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Budget Shortfall “Endangers Lives” of 12 million New Yorkers

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November 25, 2009

NEW YORK - According to the American Lung Association (ALA), air pollution endangers the lives of 12 million New Yorkers in 30 counties, and the group says the situation is getting even worse as a result of the state's budget troubles.

Michael Seilback, ALA vice president for public policy in New York, says recent cuts at at the Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) will hurt asthma sufferers, young and old. He says the agency is now so short-staffed, it can't even enforce a law that requires a cleanup of the state trucking fleet.

"Pollution from diesel-powered trucks and off-road vehicles is a major contributor to fine particle pollution, which is a major asthma trigger. The DEC is rolling back a law which was going to clean up the state's diesel fleet of heavy-duty vehicles. In fact, what they are saying is, 'It's going to cost too much money, so we're simply not going to enforce the law.'"

Alison Jenkins, fiscal policy program director with Environmental Advocates of New York, says the DEC has lost 500 staff members in the last two years. In her view, state lawmakers need to close tax loopholes and consider fees to avoid more harmful cuts.

"There are also some polluter fees that the state could either institute or increase. It only makes sense that polluters should share a larger part of cleaning up the mess they make, instead of having taxpayers bear the burden for that."

Sielback says the budget-trimming came even before the new round of 11 percent cuts proposed by Gov. David Paterson. The governor has said if lawmakers will not act, he will ask for the power to enact the new cuts himself.

Mike Clifford, Public News Service - NY