New York Approves $3 Billion 2020 Conservation Bond Act

Voters to approve issuance in November

The New York State Legislature passed Governor Cuomo’s Restore Mother Nature Bond Act on April 1st as part of the state’s 2020-2021 budget. The Act, if approved by New York voters in November, will provide $3 billion for environmental restoration and flood reduction projects throughout New York over the next five years. The Governor has actively promoted the environmental initiative, noting that the new measures are “essential to New York’s continued economic success.” New York’s resiliency investment will fund the restoration of critical habitats and the reduction of flood risks, fight harmful invasive species, double acreage of artificial marine reefs, and add to the ongoing efforts to plant shellfish around Long Island.

Funds for the 2020 environmental bond act come in the form of tax-exempt general obligation bonds, sold by the State Comptroller to finance the capital projects. Following voter approval of the Act, the legislature would need to pass additional legislation to implement the programs.

The 2020 Restore Mother Nature Bond Act would be the state’s largest conservation-focused bond act and would build on the state’s past investments in open space, wastewater treatment plants, and cleanups. The Act would place renewed focus on coastal resilience and flood control infrastructure. In recent election cycles, voters in states across the country have shown strong bipartisan support for conservation ballot measures.

New York has supported environmental conservation and restoration efforts through voter-approved bond acts since the 1970s. With environmental bond acts passed in 1972, 1986, and 1996, New York has provided funding to address air and water pollution, target industrial site contamination, and promote land preservation projects – all of which did not have identifiable funding sources without these bonds.

Perhaps the most notable New York environmental bond act was the first: the 1972 Environmental Quality Bond Act. Henry Diamond championed the passage of the 1972 Act in his role as the first Commissioner of the newly-created New York State Department of Environmental Conservation. The 1972 Act authorized funds for a variety of conservation projects including land preservation and improvement, new parks, municipal solid waste projects, municipal and state air quality projects, and water quality improvements. To promote the 1972 environmental bond, Diamond biked 533 miles from Niagara Falls, New York, to Port Washington, Long Island. His trek across the entire state of New York to advocate for legislative passage and voter approval succeeded. In 1972 and years following, the Act provided $1.2 billion for water and air pollution control and land acquisition, with the state using part of the funds to buy 132,000 acres of land in the Adirondacks and Catskills. Mr. Diamond was later among the founding partners of Beveridge & Diamond.

The 1996 Clean Water/Clean Air Bond Act garnered bipartisan support and appropriated $1.75 billion for long-term improvements to the State’s environmental infrastructure and natural resources. Like previous New York environmental bond acts, the 1996 Act first passed the New York Legislature, was signed by the governor, and then approved by referendum. The preceding act – the 1986 New York State Environmental Quality Bond Act – similarly authorized the use of $1.45 billion for environmental projects like hazardous waste site throughout the state, forest preserve land acquisition, historic site preservation, urban park creation, and sensitive ecological area protection.

Left: Henry Diamond, first Commissioner of the newly-created New York State Department of Environmental Conservation and founding partner of Beveridge & Diamond, photographed in 1972. Photo courtesy of the New York State DEC. Right: Henry Diamond and his bicycle photographed in 2015. 

As the leading law firm for environmental law and litigation, B&D helps public and private sector clients develop and implement the types of infrastructure projects and solutions reflected in New York’s environmental conservation bonds. Our services cover the gamut of water and wastewater treatment with an emphasis on stormwater and inter-governmental water allocation agreements, waste management, infrastructure development and permitting, and environmental review processes.