Obscured by the governor’s race and other state elections, many New Yorkers may be unaware of another item on this year’s ballot: the $4.2 billion Clean Water, Clean Air, and Green Jobs Environmental Bond Act of 2022.
But what is the Environmental Bond Act? And what would it do for New York state?
Also known as Proposition 1, or Prop One, this is “the first time in a generation that New Yorkers have been asked to vote on an Environmental Bond Act,” according to Jessica Ottney Mahar, the New York policy and strategy director for The Nature Conservancy. The last Environmental Bond Act was in 1996.
The Environmental Bond Act will “authorize the creation of state debt and the sale of state bonds in the amount of up to … $4,200,000,000 for certain capital projects for the purpose of making environmental improvements that preserve, enhance, and restore New York’s natural resources and reduce the impact of climate change,” according to the New York State Board of Elections website.
“The measure will protect clean water and uplift public health, and fund projects that improve environmental protection and quality of life across the state,” Ottney Mahar said.
Justin Levine, a communications associate with the Adirondack Council, said that Prop One “would allow New York state to make critical investments in infrastructure and fighting climate change… and protecting our environment. Not just in the Adirondack Park but all across New York state.”
Both The Nature Conservancy and the Adirondack Council are partners with the Vote Yes for Clean Water & Jobs coalition. Ottney Mahar works closely with this group.
Ottney Mahar explained that there are four programs within the bond act, each focusing on “addressing some of the big environmental challenges facing communities throughout the state.” The four programs are water quality and resilient infrastructure, open space conservation and recreation, restoration and flood risk reduction, and climate change mitigation.
The clean water program will help with infrastructure upgrades to ensure clean drinking water, Ottney Mahar said. The program will also ensure that wastewater is treated correctly and does not leak into bodies of water across New York. Wastewater in waterways can cause water pollution, beach closures, and sickness.
The Environmental Bond Act will address many problems caused by storms and flooding, Ottney Mahar said. Prop One will update stormwater sewers and systems so New York state is better prepared for flooding due to storms like Hurricane Ida.
“[During Ida] we saw rain just inundate [New York City], and [we] actually lost lives of New Yorkers,” Ottney Mahar said.
Culverts and roads are another piece of infrastructure the Environmental Bond Act looks to strengthen to better handle storms and floodwaters, Ottney Mahar said.
Ottney Mahar described the destruction of roads due to adverse weather as “a public health and safety crisis.”
In many small towns in upstate New York, for example, there may only be one road “in and out of town, to and from the hospital, to and from the area where people go to work, to school,” Ottney Mahar said. Therefore, improving the infrastructure of roads is vital.
The act’s restoration and flood risk reduction and the resilient infrastructure sections also seek to “[restore] the natural resources that buffer us from flooding,” Ottney Mahar said. “Things like wetlands, forests, streambanks, [and] waterfronts to reduce inland flooding.”
As for open space conservation, Prop One will protect and maintain New York City and state parks, preserves and campgrounds, all of which saw increased use during the COVID-19 pandemic, Ottney Mahar said.
Preserving and protecting farmland is also included within the bond act, Ottney Mahar said. It also increases funding to farmers to improve soil health, among other things.
The Environmental Bond Act will also address urban heat issues, as cities are often hotter due to a lack of natural cover, Ottney Mahar said. This includes things like “urban forestry, community gardens, green roofs [and] community cooling centers.”
The Environmental Bond Act will also benefit “disadvantaged communities,” Levine said. “Communities that have suffered from environmental justice issues.”
At least 35% of the total funding in Prop One needs to benefit disadvantaged communities, Ottney Mahar said.
“New York is leading the nation in terms of fighting climate change, protecting open spaces and rectifying environmental injustice,” Levine said. “The Bond Act is a continuation of those efforts.”
AECOM, an engineering firm, and Rebuild by Design, a Vote Yes for Clean Water & Jobs coalition partner, conducted a study and found that the Environmental Bond Act will create nearly 100,000 jobs, Ottney Mahar said.
“The $4.2 billion that the bond act is made up of is projected to create at least $8.7 billion in spending, and that translates into jobs,” Levine said. “So, whether or not you care about the environment … this bond act will create tens of thousands of jobs, and those are good paying jobs that stay in New York.”
Because the bond act does not regulate anything and only provides funding for specific projects, Ottney Mahar does not believe there will be any negative impact on other industries in the state.
There is also “no tax increase associated with this measure,” Ottney Mahar said. “So, this is an opportunity for New Yorkers to make sure that a portion of what they are already paying into the system is dedicated to [clean water and clean air.].”
“There is no more basic and fundamental thing the government provides its citizens than clean air and clean water,” Ottney Mahar said.
“Overall, I think the bond act is vitally important for New York state as we move forward and fight climate change,” Levine said.
In most places in New York, voters will have to “flip” their ballot to vote on the Environmental Bond Act, as it is on the back, Ottney Mahar said. She encouraged everyone to check both sides of the ballot while voting to ensure it is complete.