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Environmental group flunks state lawmakers

An environmental group, out with its annual voters’ guide, is grading state lawmakers harshly this year.Environmental Advocates of New York's Rob Moore says the 2012 legislative session was a disappointment for environmental and other issues.

“This was one of the least productive legislative sessions generally, in history,” said Moore. “That unproductive nature extended to the environment, as well.”

He says for first time since 2006, bills listed as top priorities for environmental groups, none were approved by both houses and sent to the governor.  The measures include solar power expansion, legislation to combat climate change, and a bill to treat wastewater from hydrofracking as hazardous waste.

As a result, Moore says, the scores awarded to lawmakers this year plummeted from previous years and are, “shockingly low.” 

No senator or assembly member won the group’s annual legislator of the year award -- they scrapped the prize for 2012. They did give credit to two lawmakers, Assembly Environmental Committee Chairman Robert Sweeney of Long Island, and, Assemblyman George Latimer of Westchester, who successfully championed a bill to use unclaimed bottle deposits to help replenish the state’s Environmental Protection Fund.  Governor Andrew Cuomo has not yet signed the bill.

The group did give out its infamous “oil slick award,” to Assemblyman Sean Hanna, of the Rochester area.  Hanna used to be the regional director of the state Department of Environmental Conservation in Western New York.  Moore criticized Hanna for, among other things, sponsoring a bill that would repeal all of the state’s rules and regulations on pesticide protection, and for making what he called, “outlandish remarks,” like saying that climate change doesn’t exist.

Hanna who is running in a race to fill the senate seat vacated by the retiring Jim Alesi, was also named one of the nation’s “dirty dozen” state lawmakers by the League of Conservation Voters.

Hanna is unashamed of his views.  He features a video on his official Assembly website, in which he argues against a bill to curb global warming pollution, saying it would create a burden on businesses, and is better left to the federal government to regulate.  Hanna references e-mails from climate change scientists that highlighted disagreements among the academics, and accuses them of engaging in an “active conspiracy” to suppress opposing views.

A new Siena College poll finds that Hanna is leading his Democratic opponent, Ted O’Brien, by 8 points. The same poll also showed Assemblyman Latimer, who is also running for an open state Senate seat vacated by Suzie Oppenheimer, just three points ahead of his opponent, Bob Cohen.    

The past two sessions of the legislature have been dominated by Governor Cuomo, who firmly took charge of the state’s agenda in early 2010.  Moore says Cuomo has not made new environmental initiatives a priority, and that has influenced the fate of bills in the Senate and the Assembly.

“Environmental measures were not high on the governor’s agenda, no question about it,” said Moore.

But he says Cuomo has also not gone out of his way to slash environmental funding or gut pollution protections. He says in the waning days of the session, the governor presented bills to encourage green energy and to take steps to reduce pollution believed to contribute to global warming.

But Moore says the annual report judges legislators, who are ultimately responsible for their own actions, and he says it was state Senate Republicans, not Cuomo, who voted for nine measures that the group considers anti-environment. 

Karen DeWitt is Capitol Bureau Chief for New York State Public Radio, a network of 10 public radio stations in New York State. She has covered state government and politics for the network since 1990.