State Must Lend a Hand

The State of New York, despite a projected budget surplus in the coming fiscal year, appears poised to cut environmental funding

    There is some good news on the environment for eastern Long Island and some that’s not so good. Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone said recently that water quality was now his administration’s top priority. In East Hampton, Democrats listed groundwater and the areas’s bays and harbors among their key platform planks last year. Yet the State of New York, despite a projected budget surplus in the coming fiscal year, appears poised to cut environmental funding.

    According to the New York League of Conservation Voters, a watchdog group, Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s proposed 2014-15 spending plan would actually reduce spending by the Department of Environmental Conservation and keep essentially flat the amount set aside for a $157 million fund that helps pay for habitat and drinking water protections, historic sites, and saving family farms.

    Environmental organizations have said that this fund, which draws on a dedicated real estate transfer tax, should be strengthened, going to as much as $200 million for the coming year. The League of Conservation Voters has noted that the state’s penury on environmental protection is in sharp contrast to generous increases for what it described as technological upgrades.

    For his part, Mr. Bellone has announced that nitrogen pollution amounts to “public water enemy number one.” This is a very welcome point of view from a top official in a region dependent on healthy waterways and whose drinking water comes solely from the ground beneath our feet. Public support is there for doing something about it. As many as 9,700 county residents listened in on a conference call at the end of January during which Mr. Bellone described his concerns.

    Next will come the hard work of figuring out how to make things better. Roughly two-thirds of Suffolk residences are not connected to a municipal sewer system; instead they dispose of liquid waste in often outdated septic systems. Mr. Bellone has said he is going to work to find solutions. East Hampton Town commissioned a study last year to gauge the scale of the problem here and propose ways to protect water supplies and marine ecosystems. Nitrogen abundance has been linked to massive plankton blooms, such as the devastating “brown tides” of the 1980s that nearly wiped out the scallop — and this may be tied to what we all put in the ground every day.

    We expect the present town board will work long and hard on the issue, but money and manpower from the state will be essential to success. Long Island residents should be worried that Albany is not doing enough to protect these critically important resources and demand more support for local initiatives like Mr. Bellone’s and the plans being developed in East Hampton Town. The environment, particularly drinking water and marine areas, should receive equal attention from Mr. Cuomo and the Legislature.