Environmental activists say Central New York and the rest of the state could be breathing cleaner air if it weren't for a delays in fully implementing a decade-old law.
The act is called the Diesel Emissions Reduction Act, DERA for short, and would apply to all heavy duty vehicles like plows and dump trucks in the state's fleet. The measure actually had nearly unanimous bi-partisan support when it was passed in 2006, but Travis Proulx with Environmental Advocates of New York says nearly 11 years later, they're still waiting.
"When it was supposed to be implemented in 2010, that's when you saw the delays start," Proulx said. "Over the years, various senators like John DeFrancisco say it has to do with money. There's not enough money available. That's been an excuse they've starting using in recent years. But the bottom line it's really no longer an excuse now that you have these dedicated funds."
Those dedicated funds are $117 million as a result of national settlement stemming from Volkswagen cheating on diesel emission standards, and they must go toward reducing diesel emissions. Environmental Advocates has issued a new report that documents the state's lack of progress in implementing the law. Proulx says it would also apply to state contractors.
"So, for instance, when reconstruction was happening at the state fairgrounds. Those are often contractors with heavy duty trucks who should be compliance with DERA, but aren't."
He says 10 years ago, it seemed New York was ready to set an example and clean up its own fleet of heavy duty diesel vehicles perhaps toward broader adoption of retrofitted filters, or newer, greener vehicles.
"Ten years later, you'd expect to be having an economy-wide conversation, like they'd be talking about 'now how to we ensure ALL diesel trucks are held to this same standard'. Unfortunately, we're really stuck in neutral."
Proulx hopes the settlement money is finally enough inventive to shift DERA into drive in order to start reducing the high rates of asthma, especially downstate.
CAN NY COUNTER TRUMP'S AGENDA?
Central New Yorkers and others statewide might be wondering if and how the state can counter the reversals in environmental protections being pursued by the Trump administration. Travis Proulx with the group Environmental Advocates says Governor Cuomo needs to stand up and take on Trump on public health and environmental issues.
"On a number of issues, yes, the Governor has positioned New York as a refuge, in his words, against what the Trump administration is trying to do," Proulx said. "Unfortunately, on a number of environmental issues we've not yet heard that level of pushback and that level of leadership. The White House right now is working to completely dismantle a number of environmental protections from the air we breath to the water we drink."
Water quality is of speical concern to water and resources associate Liz Moran. With contamination issues in Hoosick falls, Newburgh, and other locations, she wants Cuomo to make it a priority in his budget.
"We really need, in the face of all this, for New York State to lead on water and that needs to be a well rounded approach and an approach that is properly funded," Moran said. "We really need to see New York State's budget to be a prime example of this."
The group does give Cuomo credit for numerous environmental initiatives that Travis Proulx says sets the state apart from others.
"The state has actually made a number of positive steps in the right direction, especially when it comes to the energy sector and reducing carbon pollution from the energy sector," Proulx said. "I think our hope is that now the governor and the state's focus will turn to the other 80 percent of carbon emissions. There is a vast amount of work that [remains] that we're still not hearing much on."
He says that includes the transportation sector in areas like reducing diesel emissions. The group worries that plans to dismantle the EPA overturn the Clean Power Plan, and back out of the Paris Climate Agreement could ultimately lead to life and death situations for many New Yorkers and Americans.