PEFencon's Statement on DEC Budget

Jan 13, 2009

(Formatted Adobe Version)

 

Wayne Bayer speaking on behalf of PEF/Encon:

Chairmen Farrell, Sweeney, Thompson and Honorable Members of the Joint Fiscal Committees

I am speaking on behalf of myself and the PEF/encon steward council representing 2000 Public

Employees Federation Members of the NYS Department of Environmental Conservation..

Earlier today you heard Commissioner Grannis mention the significant reduction in DEC staff.

For the record, this is a decrease of 514 staff from the FTE level in 1990. As the Commissioner

also mentioned this reduction in staff has happened concurrently with the NYS Legislature, the

US Congress and the Department substantially increasing the Departmentís regulatory and

statutory responsibilities. Unfortunately, the DEC professional staff, while appreciative of the

Commissionerís remarks that DEC has a very competent, professional and dedicated staff that

will strive to fulfill the Agencyís missions with even more cuts in staff positions and resources,

PEF/encon is not optimistic that all of DECís responsibilities can be met. These additional

proposed cuts make DEC a shadow of what it once was and what it was envisioned to be 39

years ago at its conception. As we indicated in our 2007 testimony, DEC was then and is still

operating with triage management and drive by inspections.

Chairman Sweeney and Commissioner Grannis had a discussion earlier about DEC reducing the

number of contract employees at DEC where the Commissioner indicated DEC was actively

proceeding to reduce the number of contractors. Unfortunately, there is some discrepancy

between the rhetoric of intentions and the reality. In spite of NYSís fiscal crisis, DEC continues

to rely on costly consultants to perform work that could be done by in-house staff. Two

examples:

1. The Division of Environmental Remediation recently issued a work assignment to Camp

Dresser McKee (CDM) to assist in the inspection of approximately 1,200 federally regulated

bulk storage facilities over the next two years. This work is funded under a grant from the EPA

to meet EPA requirements under federal law. CDM, typically bills for services at rates

between 30-80 percent higher than the cost of a state employee (including benefits).

2. According to the Executive Budget, DEC expects to employ175 consultant employees, an

increase of 14 from the previous fiscal year at an average of $198,800 per consultant

employee. Members of this joint committee should ask DEC to justify why they are hiring these

consultants and why they are substantially under reporting the number of consultants at DEC in

apparent violation of the Procurement Stewardship Act of 2006. The June 2008 Joint labor

management committee minutes reported that DEC had close to $71 million dollars in previously

unreported contractors. Why?

Short Staffing Causing Some Hazardous Problems in Marine Fisheries

The November 2008 Federal Food and Drug Administration (FDA) annual report said that

DEC's shellfish program is now staffed at the lowest level it has been at since 1986. Of the 31

full-time positions in the shell fisheries section, 11 are now vacantĖtwo more than FDA

reported.. "These staff reductions will jeopardize the unit's capacity to meet the sanitary survey

requirements ... and adequately protect public health." Moreover, the FDA report indicates that

lack of environmental staff threatens New Yorkís ability to ensure that shellfish harvested

or sold in NYS are safe to eat. How much does the DEC and the legislature care about shellfish

safety?

Lack of adequate staffing at DEC also hurts employment in the private sector and damages

NYSís ability to compete in the shellfish industry. According to the FDA report, lack of

staffing led the DEC to suspend its conditional certification program this year, shutting out

baymen and shellfish wholesalers from 6,000 to 7,000 acres of historically productive shellfish

beds accessed when water conditions permit. The suspension frustrated some who make their

living on the water. One local Long Island trustee indicated that hiring just one more bioligist

could employ 200 people to harvest and sell shell fish.

More importantly, the FDA report highlighted another program that could be jeopardized by

staff cuts: one that protects consumers from a potentially deadly shellfish toxin detected in

Northport waters in 2006 and 2008. "To administer this program, DEC must collect numerous

shellfish meat samples and plankton ... throughout Long Island," the FDA said, adding that

"understaffing" could limit its effectiveness.

Continuing Problems in Lands and Forests

PEF/encon has testified previously about massive staffing shortages in Lands and Forests that

deprive NYS of revenues from environmentally productive sales of lumber and forest products.

Those shortages have become worse. How can NYS and DEC deprive taxpayers of a revenue

stream that creates $3 for every dollar invested? What legislator would turn down a 3-1 return

on their investment? With NYSís deficit budget, DEC should not ignore that revenue stream.

DEC has still not surveyed huge parcels of land acquired by NYS nor has it surveyed the huge

number of acres with enviromental easements under DEC alleged management. DEC is still way

behind in developing unit management plans for state lands and DEC can not truthfully tell the

legislature that all parcels of land under DEC jurisdiction are adeqately managed and protected.

Perhaps the legislature should consider a draconian ban on the purchase of any more state lands

as some Senators earlier suggested, until such time as an independent auditor can assure the

lands we presently own and are allegedly responsible for is adequately managed! Not doing so,

is approaching fraud, by giving the taxpayers the impression that their land acquisitions and

natural resources are being adequately protected and preserved.

DEC is still way behind other states in devoting staff to protecting our forests from invasive species.

PEF/encon and PEF would like to add itís support to the proposed recreational salt water fishing

license for the Bigger, Better, Bottle Bill and for other environmental regulatory fee increases.

I must comment briefly on two issues that have raised considerable interest in earlier testimonies

and follow-up questions:

First, regarding the decision to close the Reynolds Pheasant Farm. PEF/encon has 3 comments:

1. In addition to the sporting organizations and sporting communities not being consulted prior

to the decision to close the farm, we would like to say that the professional career staff was also

not consulted.

2. We donít know if the agencyís cost benefit analysis of the savings to be achieved factored into

the equation the loss of revenues from in state and out of state bird hunters using local lodging,

food, service stations and other commercial entities. We are not sure if the analysis of the offset

of bird hunting licenses and permits was adequately calculated.

3. Some of the career civil servants at DEC (who remember the merger of the old Conservation

Department with some state health department programs in 1970) wonder if DEC is still

committed to the promises made to the continuation of and support of traditional wildlife and

conservation programs. They raise the issue that if the Division of the Budget and DEC can get

away with the closure of one pheasant farm this year, what is to say that next year it wonít be

fish hatcheries? And the year after that will it be public and state campgrounds??

Second, Brownfields.

There have been a number of questions about the viability of the stateís Brownfields program,

and the uncapped tax credits drain on the state treasury. PEF/encon urged the legislature at

previous yearís budget testimony to reexamine this program and limit the tax credits because of

the potential abuse and unlimited tax credits. There were some changes made in the Brownfields

revisions last year, with input from many of the architects of the original program that didnít

cross the "tís" and dot the "I"s on the original bill. Well, the tax credits are still too high and the

vagueness of language in the legislation is causing enormous delays in Brownfields applications,

investigations and remediations. So much so, that DEC is experiencing rejection from the courts.

Should the same people involved in the 2 earlier iterations of the Brownfields program be given

a third chance to make more mistakes?

The final comment is that many DEC professionals working in the environmental remediation

program believe that the Brownfields program is diverting too many agency resources to sites

that have marginal contamination and would have been economically viable for investors and

developers to clean up anyway. These diversions are at the cost of doing more serious

investigations and remediations of more heavily contaminated sites. For example, many uninvestigated

old dry cleaning establishments.

Thank you for the opportunity to provide this information. I will be happy to attempt to respond

to any questions you may have now or in the future as will many other PEF/encon

representatives.

 

 

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Last Updated on January 20, 2009