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Cuomo proposes new environmental justice provisions for state's water infrastructure loan programs

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Tue, Aug 11th 2020 12:15 pm

Prioritizes consideration of impacts to communities disproportionately burdened by pollution & environmental challenges

Intended use plan proposal would ensure equitable treatment of all communities; water infrastructure projects with environmental justice benefits could receive zero-interest loans

Gov. Andrew Cuomo announced proposed changes to the financing tools New York makes available to municipalities that will prioritize environmental justice areas for water infrastructure projects. The changes would help address the historic inequities faced by low-income communities and communities of color that have borne the brunt of the worst environmental impacts. These resources will fix existing water infrastructure issues and prevent future ones by making more municipalities eligible for cost-saving financial assistance that allows them to afford critical clean and drinking water projects.

"Everyone, including state and local governments, has an obligation to rethink how our actions can create negative environmental impacts that disproportionately affect low-income and disadvantaged communities," Cuomo said. "Prioritizing environmental justice communities for these resources will help municipalities overcome the financial challenges standing in the way of making sure every New Yorker has access to water that is safe to drink and clean for recreation."

The New York State Environmental Facilities Corp., in cooperation with the state's Department of Environmental Conservation and Department of Health, administers the Clean Water State Revolving Fund and the Drinking Water State Revolving Fund to provide zero- and low- interest loans to support critical water and drinking water infrastructure projects across the state. These projects include the construction of sewers, wastewater treatment plants, water storage tanks, water distribution systems, and water treatment systems to protect the environment and public health.

The state is revising the CWSRF and DWSRF programs to include additional considerations for low-income communities and communities of color that have historically been burdened by pollution and other environmental challenges and will make zero-interest financial assistance available to more areas that serve environmental justice community residents. Each year, EFC issues draft federal fiscal year intended use plans for public review and comment that provide information about New York's revolving loan fund programs. The IUPs include the types of financial assistance available, the sources and uses of each of the SRF's funds, and identify the infrastructure projects that are eligible for financial assistance in FFY 2021.

The 2021 draft IUPs include revisions to incentivize water infrastructure improvements in environmental justice communities. Projects that primarily benefit environmental justice communities would be eligible for zero-interest financing pursuant to the SRF hardship policies. In addition, beginning in fiscal year 2021, all municipalities seeking SRF financial assistance to fund their water infrastructure projects will be required to consider the impacts of their proposed project on environmental justice communities as part of their required engineering reports.

EFC has also released amended SRF hardship policies for public comment that will enable more communities to access zero-interest financing for water infrastructure improvement projects. Municipalities that would otherwise not be eligible for hardship financing will be eligible if their project serves, protects or benefits an environmental justice community. Their proposed water infrastructure project would be reviewed by a third-party independent professional engineer that will include a value engineering evaluation of the project to determine whether costs can be reduced without sacrificing the quality of the project and to confirm that at least 50% of the project cost or project scope serves, protects, or benefits an identified environmental justice area. When confirmed, a municipality will be eligible for zero-interest financing to implement the project. Current market conditions indicate communities could save approximately 27% over the term of the financing.

EFC Board Chair and DEC Commissioner Basil Seggos said, "Combating the effects of climate change, providing clean drinking water, improving air quality, or fixing infrastructure are just some of the ways our state continues to lead in promoting better communities for all. Gov. Cuomo continues to demonstrate his commitment to prioritizing environmental justice across the many programs and initiatives that New York has available to benefit communities and to prevent any potential future injustices."

EFC Acting President, CEO and General Counsel Maureen Coleman said, "New York state administers the largest State Revolving Fund programs in the nation. These programs provide more than $1.5 billion annually to the state's municipalities to support critical water infrastructure. This announcement represents an important step forward in ensuring that New York's Revolving Funds support the state's most disadvantaged communities."

New York State Health Commissioner Dr. Howard Zucker said, "Because ensuring the availability of clean drinking water for all of New York's communities is a major public health priority for the state, we recently adopted strict and unprecedented standards for PFOA and PFOS and 1,4-dioxane, the leftovers of decades-old industrial pollution in largely disadvantaged areas. Prioritizing funds to upgrade drinking water and wastewater infrastructure in environmental justice communities will provide these municipalities with equal footing in addressing these challenges as we move forward with New York's aggressive public and environmental health agendas."

EFC and DOH will host a webinar to review the draft 2021 CWSRF and DWSRF IUPs and answer participant questions at 10 a.m. Wednesday, Aug. 19. EFC and DOH will hold a virtual joint public hearing to accept public comments on the draft IUPs on Wednesday, Sept. 2, starting at 2 p.m. Written comments on the draft IUPs must be submitted by 5 p.m. Monday, Sept. 21. The proposals, meeting, hearing, and public comment submission details can be found at: https://www.efc.ny.gov/.

The governor's commitment to clean water was most recently demonstrated with the adoption of a first-in-the-nation drinking water standard for emerging contaminant 1,4-dioxane that set the maximum contaminant level of 1 part per billion for 1,4-dioxane. The governor also announced maximum contaminant levels for emerging contaminants PFOA and PFOS in New York's drinking water, which are among the lowest in the U.S. for PFOA and PFOS at 10 parts per trillion. Funding has included $3.5 billion for water quality protection across New York through the Clean Water Infrastructure Act and $1 billion in subsequent budgets, $350 million awarded through the Water Infrastructure Improvement Act, and $60 million in the Intermunicipal Water Infrastructure Grants Program, among other investments for projects across the state.

New York's ongoing commitment to Environmental Justice is highlighted by the Climate Leadership and Community Protection Act, which drives investment in clean energy solutions such as wind, solar, energy efficiency and energy storage and ensures that at least 40% of the clean energy investments benefit disadvantaged and low-to-moderate income communities. Recently, $10.6 million was made available to help underserved New Yorkers access clean, affordable, and reliable solar energy, and as part of an initiative announced by the governor just last month to accelerate the adoption of electric vehicles, $206 million of $701 million is allocated for lower-socioeconomic and disadvantaged communities to build electric vehicle charging stations and infrastructure.

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