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State DEC Commissioner Talks Staffing, Legislation

Basil Seggos, state DEC commissioner.

ALBANY — State legislators wanted to know less about the state Department of Environmental Conservation’s 2020-21 budget than how the department is handling matters approved during the last legislative session.

Basil Seggos, state DEC commissioner, testified earlier this week in a state Legislature budget hearing before members of the state Assembly and Senate. Some legislators wanted to know if Seggos had enough staff to carry out the tasks the legislature and governor have given the DEC. Seggos didn’t take the opportunity to lobby for additional money to hire more people, saying he has never been happier with his department’s budget. Seggos said the DEC has 250 more employees than it did when he was hired in 2015.

Questions tended to focus on legislative initiatives included as part of the DEC budget and how Seggos is implementing the Climate Leadership and Community Protection Act passed during the last legislative session.

Sen. Todd Kaminsky, D-Long Beach and Senate Environmental Conservation Committee chairman, and Assemblywoman Barbara Lifton, D-Ithaca, asked Seggos why the Climate Action Council, a new group created by the CLCPA, hasn’t yet begun meeting. Seggos responded to Kaminsky by saying appointments to the council haven’t yet been made, though DEC officials have been working to put together the Climate Action Council’s underpinnings.

“We know that once Jan. 1 hits this year that 2020 is going to be an extremely busy year on the Climate Action Council,” Seggos said. “We intend to have our first meeting as soon as possible after the final appointments are made. We’ll probably meet on a regular basis throughout the course of this year. We have a very tight time frame to turn around a draft scoping plan and then obviously a final scoping plan in 2022.”

There were also several questions about the $3 billion environmental bond act Gov. Andrew Cuomo proposes to put before voters in November once the state Legislature approves of the plan. In addition to the $3 billion Restore Mother Nature Bond Act, Cuomo is proposing $740 million in additional state funding to combat climate change; $28 billion for green energy; and $1.5 billion for carbon-free transportation.

Seggos said the bond act will likely include projects to fix damage from flooding, reverse the loss of habitat around the state, tidal area preparation and other projects.

Assemblyman Steve Englebright, D-East Setauket, wanted to know how the DEC was going to make the transportation industry and existing buildings more energy-efficient as part of the CLCPA. They are the largest sources of carbon emissions, Englebright said, accounting for roughly 75% of emissions.

Seggos said the state is proposing to transition the MTA fleet from a fossil-fueled fleet to one powered by renewable energy sources, though Englebright noted the MTA is buying diesel-powered trains. Seggos said the state is also trying to move large bus fleets toward environmentally friendly technology.

While there have been national conversations about a federal Green New Deal, Seggos said the CLCPA is New York’s Green New Deal.

“We’re talking about making the investment we need to make in transportation and renewables and then have the Climate Action Council make this whole economy scoping plan so we can take into consideration how we make our farms sustainable, how we make our land sustainable, really the entire economy and how it looks and how it feels,” Seggos said. “So that’s the intersection between the two (the CLCPA and Restoring Mother Nature bond act) to have the resources right away as opposed to be just talking for two years is an amazing place to be in right now. And to have the governor stand up and say $33 billion will be set aside for this and directed toward this, in this day and age with a $6 billion deficit, and what’s happening at the federal level, is an amazing statement of the state’s commitments.”

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