The Environmental Protection Fund (EPF) is New York’s primary source of dedicated environmental funding and helps protect the state’s working farms, water, air and environmental and public health. The Farmland Protection Program, a part of the EPF, funds the permanent protection of working farms and the development of town and county agriculture and farmland protection plans. A recent 11th hour shake up between Governor Paterson and the Legislature has left funding for the state Farmland Protection Fund cut by $11.25 million (51%) and the EPF reduced by 37 percent.
In a last minute deal to reopen 55 state parks in time for Memorial Day, the Governor and Legislature agreed to pass a greatly reduced budget for the 2010-2011 EPF. The negotiated $78 million cut to the EPF resulted in the state’s release of $11 million to reopen the closed parks. The negotiation occurred outside of the normal budget process and was not subject to any public conference committees.
These cuts will have a severe impact on the Farmland Protection Program, which now has a backlog of more than $70 million of committed projects. As money continues to be “borrowed” from the EPF to pay for non-environmental purposes, many environmental protection projects across the board are left unfunded, straining organizations, municipalities and others partnering with the state on environmental programs.
On a more positive note, our endangered state parks-vital to New Yorkers who rely on their economic activity and connection to nature-have reopened. Another important victory for New Yorkers was the Legislature’s rejection of “offloads” to the EPF proposed by the Governor to pay for unassociated state agency operations and tax payments.
Unfortunately, these are not enough.
The state budget is now two months late and there are many issues to resolve before the end of the legislative session on June 21st; but a couple things are certain:
If we truly want to protect the clean air, water, natural areas, and working farms that benefit all New Yorkers, then there must be a repayment plan for the EPF and Farmland Protection Program– no exceptions. We must also put an end to the raiding of these funds by our elected officials for non-environmental purposes. And finally, we must get the budget passed! There are many food and farm programs outside of the EPF whose budgets have not yet been decided. As a result, vital programs like the New York Farm Viability Institute have suspended projects that help farmers develop new markets and more closely connect with consumers.
Every day we are urging legislators to reconsider cuts in EPF and Farmland Protection Program funding and advocating for a plan to repay the nearly half a billion dollars that has been swept from the EPF over the past several years for non-environmental purposes.
Please help us by telling your state legislators to restore funding for farm, food and farmland programs.
Together we can secure greater funding and ensure a better future for New York’s working farms, water, air and environmental and public health. Thanks!
About the Author: David Haight is New York Director of American Farmland Trust.