ALBANY, N.Y. (AP) — Gov. Andrew Cuomo on Tuesday kicked off the first in a series of four summits addressing upstate lakes and other waterways threatened by harmful algal blooms, which can affect water quality and diminish recreational opportunities and tourism.
“Harmful algal blooms are poison,” the Democrat said at an event in New Paltz, 65 miles (104 kilometers) south of Albany. “These are poisons and toxins and they’re growing at a frightening rate.”
Cuomo’s appearance preceded the first summit, being held Tuesday night at the State University of New York at New Paltz. The other three are scheduled for March in Syracuse, Rochester and Ticonderoga in the eastern Adirondacks. Each summit will bring together state environmental conservation and health officials, scientists and other experts from out of state, and local stakeholders, Cuomo said.
Certain harmful algal blooms, or HABs, have the potential to produce dangerous toxins that can contaminate local drinking water supplies, sicken people, harm aquatic life, and interfere with lake recreation activities.
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The governor’s appearance in the Hudson Valley came as his top commissioners testified at the joint public hearing for the environmental conservation portion of his $168 billion state budget proposal. Basil Seggos, commissioner of the Department of Environmental Conservation, was questioned by lawmakers about the state’s algal bloom problem during his nearly three-hour testimony.
He told Senate and Assembly members that the governor’s $65 million initiative for battling HABs includes studying 12 upstate lakes and using the information gathered to treat those lakes as well as other bodies of water across the state. The state has been addressing the problem with funding through various programs, he said.
“The purpose of the initiative now is to harness all that effort into one place, and give priority, on the HABs side, to lakes that have problems,” Seggos said.
While some advocates support Cuomo’s initiatives, others say he’s not doing enough for environmental conservation at a time when the Trump administration wants to cut federal programs and roll back regulations involving air and water protections.
The start of the hearing was delayed five minutes when a member of an environmental activist group stood up in the audience and started speaking. Giovaria Hernandez of the Bronx said Cuomo’s climate change polices don’t go far enough and she called on lawmakers to approve the Climate and Community Protection Act introduced in the Senate and Assembly.
“It’s time that he steps up to the plate,” Hernandez, a graduate student at Canisius College in Buffalo, said before leaving with several dozen other chanting demonstrators from NY Renews.
Among Cuomo’s other environmental protection proposals are a new sewage plant in Niagara Falls after discharges last summer turned the Niagara River black before the eyes of tourists and continued funding for the $2.5 billion Clean Water Infrastructure Act.
The joint hearing was the last of 13 held as the Legislature and Cuomo negotiate a final state budget, due to be in place April 1.