/25661671601_5267e2ca49_z.jpg" width="600" height="400" alt="hoosick falls town " /></p> <p>Hoosick Falls (photo via The Governor's Office on Flickr)</p> <hr /> <p>Just imagine knowing that the water you are drinking is quietly <a href="http://www.timesunion.com/local/article/Rebate-checks-on-way-for-those-sold-PFOA-tainted-7967527.php" target="_blank">making you sick</a>. That it gave you or someone you love <a href="http://www.syracuse.com/state/index.ssf/2016/01/hoosick_falls_cancer_tap_water_epa.html" target="_blank">kidney cancer</a>. That it took years to get your government to listen, then when you got its attention, <a href="http://www.politico.com/states/new-york/albany/story/2016/01/state-health-commissioner-questioned-on-handling-of-upstate-water-issue-030515" target="_blank">your concerns were downplayed</a>.</p> <p dir="ltr">The bond between clean water and our health has been broken as we’ve heard stories state- and nation-wide about contamination. And like Flint, Michigan, there is a great disconnect between the suffering of Hoosick Falls, New York residents and the actions (<a href="http://www.politico.com/states/new-york/albany/story/2016/06/blood-tests-cause-anxiety-in-hoosick-falls-but-lawmakers-plan-no-action-102595" target="_blank">or in this case, inaction</a>) of their own elected officials. Hoosick Falls residents are just 30 miles from the steps of the state Capitol in Albany, but that may as well be a million miles given the response from the people elected and hired to protect them.</p> <p dir="ltr">State lawmakers should hold hearings on what has happened in Hoosick Falls and the flawed state reaction to the water crisis there. Governor Cuomo and his top officials should welcome hearings as a chance to show New Yorkers that they want to get to the bottom of the issue, protect constituents across the state, and that they will not make the same mistakes again.&nbsp;<a href="http://www.politico.com/states/new-york/albany/story/2016/04/assembly-hearings-on-hoosick-falls-canceled-for-now-033456" target="_blank">There are some who disagree</a>, but they are wrong, and here’s why:</p> <p dir="ltr">Hoosick Falls residents deserve to know what happened, and who knew what and when. Further, lawmakers cannot ignore that what has happened in Hoosick Falls is not limited to just that village. Grossly inadequate chemical regulations on the books in New York, coupled with an increased hunger by state Senators to “cut the red tape” (which translates into cutting resources and powers for enforcement of our laws) means that it is only a matter of time before another community is fighting another unregulated chemical which has fouled their water.</p> <p dir="ltr">Hoosick Falls is like many New York communities, particularly upstate, with an extensive manufacturing history.</p> <p dir="ltr">For decades, industries were allowed to operate virtually unchecked as their operations endangered residents. For many years, contaminations of this kind were seen as affecting other communities home to larger companies. General Electric, for instance, spent decades dumping PCBs into the Hudson River, up until the late 1970s. Meanwhile, outside Syracuse, Onondaga Lake became known as the most polluted lake in America after a century of pollution from predecessors of the very same company associated with Hoosick Falls contamination: Honeywell.</p> <p dir="ltr">A lack of regulations and enforcement created a false sense of security for many communities – after all, if a chemical isn’t regulated, it’s not tested. And if it’s not tested, then how does anyone know if it’s in their water and affecting their health?</p> <p dir="ltr">In May, when the federal Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) <a href="http://www.timesunion.com/local/article/EPA-sets-new-level-for-chemical-in-local-water-7716825.php" target="_blank">issued new safety levels</a> for PFOA and PFOS, <a href="https://theintercept.com/2016/05/19/with-new-pfoa-drinking-water-advisory-dozens-of-communities-suddenly-have-dangerous-water/" target="_blank">many localities suddenly found themselves</a> with unsafe drinking water. Of course, the water had been unsafe for many years – but if no one knew to test for it no one knew there was a problem.</p> <p dir="ltr">Since the crisis in Hoosick Falls became public, <a href="http://news10.com/2016/05/19/taconic-plastics-deemed-a-state-superfund-site/" target="_blank">PFOA has been found</a> in the drinking water of nearby Petersburgh, a community also now home to a Superfund site. PFOS has also been found in the City of <a href="http://westchester.news12.com/news/state-steps-in-to-help-newburgh-s-water-contamination-problem-1.11892927" target="_blank">Newburgh’s water</a>; water in <a href="https://www.buzzfeed.com/danvergano/fluorinated-chemicals-in-water?utm_term=.ggZQqeE32#.okl4Ek1nY" target="_blank">Suffolk County</a> also exceeds safety levels.</p> <p dir="ltr">Which brings us to the realities of today, and the unique role that state legislators have in holding hearings - public reckonings that help clarify what can and should be done to help people. Currently, <a href="http://www.nytimes.com/2013/04/14/sunday-review/think-those-chemicals-have-been-tested.html" target="_blank">there are more than 80,000</a> untested and unregulated chemicals on the market. The state Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) has <a href="http://www.dec.ny.gov/regulations/104968.html" target="_blank">introduced emergency rules</a> regulating PFOA and PFOS, but there are still tens of thousands of chemicals unaccounted for.</p> <p dir="ltr">Resistance to legislative hearings is a head-scratcher. We’re pleased to hear that the <a href="http://www.politico.com/states/new-york/albany/story/2016/06/heastie-says-hoosick-falls-water-quality-hearings-not-off-the-table-102422" target="_blank">Assembly has reopened the door to hearings</a>; they should have occurred as originally planned following passage of the 2016-17 budget, which occurred April 1. This summer is now the time to follow through - no further delay is acceptable. These hearings should not be scuttled, the issues facing the people of Hoosick Falls and other municipalities must be seen in the light of day. It is legislators’ responsibility.</p> <p dir="ltr">Hearings are a part of governmental checks and balances. Witness how rapidly the Senate <a href="http://newyork.cbslocal.com/2016/05/20/nyc-plastic-bag-fee-state-senate/" target="_blank">rushed to hold a hearing on</a> how to keep communities from imposing a fee to curb costly plastic bag waste. A public health crisis certainly deserves more proactivity than we have seen. Instead, the Senate is advancing a package of bills toward a vote that would exacerbate the very problems resulting from poor oversight and enforcement. In fact, one proposal forces agencies to enact a “<a href="http://www.eany.org/our-work/policy/tying-agencies-knots" target="_blank">one-in, one-out</a>” practice when imposing new rules. In other words, when the DEC finalizes its PFOA rule, they would have to cut a regulation for the benefit of Honeywell International and Saint-Gobain, the companies responsible for the Hoosick Falls contamination.</p> <p dir="ltr">The action that legislators take now will have enormous consequences for years to come. They must use their expertise in local affairs toward addressing their constituent concerns and public health hazards. The goal should be to consider contamination issues from across the state to connect the dots and create a game plan that modernizes our regulations and enforces our laws. New Yorkers must have confidence in both their drinking water and their elected officials.</p> <p dir="ltr">Residents of Hoosick Falls and many other locales would be glad to hear that their elected officials are working throughout the summer to protect our water and our health. It’s an opportunity lawmakers should not pass up.</p> <p dir="ltr">***<br />By Liz Moran, Water &amp; Natural Resources Associate, <a href="http://www.eany.org/" target="_blank">Environmental Advocates of New York</a>. On Twitter <a href="https://twitter.com/greenwatchdogny" target="_blank">@greenwatchdogNY</a>.</p> <p>

***
Have an op-ed idea or submission for Gotham Gazette? Email opinion@gothamgazette.com

</p>
<p><img src="http://www.gothamgazette.com/images/graphics/2014/03/25661671601_5267e2ca49_z.jpg" width="600" height="400" alt="hoosick falls town " /></p> <p>Hoosick Falls (photo via The Governor's Office on Flickr)</p> <hr /> <p>Just imagine knowing that the water you are drinking is quietly <a href="http://www.timesunion.com/local/article/Rebate-checks-on-way-for-those-sold-PFOA-tainted-7967527.php" target="_blank">making you sick</a>. That it gave you or someone you love <a href="http://www.syracuse.com/state/index.ssf/2016/01/hoosick_falls_cancer_tap_water_epa.html" target="_blank">kidney cancer</a>. That it took years to get your government to listen, then when you got its attention, <a href="http://www.politico.com/states/new-york/albany/story/2016/01/state-health-commissioner-questioned-on-handling-of-upstate-water-issue-030515" target="_blank">your concerns were downplayed</a>.</p> <p dir="ltr">The bond between clean water and our health has been broken as we’ve heard stories state- and nation-wide about contamination. And like Flint, Michigan, there is a great disconnect between the suffering of Hoosick Falls, New York residents and the actions (<a href="http://www.politico.com/states/new-york/albany/story/2016/06/blood-tests-cause-anxiety-in-hoosick-falls-but-lawmakers-plan-no-action-102595" target="_blank">or in this case, inaction</a>) of their own elected officials. Hoosick Falls residents are just 30 miles from the steps of the state Capitol in Albany, but that may as well be a million miles given the response from the people elected and hired to protect them.</p> <p dir="ltr">State lawmakers should hold hearings on what has happened in Hoosick Falls and the flawed state reaction to the water crisis there. Governor Cuomo and his top officials should welcome hearings as a chance to show New Yorkers that they want to get to the bottom of the issue, protect constituents across the state, and that they will not make the same mistakes again.&nbsp;<a href="http://www.politico.com/states/new-york/albany/story/2016/04/assembly-hearings-on-hoosick-falls-canceled-for-now-033456" target="_blank">There are some who disagree</a>, but they are wrong, and here’s why:</p> <p dir="ltr">Hoosick Falls residents deserve to know what happened, and who knew what and when. Further, lawmakers cannot ignore that what has happened in Hoosick Falls is not limited to just that village. Grossly inadequate chemical regulations on the books in New York, coupled with an increased hunger by state Senators to “cut the red tape” (which translates into cutting resources and powers for enforcement of our laws) means that it is only a matter of time before another community is fighting another unregulated chemical which has fouled their water.</p> <p dir="ltr">Hoosick Falls is like many New York communities, particularly upstate, with an extensive manufacturing history.</p> <p dir="ltr">For decades, industries were allowed to operate virtually unchecked as their operations endangered residents. For many years, contaminations of this kind were seen as affecting other communities home to larger companies. General Electric, for instance, spent decades dumping PCBs into the Hudson River, up until the late 1970s. Meanwhile, outside Syracuse, Onondaga Lake became known as the most polluted lake in America after a century of pollution from predecessors of the very same company associated with Hoosick Falls contamination: Honeywell.</p> <p dir="ltr">A lack of regulations and enforcement created a false sense of security for many communities – after all, if a chemical isn’t regulated, it’s not tested. And if it’s not tested, then how does anyone know if it’s in their water and affecting their health?</p> <p dir="ltr">In May, when the federal Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) <a href="http://www.timesunion.com/local/article/EPA-sets-new-level-for-chemical-in-local-water-7716825.php" target="_blank">issued new safety levels</a> for PFOA and PFOS, <a href="https://theintercept.com/2016/05/19/with-new-pfoa-drinking-water-advisory-dozens-of-communities-suddenly-have-dangerous-water/" target="_blank">many localities suddenly found themselves</a> with unsafe drinking water. Of course, the water had been unsafe for many years – but if no one knew to test for it no one knew there was a problem.</p> <p dir="ltr">Since the crisis in Hoosick Falls became public, <a href="http://news10.com/2016/05/19/taconic-plastics-deemed-a-state-superfund-site/" target="_blank">PFOA has been found</a> in the drinking water of nearby Petersburgh, a community also now home to a Superfund site. PFOS has also been found in the City of <a href="http://westchester.news12.com/news/state-steps-in-to-help-newburgh-s-water-contamination-problem-1.11892927" target="_blank">Newburgh’s water</a>; water in <a href="https://www.buzzfeed.com/danvergano/fluorinated-chemicals-in-water?utm_term=.ggZQqeE32#.okl4Ek1nY" target="_blank">Suffolk County</a> also exceeds safety levels.</p> <p dir="ltr">Which brings us to the realities of today, and the unique role that state legislators have in holding hearings - public reckonings that help clarify what can and should be done to help people. Currently, <a href="http://www.nytimes.com/2013/04/14/sunday-review/think-those-chemicals-have-been-tested.html" target="_blank">there are more than 80,000</a> untested and unregulated chemicals on the market. The state Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) has <a href="http://www.dec.ny.gov/regulations/104968.html" target="_blank">introduced emergency rules</a> regulating PFOA and PFOS, but there are still tens of thousands of chemicals unaccounted for.</p> <p dir="ltr">Resistance to legislative hearings is a head-scratcher. We’re pleased to hear that the <a href="http://www.politico.com/states/new-york/albany/story/2016/06/heastie-says-hoosick-falls-water-quality-hearings-not-off-the-table-102422" target="_blank">Assembly has reopened the door to hearings</a>; they should have occurred as originally planned following passage of the 2016-17 budget, which occurred April 1. This summer is now the time to follow through - no further delay is acceptable. These hearings should not be scuttled, the issues facing the people of Hoosick Falls and other municipalities must be seen in the light of day. It is legislators’ responsibility.</p> <p dir="ltr">Hearings are a part of governmental checks and balances. Witness how rapidly the Senate <a href="http://newyork.cbslocal.com/2016/05/20/nyc-plastic-bag-fee-state-senate/" target="_blank">rushed to hold a hearing on</a> how to keep communities from imposing a fee to curb costly plastic bag waste. A public health crisis certainly deserves more proactivity than we have seen. Instead, the Senate is advancing a package of bills toward a vote that would exacerbate the very problems resulting from poor oversight and enforcement. In fact, one proposal forces agencies to enact a “<a href="http://www.eany.org/our-work/policy/tying-agencies-knots" target="_blank">one-in, one-out</a>” practice when imposing new rules. In other words, when the DEC finalizes its PFOA rule, they would have to cut a regulation for the benefit of Honeywell International and Saint-Gobain, the companies responsible for the Hoosick Falls contamination.</p> <p dir="ltr">The action that legislators take now will have enormous consequences for years to come. They must use their expertise in local affairs toward addressing their constituent concerns and public health hazards. The goal should be to consider contamination issues from across the state to connect the dots and create a game plan that modernizes our regulations and enforces our laws. New Yorkers must have confidence in both their drinking water and their elected officials.</p> <p dir="ltr">Residents of Hoosick Falls and many other locales would be glad to hear that their elected officials are working throughout the summer to protect our water and our health. It’s an opportunity lawmakers should not pass up.</p> <p dir="ltr">***<br />By Liz Moran, Water &amp; Natural Resources Associate, <a href="http://www.eany.org/" target="_blank">Environmental Advocates of New York</a>. On Twitter <a href="https://twitter.com/greenwatchdogny" target="_blank">@greenwatchdogNY</a>.</p> <p>

***
Have an op-ed idea or submission for Gotham Gazette? Email opinion@gothamgazette.com

</p>