Crossbows, pollution control part of Cuomo green agenda

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The state budget will invest in cleaning up polluted sites in impoverished neighborhoods, create an oversight office for Long Island utility customers, and legalize crossbow hunting, Gov Andrew Cuomo announced on Tuesday.

The total spent on energy and environment will decrease by $17 million, a 1.2 percent drop, from $1.43 billion to $1.41 billion, compares with last year, according to the proposed state budget. The state Department of Environmental Conservation also will see a $43 million cut, a 5 percent drop, though much of that comes from the completion of projects related to the federal American Recovery and Reinvestment Act and the 1996 Bond Act.

However, the Brownfields program will get a significant reworking as part of Cuomo's budget proposal. The tax credit is currently based on the value of the building constructed on a renovated site, not the actual cleanup costs and the state has spent . As a result, most of the cleanup occurs on valuable land in affluent areas, rather than in the neediest communities.The state has spent $1.14 billion to clean just 131 sites, according to Environmental Advocates, a nonprofit advocacy group.

"Few areas produce economic development more than robust and targeted investments in New York’s environment,” Environmental Advocates spokesman Travis Proulx said in a statement. “Governor Cuomo has recognized the state’s brownfields program is critical to community revitalization and that for too long it has been an albatross for taxpayers, too costly and off-target for many areas.”

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The program will be extended for a decade with incentives to spur redevelopment upstate. The reformed program includes remediation tax credits that cover actual cleanup costs on sites that have been vacant for more than 10 years. The state superfund cleanup will grow by $100 million, including $10 to address municipally-owned brownfields.

The 18-a utility surcharge will be eliminated in the next fiscal year for industry and accelerated for other customers. The temporary surcharge on gas, electric, water and steam utilities was extended by Cuomo in this year's budget and was due to be eliminated in 2017.

“Accelerating the elimination for homeowners is important because we pay high energy costs, and that's an unnecessary burden,” said Democratic Assemblywoman Amy Paulin of Westchester, the Assembly's Energy committee chair.

The governor's budget proposal also spends $5.5 million to establish a utility oversight agency on Long Island. The satellite office of the Department of Public Service will have 39 employees who will oversee utility rates, operations and storm preparedness. The new utility operating Long Island's power grid, PSEG Long Island, will try to freeze rates at 2013 levels through 2015.

Legalizing crossbow hunting is part of a larger push in the the state budget to draw more visitors to the state's natural sites. It calls for $40 million to establish 50 public access sites around the state for hunting, fishing, bird-watching and hikers. It will also repair fish hatcheries and repair dams. New three- and five-year hunting and fishing licenses will be created and the seven-day fishing license fee will be reduced.