Andrew Cuomo is proposing a historic investment in the environment - and other states should take notice
By Stuart Gruskin, Chief Conservation and External Affairs Officer
Last week, when New York’s Governor, Andrew Cuomo, proposed to increase the state’s primary environmental fund by 70% — from $177 million to $300 million per year — my jaw dropped. At the same time, he also proposed upping a dedicated water infrastructure program by $100 million. This historic investment in New York’s environment sets a great example — and sends a clear message — for the rest of the nation.
For years, environmental groups in New York have been unified in setting a $300 million goal for New York’s Environmental Protection Fund (EPF), and there is symbolic significance to the way Cuomo reached that mark. Rather than modest increases over many years, he declared: We need to jump right to the top. The dramatic proposal sends a strong signal that environmental investments are critical, and that they pay off.
New York’s EPF is a dedicated capital fund. Among other things it supports open-space acquisition, parks, water quality infrastructure, solid-waste initiatives, community and waterfront planning, working forests and farms, and revitalized urban areas. In short, the programs funded by the EPF make New York a cleaner, healthier, safer, and more desirable place to live and work.
Significantly, this investment would enable New York to fully reap the benefits of a dedicated environmental fund. The EPF is based on partnerships (with communities, with nonprofits like The Nature Conservancy, and with local governments), and those partnerships stimulate the economy. A study by the Trust for Public Land a few years ago concluded that every $1 of EPF spending returns $7 in economic benefits. The EPF creates jobs, and supports industries that generate tens of billions of dollars of economic activity.
It’s also no coincidence that this monumental proposal to increase environmental funding comes at a time when the Governor is talking about literally rebuilding New York. Environmental programs truly are the foundation for community prosperity, quality of life, and a critical element of New York’s infrastructure. The Governor’s ambitious agenda — from rebuilding the Tappan Zee Bridge, to fixing the airports, to creating an energy highway, to investing in upstate roads and bridges — reflects his zeal to make New York stronger. His historic commitment to investment in environmental programs is an essential element of rebuilding New York, and it is as much an infrastructure investment as any of the construction projects.
As the federal government and other states think about the investments needed to secure our future, they should be inspired and guided by New York’s vision. An investment in the environment does not just pay off; it is a critical and essential piece of the infrastructure puzzle.