Op-Ed: During Earth Month, New York is investing in our future

Senator Sean M. Ryan

Originally published in Ken-Ton Bee

We celebrated Earth Day this past weekend, and as we wrap up Earth Month, I would like to take this opportunity to reflect on the history of this celebration and to focus on the environmental health of our planet and our local communities.

U.S. Sen. Gaylord Nelson created Earth Day in 1970 to bring attention to the environmental degradation that was occurring across America and the need for urgent action to clean up our land, air and water. At that time, the U.S. government did not have an agency dedicated to the health of our environment. Sen. Nelson’s push to celebrate Earth Day created a national conversation about protecting the environment, and later that year President Nixon signed a law to establish the Environmental Protection Agency.

In the 53 years since the first Earth Day, our nation has made great progress in cleaning up our waterways, protecting forests and farmland, and improving the air we breathe. Clean air and water laws have been particularly successful in alleviating the most egregious of our problems – long gone are the days of a Buffalo River so polluted that you could actually light it on fire.

And while that is good news, we still face a warming planet and an uncertain future. In 2023, we still face challenges as we work to address the reality of climate change and adapt our economy to an ever changing world. Our biggest challenge going forward is finding smart solutions to cut emissions as we take action to restore, preserve and maintain the natural world that surrounds us. Here in New York, we are leading the way in the transition to the energy solutions of the future. We are investing in solar power, wind power, hydropower and energy storage, and working quickly to improve the state’s electric vehicle charging infrastructure.

We have also taken bold steps to improve the environmental health of our communities. Last year, Gov. Hochul signed a “30 by 30” law, sponsored by my colleagues Assemblymember Patricia Fahy and former Sen. Todd Kaminsky, to conserve at least 30% of New York’s land and water by 2030. This law is part of a national goal and will guide our state agencies as they implement strategies to preserve wildlife, forests and clean water sources across New York state. The 30% goal will go a long way toward building climate resilience and protecting New York’s ecosystem for generations to come.

We have also taken a major step forward with the passage of the Clean Water, Clean Air, and Green Jobs Environmental Bond Act in 2022, which I was proud to support and which was approved by New York voters last November. The bond act provides $4.2 billion for projects focused on environmental justice, climate change mitigation, shoreline restoration, flood resilience, water quality, open space land conservation, recreational resources and green jobs. State agencies will embark on a listening tour in the coming months to plan a strategy for using this important funding. The first in-person session will be open to the public and will be held at 1 p.m. Tuesday, May 30, at the University at Buffalo Center for Tomorrow, located on the North Campus at 125 Service Center Road. To register, visit www.ny.gov/bondact.