By Fatima Moien
Environmental organizations across New York State are spreading awareness about Proposition One, the $4.2 billion Clean Water, Clean Air, and Green Jobs Environmental Bond Act of 2022, which is on the ballot this year.
New York Gov. Kathy Hochul has proposed $1.5 billion for climate change mitigation, $1.1 billion for restoration and flood risk reduction, $650 million in open space land conservation and recreation, and $650 million in water quality improvement and resilient infrastructure, with $300 million remaining.
For the first time in 26 years, voters could enact an environmental bond act, which can take years to negotiate only to fail in a general election owing to the public’s lack of awareness. The last one was a $1.75 billion measure, placed on the ballot in 1996. It passed.
The 2020 Restore Mother Nature Bond Act, introduced by former Gov. Andrew Cuomo, was removed from the ballot in the face of economic turmoil caused by coronavirus pandemic.
Peter Iwanowicz, executive director of the Albany-based Environmental Advocates NY, said increased environmental education, particularly around the climate crisis, now has many people eager to vote for the act. “Everybody understands that the climate crisis is real and getting worse,” Iwanowicz said. “There’s a broad appreciation for protecting the environment in New York.”
Environmental Advocates NY is one of the 300 groups that are part of a coalition that is supporting the proposed statewide investment in the environment. Social media outreach and in-person events promoting the Vote Yes for Clean Water & Jobs campaign are ongoing. The measure is also endorsed by 22 town and village governments, all from upstate, as well as Albany and Westchester counties.
In recent years, New Yorkers have shown broad support for action on the environment.
According to Ballotpedia, in 2021, Proposition Two, the Environmental Rights Amendment, passed the with 70% of the vote. To become an amendment to the State Constitution, a measure must pass in two successive sessions of the State Legislature and then go to a statewide referendum. More than 2.1 million New Yorkers cast their ballots for the measure, while a little over 900,000 opposed it. Better known as the “Green Amendment,” the win granted New Yorkers a constitutional right to “clean water, clean air and a healthful environment.”
State Sen. Robert Jackson, a Democrat from New York City, sponsored the proposal in the Senate, according to Ballotpedia. The constitutional amendment, he said, “finally put in place safeguards that require the government to consider the environment and our relationship to the Earth in decision-making. If the government fails in that responsibility, New Yorkers will finally have the right to take legal action for a clean environment.”
The current bond act, if passed, would enable the state government to begin pursuing environmental protection projects as early as this coming January, including prioritizing the protection of water catchment areas, where water flows from various sources into a single stream.
State Assemblyman Steve Englebright, of the 4th District in Suffolk County, chairs the Assembly Committee on Environmental Conservation. He said the committee closely examined the funding proposed in the bond act and found that it is proportional to the state’s environmental protection needs.
“My colleagues from both sides of the aisle are, for the most part, strongly supportive,” Englebright said. “That’s a refreshing departure from a lot of the acrimony we see on issues, but not on this one.”
Campaigns to promote the environmental bond act are reminding New Yorkers to flip over their ballots from front to back, where they will find the measure.
“We’re the good-news story on the ballot this year,” said Jessica Ottney Mahar, New York director of policy and strategy at The Nature Conservancy, a national environmental organization. “We’re working really hard and we’re just hoping everyone will make sure to vote yes on Prop One.”
Early voting started Oct. 29 in New York.
Election Day is Tuesday, Nov. 8.
For more information from the State Board of Elections website, click here.