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Gov. Cuomo signs bill to regulate oil, gas waste

Gov. Andrew Cuomo has quickly signed legislation to regulate waste from oil or natural gas in New York as hazardous waste instead of as industrial waste.

The state Assembly passed A.2655 by a 110-31 vote on July 20 with both Assemblymen Andrew Goodell, R-Jamestown, and Joe Giglio, R-Gowanda, voting against. Giglio also voted against the bill twice during committee meetings in 2019. State Sen. George Borrello, R-Sunset Bay, voted against S.3392, but the legislation passed 46-14.

“New York has taken an aggressive approach to protecting our natural resources by banning hydrofracking and advancing a nation-leading environmental agenda that is accelerating our transition to a carbon-neutral green economy,” Cuomo said. “As we do everything possible to reduce our reliance on polluting fossil fuels, we have to make every effort to diminish the impact of the hazardous waste they produce and by signing this legislation we are enacting smart, necessary regulations that will protect both our environment and New Yorker’s health.”

The legislation had been on the verge of passage in the Assembly several times since 2009-10 and actually passed the Assembly in 2011-12. It passed the Senate in June 2019 but failed in the Assembly. Goodell said in comments on the Assembly floor on July 20 that classifying oil and gas waste as industrial rather than hazardous didn’t mean the waste wasn’t regulated. And, for Goodell, changing the waste’s classification could mean less of the waste is recycled.

“First, under current law waste byproducts from natural gas drilling are typically considered as an industrial waste, which means they are not freely disposed of,” Goodell said on the Assembly floor. “They have to require a permit and proper disposal. But by allowing them to be classified as industrial rather than hazardous, it allows the natural gas companies to actually recycle a lot of the byproducts, particularly the flowback after they frack. This is a very positive environmental reuse in recycling. It would be inappropriate to change that.”

The bill would amend the state Environmental Conservation Law to require wastes produced from oil and natural gas activities to be subject to the requirements for treatment of hazardous wastes while directing the state Department of Environmental Conservation to make all necessary changes to bring its rules and regulations into compliance with the new law. The Senate legislation was sponsored by Sen. Rachel May, D-Syracuse, while the Assembly bill was sponsored by Assemblyman Steve Englebright, D-East Setauket, and was co-sponsored by 34 Democrats.

“New York has led the nation in banning fracking, and we are grateful to Gov. Andrew Cuomo for ensuring that fracking waste will no longer contaminate New York’s land and water,” said Maureen Cunningham, Environmental Advocates NY senior director for clean water. “With this new law that took many years in the making, we say goodbye once and for all to the gaping loophole that allowed radioactive fracking waste to be shipped into our state and dangerously dumped in our municipal landfills. Thanks to Gov. Cuomo, the New York state Legislature, partner organizations and the thousands of advocates who worked tirelessly on this issue for years, today we have moved one step closer to ensuring clean water and a healthy environment for all New Yorkers.”

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