February 16, 2012 at 8:56AM
By Ned Sullivan
Environmental protection programs often are the first casualty of states' efforts to combat fiscal challenges. Year after year they receive deep, disproportionate cuts in funding. Yet far from a budgetary burden, conserving America's natural resources offers a key for achieving lasting prosperity.
Let's look at one state that's doing the right thingmy home state New York.
Despite the need to close a $2-billion deficit in his 2011 budget, first-year Gov. Andrew Cuomo provided fair funding for state agencies that oversee New York's irreplaceable natural resources. He also maintained funding for the Environmental Protection Fund (EPF)the state's chief means of creating parks, providing clean water and protecting farmland. And he established Regional Economic Development Councils to bring together environmental and economic interests to develop new strategies for creating jobs.
Gov. Cuomo intends to build on this strategy this year. In his recently released 2012 budget, he again proposes to keep environmental funding stable. Clearly, the governor realizes the Environmental Protection Fund creates jobs and complements capital investment in repairing and upgrading New York's deficient bridges, roads and parks.
The governor also is aware of the considerable economic benefits New York derives from funding environmental protection. The Trust for Public Land has estimated that every $1 from the EPF leverages $7 in additional dividends to local communities.
The damage caused by Hurricane Irene last fall underscores the urgency of preparing for future flooding. Conserving wetlands and waterfronts provides effective, inexpensive flood control. It's estimated that each acre of wetlands in New York furnishes $689,000 in annual storm-protection benefits, primarily by soaking up water. Wetlands also remove pollutants before they reach drinking-water supplies. The same goes for forests. Every 10-percent of a watershed's forest cover eliminates 20 percent of water-treatment costs.
In addition to supporting America's $730-billion nature tourism industry, our magnificent natural resources enhance our quality of lifewhich in turn attracts new business. CEOs consider quality of life, including ample parks and open space, among the top priorities when considering where to relocate or start businesses.
I urge you to contact your governor and legislators. Recommend that they follow Gov. Cuomo's lead and make the environment the foundation of your state's economic future. You can send a similar message to your members in Congress. They are currently negotiating reauthorization of the U.S. Farm Bill, including the appropriation for the Farm and Ranch Lands Protection Programthe federal government's chief means of preserving our nation's farmland. Let them know that at the very minimum, they should ensure that FRPP funding remains stable.
This is not a big askjust 1 percent of total Farm Bill funding supports the FRPPbut it is a big deal. America continues to lose about 1 million acres of farmland a year, and the most productive and fertile land is disappearing the fastest. If we hope to feed ourselves, let alone growing populations in coming generations, Washington must make this minuscule investment.
Overcoming our perilous fiscal situation must remain the top priority for the foreseeable future. But the leaders in our capitols must realize that a healthy environment has an important role to play in ensuring a robust economic future for America.