Quantcast

Lawsuit Challenges New York's Misuse of Clean Water Act Funds

Riverkeeper, Waterkeeper Alliance and Environmental Advocates of New York announced today that they have filed a lawsuit in the New York state supreme court against New York state officials and agencies, looking to stop the state from using federal Clean Water Act funds for the Tappan Zee Bridge project. Those charged include the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation, Environmental Facilities Corporation, Thruway Authority and Public Authorities Control Board, as well as approximately 18 board members and executives of these agencies.

Environmental groups—and the EPA—say rebuilding the Tappan Zee Bridge over the Hudson River is not a legitimate use of Clean Water Act funds.
Photo credit: Shutterstock

New York state has proposed to take $511 million from the Clean Water State Revolving Fund (CWSRF) for bridge construction projects, including dredging, pile driving and demolition. The Tappan Zee project wasn't included in the state's CWSRF Intended Use Plan finalized in February 2014 but was mysteriously added four months later with no public notice or comment, violating Clean Water Act requirements.

The project was not only approved by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), but in a Sept. 16 letter, the EPA rejected $482 million of this loan, saying, "Construction activities arising from transportation projects do not advance water quality, and CWSRF funding should not be used for these purposes." The environmental groups want a court order to enforce the EPA decision and prevent similar improper diversion of funds in the future, since the state is claiming it doesn't need EPA approval to divert these funds.

"The EPA took an important step in disallowing the brunt of this loan," said Paul Gallay, president of Riverkeeper, which has been monitoring the Tappan Zee project for six years and pressuring the state over poor dredging practices and inadequate monitoring of endangered species, as well as improper funding. "However, Albany has vowed to appeal EPA's decision. The surest way to protect this vital funding source for its intended purpose is to make sure the court has jurisdiction to enforce the Clean Water Act as necessary.”

"We were deeply disappointed to learn of the state’s plan to divert federal Clean Water Act funding for a major construction project that certainly won’t improve water quality,” said Waterkeeper Alliance executive director Marc Yaggi. “Allowing this misuse of funds could set a dangerous national precedent spurring other states to raid federal monies designed to give us clean water. In the vernacular of this holiday season, the state’s economic trick isn’t a treat for our waterways and communities.”

The environmental groups are not just concerned about the money being diverted, but the process used to do so.

"EPA did not make any findings in its ruling with respect to the grossly illegal process the state utilized when it fast-tracked the approvals of these loans without public input," said Daniel E. Estrin of the Pace Environmental Litigation Clinic, which is handling the lawsuit. "We cannot and will not stand by and allow the state to steal from the public its statutory and regulatory rights to participate in the CWSRF decision process, which are expressly guaranteed under federal and state law.”

The litigants pointed out that while the state wants to use funds for bridge demolition and construction, New York's water needs are being ignored. They point out that on the same day this past June that the state Environmental Facilities Corporation voted unanimously to approve the Tappan Zee funding, there were two water main breaks in Syracuse that shut down streets and left city residents without water.

"This program has done tremendous work for decades, including helping communities right here in New York to upgrade and protect residents from outdated sewage systems and other infrastructure problems," said Peter Iwanowicz, executive director of Environmental Advocates of New York. "Communities across the state are in desperate need of funding for water infrastructure improvements and the Cuomo administration should be working with the EPA to develop the funding plan necessary.”

YOU MIGHT ALSO LIKE

Clean Water, a Smart Investment

DiCaprio Donates $2 Million to Protect the Oceans

Epic Drought and Dirty Energy Spur Coalition to Protect Colorado River Basin

EcoWatch Daily Newsletter

New pine trees grow from the forest floor along the North Fork of the Flathead River on the western boundary of Glacier National Park on Sept. 16, 2019 near West Glacier, Montana. Chip Somodevilla / Getty Images

By Alex Kirby

New forests are an apparently promising way to tackle global heating: the trees absorb carbon dioxide, the main greenhouse gas from human activities. But there's a snag, because permanently lower river flows can be an unintended consequence.

Read More
Household actions lead to changes in collective behavior and are an essential part of social movements. Pixabay / Pexels

By Greg McDermid, Joule A Bergerson, Sheri Madigan

Hidden among all of the troubling environmental headlines from 2019 — and let's face it, there were plenty — was one encouraging sign: the world is waking up to the reality of climate change.

So now what?

Read More
Sponsored
Logging state in the U.S. is seen representing some of the consequences humans will face in the absence of concrete action to stop deforestation, pollution and the climate crisis. Mark Newman / Lonely Planet Images / Getty Images

Talk is cheap, says the acting executive secretary of the United Nations Convention on Biological Diversity, who begged governments around the world to make sure that 2020 is not another year of conferences and empty promises, but instead is the year to take decisive action to stop the mass extinction of wildlife and the destruction of habitat-sustaining ecosystems, as The Guardian reported.

Read More
The people of Kiribati have been under pressure to relocate due to sea level rise. A young woman wades through the salty sea water that flooded her way home on Sept. 29, 2015. Jonas Gratzer / LightRocket via Getty Images

Refugees fleeing the impending effects of the climate crisis cannot be forced to return home, according to a new decision by the United Nations Human Rights Committee, as CNN reported. The new decision could open up a massive wave of legal claims by displaced people around the world.

Read More
The first day of the Strike WEF march on Davos on Jan. 18, 2020 near Davos, Switzerland. The activists want climate justice and think the WEF is for the world's richest and political elite only. Kristian Buus / In Pictures via Getty Images

By Ashutosh Pandey

Teenage climate activist Greta Thunberg is returning to the Swiss ski resort of Davos for the 2020 World Economic Forum with a strong and clear message: put an end to the fossil fuel "madness."

Read More