New York Closes the Hazardous Waste Loophole

Both houses of the New York Legislature vote to categorize toxic oil and gas waste as hazardous

(Albany, New York – July 22, 2020) – By overwhelming margins, both houses of the New York legislature passed S. 3392 (May) / A. 2655 (Englebright) to amend the Environmental Conservation law by appropriately classifying waste from oil and gas exploration, development, extraction or production as hazardous. This designation ensures that such waste is subject to all laws and regulations governing generation, transportation, treatment, storage, and disposal, if such waste meets New York’s established definition of hazardous waste.  The law will take effect immediately upon enactment by Governor Cuomo, at which point the state has six months to bring its regulations into compliance with the law.

In 1987, Congress amended the Clean Water Act, exempting the exploration, production, and processing of oil and gas. A federal loophole allows for, among other things, the discharge of certain wastewater produced by oil and gas wells into U.S. surface waters. While the Cuomo Administration banned fracking in New York State in 2015 and the New York State Legislature codified this ban in April of 2020, hazardous fracking waste produced in other states has been spread upon New York’s roads for de-icing purposes or disposed of in municipal water treatment plants, subsequently entering the state’s soil and water. Most water treatment plants do not have the capacity to detoxify water contaminated with fracking waste. The passage of this act renders both of these practices unlawful. 

“New York State has often had to step up when the federal government falls short, especially when it comes to environmental protection. New York is a leader in this regard, and I'm proud to sponsor legislation to close a huge loophole in how hazardous waste produced by the oil and gas industry is regulated," said Steve Englebright, Assembly Environmental Conservation Committee Chair. Despite having passed the NYS Assembly numerous times, it is now finally delivered to the Governor. Our persistence paid off, and New York's people, communities, and water will be the better for it."

"New York shouldn't be in the business of exempting environmental hazards," said Kathleen Curtis, Executive Director of Clean and Healthy New York. "I commend Senator May and Assemblyman Englebright for their leadership in protecting New York's water and soil from the toxic impacts of the under-regulated oil and gas industry. It's long overdue, and CHNY is thankful New York finally has the leadership to make it happen."

“Fracking profits go to private oil and gas companies, but it’s the public – New York’s families and communities – who must bear the costs of the many health complications that research studies have linked to fracking drilling and the waste it produces," said Cecil Corbin-Mark, Deputy Director of WE ACT for Environmental Justice and Co-Leader of the JustGreen Partnership. "When Governor Andrew Cuomo said no fracking in New York State, we applauded. Today, we applaud Chair of the Assembly Committee on Environmental Conservation Steve Englebright and Senator Rachel May for closing a loophole that exposed New Yorkers to fracking waste and its many related health problems despite there being a ban on fracking in New York. We can finally say no fracking, no fracking waste, and no fracking associated health issues!”

“New York has demonstrated just precaution for the negative environmental impacts associated with fracking and has banned the practice from our borders, yet New York regulators still have allowed some of the worst byproducts of that process to enter the state’s waste treatment facilities from Pennsylvania with little scrutiny,” said Roger Downs, Conservation Director of the Sierra Club Atlantic Chapter. “We applaud Senator May, Assemblyman Englebright, and the leadership of both houses for breaking years of gridlock and passing common sense legislation that will no longer allow gas drillers exemptions from the laws governing the safe treatment and disposal of hazardous waste.”

“A healthy environment and citizenry is essential to a strong economy,” said Bob Rossi, Executive Director of the New York Sustainable Business Council. “Our state banned fracking citing health risks, yet we continued to subject New Yorkers to these same health risks by accepting fracking waste without necessary precautions. NYSBC is grateful for the leadership of Assemblyman Englebright and Senator May in seeing this bill through and further protecting our environment, current and future New Yorkers, and businesses across New York State.”

Patrick McClellan, Policy Director of the New York League of Conservation Voters, said, "All hazardous waste, including potentially toxic fracking waste, must be subject to the same regulations. A. 2655/S. 3392 will make all waste from oil and gas drilling subject to the same regulations for transportation, treatment storage, and disposal. This will protect our water quality and the health of our waterways. We thank the State Senate and State Assembly for advancing this important legislation and commend Senator May and Assemblymember Englebright for their leadership."

Enactment of this policy was a top JustGreen Partnership priority.

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Clean and Healthy New York works for safer chemicals, a sustainable economy, and a healthier world. It co-leads the JustGreen Partnership, over 50 organizations working for environmental health and justice for New York’s people and communities, and leads the national Getting Ready for Baby campaign working to ensure all baby and children’s products are free of harmful chemicals.

The JustGreen Partnership is a coalition of about 50 groups representing nearly a million New Yorkers, all working together for environmental health and justice for New York’s people and communities. The Partnership focuses on transforming the policies that govern how chemicals are regulated or marketed in the great State of New York. Through our work, we are building a better movement for health and environmental justice in New York State.

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