ALBANY, NY – There was a big sigh of relief among rural communities that Gov. Kathy Hochul vetoed S.4162/A.6652, known by many as the Class C Stream Bill. If passed, the legislation would have added over 40,000 miles of streams to the state’s regulatory system under NYS DEC jurisdiction. Clearer heads prevailed because of budgetary constraints.

The bill has history. A version of the bill in question was first introduced in 2018 by Assemblyman Sean Ryan and taken up by State Sen. Pete Harckham in 2019, 2020 and 2021 during Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s administration, who also vetoed the bill. It was introduced again by Harckham and Assemblyman Steve Englebright, and was passed by the State Legislature in May 2022. Hochul had until Dec. 31 to sign the legislation into law or veto it.

The governor denied the bill’s passage to amend the environmental conservation law, saying in part, “While the goal is laudable, the bill would have serious regulatory impacts and greatly increase the costs to the state and local communities.”

“I have to be cognizant that there is a budget process,” Hochul said. “And when bills come to my desk when there is not a budget allocation behind them, then we are going to take it back to the process.”

Waterways in New York State are categorized by their usage, which determine the type of regulations that govern activities on or near them. Currently, water bodies already designated with an AA or A (drinking water), B for “swimming areas” and CT streams (trout designation) all fall under the state’s “protection of waters” regulations, which means that activities that disturb the banks or stream bed or involve dams, docks or the dumping of fill require a permit.

The addition of Class C waterways to the regulatory agency’s already full workload was contentious in that “it would have significantly expanded the permits required to perform work on additional waterways, many of which only flow intermittently. This would include new permits on some farmland that is dry most of the year, adding both money and time to perform routine practices on agricultural soil,” stated New York Farm Bureau, which vigorously opposed the legislation that passed the legislature during the 2021-22 session.

Conservation and county highway officials have said that this amendment would have already taxed the DEC staff in getting permits processed, especially during weather-related events and would create a time-consuming, costly, state-level permitting process for stream-related projects involving flood repair and mitigation, bridge and culvert maintenance, farmland protection and other public works priorities.

In a statement, NYFB President David Fisher said, “NYFB agrees with the governor and applauds her decision to limit regulatory overreach and contain costs for farms and other landowners across the state. NYFB thanks everyone who sent an e-lobby message to the governor asking her to veto the bill.”

On the other side: “Governor Hochul unfortunately missed a chance to protect tens of thousands of miles of headwater streams in New York,” said Riverkeeper Senior Manager of Government Affairs Jeremy Cherson. “Half of New York’s streams are vulnerable to a lack of oversight from DEC’s Protection of Waters Program. As we have learned time and time again, it is cheaper to protect streams proactively than restore natural resources. Riverkeeper will keep fighting to protect these waterways across the state.”

Harckham (D,WF-40th District/Westchester and the Hudson Valley) tweeted on Dec. 10, “Disappointed that @GovKathyHochul vetoed legislation that would protect Class C streams statewide. More than ever, we need to safeguard fragile drinking water sources and push for climate resiliency. It’s always more cost-effective to protect than remediate.”

It’s anyone’s guess how funding would be allocated by the legislature to implement the amendment in the future. With the vigor for the state’s Climate Leadership and Community Protection Act and the recent passage of the $4.2 billion Clean Water, Clean Air and Green Jobs Environmental Bond Act, one might surmise it’s just a matter of time.

by Troy Bishopp