State and local leaders have been as visible as ever making rules and creating support mechanisms to help us cope with the COVID-19 pandemic. Governor Cuomo is issuing executive orders at a dizzying pace. Attorney General James has been active in heading off would-be price gougers and stimulus bilkers. Onondaga County Executive McMahon accosts the social distancing recalcitrant among us, and just Monday announced the closure of the county’s golf courses (ouch, Ryan). Amidst the maelstrom, the State Legislature, of course voting remotely, completed the yeoman’s work of passing the Fiscal Year 2020–21 State budget on-time (almost) and balanced (for now). While there will certainly be forthcoming updates regarding the COVID-19 relief aspects of the budget, of which there are many, I wanted to take a break from the now omnipresent pestilence to take a look forward at some other important budget provisions, specifically related to the environment.

Mother Nature Bond Act

The Mother Nature Bond Act authorizes the state to take on $3 billion in new debt for a variety of environmental remediation and climate change mitigation projects. All of the projects funded by the Act are supposed to fall within one of four categories: (1) restoration and flood risk reduction, (2) open space land conservation and recreation, (3) climate change mitigation, and (4) water quality improvement and resilient infrastructure. These will take a variety of forms and examples in the Act range from installation of solar panels on government buildings to habitat restoration for endangered species.

The Department of Environmental Conservation, Office of Historic Preservation, and other State agencies will be tasked with creating an application process by which municipalities and other eligible organizations can request funding. The borrowing requisite to undertake to fund the projects will take the form of tax-exempt general obligation bonds. This provision must be approved by the voters in November and subsequently supplemented by the Legislature before it takes effect.

Styrofoam Ban

Polystyrene, or colloquially styrofoam (StyrofoamTM is actually trademarked building insulation material, who knew?) is a versatile plastic used in a wide variety of consumer products. It is often made into a foam material, called expanded polystyrene. Foam polystyrene can be more than 95% air and is widely used to make, packaging peanuts, surfboards, food packaging, and many, many other things.

Polystyrene in the form you are likely most familiar with, has been banned throughout New York in most circumstances. Like the plastic bag ban we are all adjusting to, there are some commonsense exceptions to the ban business will soon be familiar with. It takes effect January 1, 2022.

Renewable Energy Siting

In an effort to achieve New York’s extremely aggressive renewable energy goals, the budget significantly alters the process by which large-scale renewable energy projects will be sited and permitted. Until now, wind, solar, and geothermal renewable energy projects designed to produce more than 25 MW of power had to navigate what is known as Article 10 review. That permitting project was designed for fossil fuel projects and was not regarded as very efficient. It proved to be a bottleneck for getting renewable energy projects online.

The new process features a new Office of Renewable Energy Siting, under the Department of State, which will be responsible for implementing the streamlined process. Under the new process, projects should be able to go from application to ground-breaking within a year. Projects between 20 and 25 MW will be able to opt-in to the new process or alternatively go through the locally administered State Environmental Quality Review procedure. Fortunately, for some who had worried about the new process divesting control from local communities, significant portions of the Payment In Lieu Of Taxes revisions did not make it into the final version of the law. This means local officials will retain more authority over projects in their communities than they would have in previous draft iterations. 

Hydrofracking Ban

Hydraulic fracturing, the process of injecting water and other chemicals into shale for the purposes of extracting natural gas deposits therein, is banned by a provision in the budget. Yes, many readers will recall that hydraulic fracking has been banned in New York since 2014, when Governor Cuomo issued an Executive Order prohibiting high-volume fracking from operating in the State. The legislature wanted to codify the ban to make it more difficult for a future governor to restart the practice.

Questions and Updates

Please do not hesitate to contact the Wladis Law Firm if you have any questions about the above information. We will do our best to provide you with updates and will be available to answer questions as circumstances change. We may be reached at (315) 445-1700 or by e-mailing Attorneys Kevin Murphy at or Tim Lambrecht or by reaching out to your everyday firm contacts.

Christopher Baiamonte Headshot

Christopher J. Baiamonte

Mr. Baiamonte concentrates his practice primarily on civil litigation. He counsels individual, corporate, and municipal clients on resolving disputes ranging from environmental liability to shareholders rights to creditor–debtor suits. He also works with clients to navigate various state and federal regulations relating to areas such as environmental protection, employment, and civil rights.

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