By Marcia Bystryn
Many New Yorkers have never heard of the Environmental Protection Fund. But if you’ve been to the Buffalo Zoo recently, you know the good it can do.
Last November, this obscure line in the state budget helped fund the Buffalo Zoo’s Arctic Edge exhibit.
With a $776,000 investment, the EPF will help the zoo keep its polar bear cubs by providing a state-of-the-art new habitat, an educational center and an underwater viewing facility. This investment will also safeguard existing jobs and create another 228 new ones at the zoo.
The Environmental Protection Fund has done lots of good like this in every corner of the state. The EPF also can and should be doing more. That’s why environmental organizations across New York are calling on Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo and state lawmakers to start growing the EPF this year after several years of cuts.
Last month, Cuomo proposed a budget plan that would allocate $157 million to the EPF. That’s far less than the $255 million budget the EPF had before 2008. Growing the EPF to $200 million this year would be good not only for our zoos, but also for clean water, wildlife habitats and recycling programs, too.
The EPF has had a real impact in Western New York since the fund was created in 1993. In Erie County alone, the EPF in recent years has helped to fight invasive species in the Great Lakes, revitalize the Buffalo waterfront, enhance tourist attractions like Niagara Falls State Park, save family farms from development and establish community gardens.
These projects aren’t just beloved by the residents of Western New York. They are good for the economy as well. A 2012 study by the Trust for Public Land showed that for every $1 invested in the EPF, $7 is returned to the state economy in the form of job creation and business revenue.
And there is no question that New Yorkers want these kind of investments to be made. A poll released by the Global Strategy Group in November 2013 showed that New Yorkers overwhelmingly support increasing the EPF budget. The top priority of those polled was the protection of clean water sources for drinking and recreation – these projects are a key element of the EPF and account for more than 10 percent of EPF spending.
All that is needed now is the political will to act. Cuomo and lawmakers – including State Sen. Mark Grisanti and Assembly Members Sean Ryan, Crystal Peoples-Stokes, Michael Kearns and Robin Schimminger – will reach a budget agreement by the end of this month.
The Environmental Protection Fund works. For a small additional investment, we can keep growing the EPF and safeguard what we love about New York.
Marcia Bystryn is president of the New York League of Conservation Voters, a statewide environmental organization.