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Brownfield program to be extended by another decade under Cuomo plan

The state’s Brownfields Cleanup Program would be extended by another decade, with an emphasis on redeveloping upstate sites, that will also include “important reforms to protect taxpayers,” according to Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo’s 2014-15 state Executive Budget unveiled Tuesday afternoon.

The Brownfields program – designed to “enhance private-sector cleanups” of industrial sites where potential contaminants, like hazardous wastes or petroleum, are impediments to redevelopment – provides tax credits associated with cleaning up and redeveloping such sites.

Brownfields dot the Western New York landscape once home to much heavy industry. Buffalo’s waterfront now attractive for development has numerous contaminated sites that require some level of remediation before they can be built upon.

Cuomo’s tax reforms include allowing remediation tax credits only for “actual cleanup costs” with redevelopment credits being “rationalized to only cover sites that have been vacant for over a decade, worth less than the cleanup costs, or are priority economic development projects,” according to the budget statement.

Peter Iwanowicz, the executive director of Environmental Advocates of New York, said his organization was working with Cuomo’s administration “for months” of the Brownfields reforms and was satisfied with their inclusion in the budget.

“Few areas produce economic development more than robust and targeted investments in New York’s environment,” Iwanowicz said. “Governor Cuomo has recognized the state’s brownfields program is critical to community revitalization and that for too long it has been an albatross for taxpayers, too costly and off-target for many areas.”

Iwanowicz pointed out that “thousands of toxic sites” need cleanup statewide and that the program has “not produced results for areas most in need of public investment – particularly Upstate, communities of color, or with high unemployment or poverty rates.”

The reforms should help that, Iwanowicz believes.

The governor’s budget also includes a fresh $100 million outlay continuing the state’s Superfund cleanup program, including $10 million to specifically address “municipally-owned Brownfields,” the statement reported. The $10 million would be made through the Environmental Restoration Program.

Meanwhile, the state’s Environmental Protection Fund is also poised to get a boost in the proposed spending plan.

A $4 million increase is proposed by Cuomo, upping the fund’s budget to $157 million. Included here are $85 million for open space programs, $58 million for parks and recreation and $14 million for solid waste programs, according to the executive budget statement.

Overall, funding for the state Department of Environmental Conservation would decrease by $43 million – from $919 million to $876 million – under the governor’s budget.

Although Iwanowicz lauded Cuomo for including the Brownfields reforms in his budget package, he said the Environmental Advocates would be seeking “more answers” about the spending plan’s funding to the state Department of Environmental Conservation.

“Environmental Advocates found last year that after years of deep cuts the agency had lost nearly 800 staff and was struggling across the board to implement health protections and enforce laws, including the Clean Water and Clean Air Acts,” Iwanowicz said. “The best standards and laws in the world don’t matter if there aren’t enough cops on the beat. DEC scientists need more resources to ensure that they can adequately protect our health.”

Morris Peters, of the state’s budget office, said the budgeted DEC reductions are primarily “a result of the completion of projects related to the Federal American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA) and the 1996 Bond Act.”

Further reductions, Peters pointed out, are due to “the transfer of IT positions to the Office of Information Technology Services and decreases in non-personal service and local assistance spending.”

Officials from the state Department of Environmental Conservation were still reviewing the proposed budget late Tuesday afternoon and reported they couldn’t immediately comment on its contents.