To achieve 209 layoffs by the end of the year, the DEC will need to make some very tough decisions about which programs to eliminate... These decisions will have clear and immediate consequences for New Yorkers and for state government.
In Western New York, and across New York State, the environmental community is talking about the dismissal of Alexander "Pete" Grannis, New York State's former commissioner of the Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC). It is rumored that Grannis was fired due to a memo that was leaked to the Times Union last Tuesday (Grannis was fired on Thursday).
Below is a copy of the memo and some key points contained therein.
The memo explains that the DEC has been instructed by the New York State Department of Budgets to reduce DEC staff by 209 people by the end of December 2010. The memo proposes a plan for the layoffs and highlights the potential public health and environmental impacts the layoffs might have on New York State.
In the memo, the author states that the "DEC is in the weakest position that it has been in since it was created 40 years ago." The author continues, "The public would be shocked to learn how thin we are in many areas - in many instances, we have offices or sections responsible for important permitting and monitoring functions staffed by only one or two people." In addition, "some regional offices have no capacity in certain areas because key items are unoccupied and can't be filled."
The memo further explains that from 1997 to 2008, the responsibilities delegated to the DEC continually increased, while layoffs also increased, and "with the additional 209 jobs we are being called on to eliminate now, DEC's total job loss will be 804.21% of the agency's workforce, since April, 2008." (p. 2) With reduced staff, but increased responsibilities, the agency's ability to preserve the environment and protect human health has been compromised.
Despite the compromises the memo said New York has already experienced, here are some additional responsibilities of the DEC that could be effected by the proposed layoffs:
- Ensuring environmental quality to protect air and water quality;
- Managing hazardous and non-hazardous waste and cleaning up dangerously contaminated sites;
- Overseeing the state's natural resources, including all state lands, fish and wildlife populations, the Hudson River, the Great Lakes and Lake Champlain, and the coastline; and
- Providing recreational opportunities for the public, including camping and hiking in New York's forest preserve.
The memo reads, "To achieve 209 layoffs by the end of the year, the DEC will need to make some very tough decisions about which programs to eliminate or greatly curtail. These decisions will have clear and immediate consequences for New Yorkers and for state government." (p. 6)
According to this memo, here are some impacts New York has already experienced and can expect to see more of because of cutbacks to the DEC budget:
- The agency is cleaning-up fewer petroleum spills;
- Inspections and enforcement activities have dwindled;
- There is less oversight of mine safety and oil and gas drilling;
- Efforts to plug leaking abandoned wells have been cut;
- Backcountry patrols by rangers and conservation officers have been significantly reduced;
- DEC's fish hatcheries may be closed, resulting in a reduction in economic activity supported and induced by fish stocking;
- Cuts to the Minerals Division will mean fewer staff available to review applications and oversee activities related to Marcellus Shale;
- Elimination of the DEC's voluntary brownfields program, will shift their focus to remediation only on State Superfund sites;
- Clean-up and redevelopment of contaminated lands will take additional time;
- Reviews and approvals of industrial, commercial, and residential development projects (especialy in regional offices) have slowed; and
- Priority infrastructure initiatives will be affected (such as a second Peace Bridge in Buffalo, high speed rail corridors and major renewable energy projects).
To address the budget cut, the memo outlined the following Strategic Plan for the DEC:
- DEC will identify programs and services that can no longer be provided to New Yorkers, and seek to target layoffs to those areas to try to salvage the viability of remaining programs.
- In selecting programs for elimination, DEC will attempt to avoid cutting, to the extent practical, those programs that (i) directly address risks to human health, and (ii) prevent immediate environmental degradation. Programs that are focused on outdoor recreation and sports (including skiing, fishing, hunting, camping, biking, etc.) will likely be cut.
- Every category of employee will be considered for layoffs, including executive and other exempt positions.
- DEC will examine opportunities to return delegated programs to the federal government or cede control of certain programs as allowed under law to local governments.
DEC = Department of Environmental Conservation
DOB = Department of Budgets
SRO = Special Revenue, Other
ERI = Early Retirement Incentives program
NPS = Non-Personal Services spending