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Hochul set to act on two environmental bills

Gov. Kathy Hochul.
Mike Groll
Office of Gov. Kathy Hochul
Gov. Kathy Hochul.

Gov. Kathy Hochul has until the end of the year to sign or veto over 100 bills, including environmental measures focusing on deforestation and the health of the state’s honeybee population. 

Speaking after a recent public event, Hochul said she’s been busy in December, working on two major upcoming presentations and delving into the details of dozens of bills that remain to be acted on before Dec. 31.

“You're lucky I'm here today because I spend most of my hours now working on the budget, working on the State of the State and the remaining 125 bills or so we have to do,” she said. 

Bills that need to be acted on by Saturday include one known as the New York Tropical Deforestation-Free Procurement Act. It would help prevent the destruction of tropical rainforests by banning state contracts with companies that use tropical hardwoods to make their products. 

It also would prohibit the state from buying products including beef, soybeans, palm oil, coffee, cocoa and paper that come from at-risk forest areas. Contractors would have to certify that their products don’t contribute to tropical deforestation or degradation.

Vanessa Fajans-Turner with Environmental Advocates said ongoing deforestation has led to 15% of total global greenhouse gas emissions.

“This is hands-down the most important large-scale climate bill still facing Governor Hochul that she has the opportunity to lead on at a critical moment in the world,” Fajans-Turner said.

Senate sponsor Liz Krueger said the European Union has already adopted a ban, and similar standards in New York will help businesses here.

“Because they want to sell their products to the EU,” Krueger said. “And so if they're not meeting these standards, they're not going to be competitive in the world markets. … This is a win for our New York businesses.”

Some business groups, including the New York State Business Council, don’t see it that way. The lumber and building trades industry warned that the bill could have unintended consequences. They said it could severely affect supply chains, cause job losses, drive up the already high costs of building materials and worsen the state’s affordable housing crisis.

Krueger said legislative staff members have been working with the governor’s aides on possible changes to the bill, known as chapter amendments. But so far, no final agreement has been reached.

She said she’s “cautiously optimistic” that Hochul will sign the measure.

Another bill would ban the use of a class of pesticides known as neonicotinoids. The chemical is used on seed coatings to help farmers more easily control harmful pests.

Advocates, including the Natural Resources Defense Council’s Dan Raichel, say neonicotinoids are among the most potent pesticides ever created and are contributing to the alarming decline of the honeybee population.

“We now know that their ecologically destructive impacts are likely worse than any class of pesticides since DDT,” Raichel said.

The state’s Farm Bureau is against the bill. The group’s Jeff Williams said the ban would have adverse consequences and would require farmers to spray much larger amounts of pesticides directly onto their crops to control insects.

“When it comes to seed treatments, an active ingredient of that pesticide is only an ounce per acre at most,” Williams said. “If farmers were spraying pesticides on the field, the same pesticides, it would be gallons per acre.”

The farmers are encouraged by Hochul’s veto earlier this year of another bill that would regulate the use of some pesticides on freshwater wetlands. The governor said that bill would undermine the integrity of the state Department of Environmental Conservation’s pesticide program.

Hochul has made it a tradition not to tip her hand in advance on whether she will accept or reject a piece of legislation.

“All will be known by the stroke of midnight on New Year's Eve, so stay up late,” she joked.

Karen DeWitt is Capitol Bureau chief for the New York Public News Network, composed of a dozen newsrooms across the state. She has covered state government and politics for the network since 1990.