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Uneasy Riders: Threats To NY Drinking Water, Great Lakes

July 27, 2011

WASHINGTON - The Environmental Protection Agency's hands would be tied, leaving it unable to protect New York's streams and rivers as drinking-water sources. Invasive species in ships' ballast would continue to be dumped into lakes Erie and Ontario. Those would be the effects of just two of nearly 40 policy riders attached to an appropriations bill under debate in the U.S. House, according to advocates for the environment.

Joan Mulhern, senior legislative counsel at Earthjustice, is uneasy about those riders...

"There's quite a bit at stake for people in New York who care about clean water, drinking water, the Great Lakes, recreation, where their kids are going swimming this weekend. The bill is very, very punitive to the state of New York."

The riders reflect the intention of the House Republican leadership to cut spending by the Interior Department, the EPA and other agencies. Mulhern says the riders would mean disproportionate cuts in environmental and natural resources programs, threatening the health and safety of New Yorkers.

The bill would cut the EPA's funding by 18 percent, Mulhern says, and restrict its ability to keep the state's drinking water sources clean.

"The majority of New Yorkers get their drinking water from public water supplies that are fed, at least in part, by these streams and surface-water systems."

Also threatened, says Mulhern, are the fish and wildlife in and around the Great Lakes, at risk from invasive species. Because the bill favors the shipping industry, she says, it would allow them to continue dumping water from their holds.

"We're talking about ballast water discharges from large ships that release invasive species and that carry them around from one lake to the other."

Mulhern is certain the policy riders will make it through the House intact because - while some Democrats might agree with their pro-business intentions - the GOP has the edge.

"It's not an entire party-line split, but it's pretty much the Republican leadership of the House that's behind adding these assaults on our public health and the environment."

President Obama has made clear his intention to veto an environmental spending bill that arrives with the policy riders in place.

Mark Scheerer, Public News Service - NY