Director of Environment New York Joins EPA Regional Administrator and Commissioner for NYC Parks to Mark Progress in EPA-Funded Efforts to Restore Wetlands at Alley Pond

Media Contacts
Heather Leibowitz

Environment New York Research and Policy Center

(New York, N.Y.) Heather Leibowitz, Director of Environment New York today joined U.S. Environmental Protection Agency Regional Administrator Judith A. Enck, Mitchell J. Silver, FAICP, the Commissioner for NYC Parks, and Irene Scheid, the Executive Director at the Alley Pond Education Center, to mark progress of EPA-funded work to restore wetlands at Alley Pond, in Douglaston and Flushing, Queens.

Yesterday, the EPA and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers issued an important national “Clean Water Rule,” which will protect streams and wetlands. Streams and wetlands provide many benefits to communities by reducing flooding, recharging groundwater supplies, filtering pollution, and providing habitat for fish and wildlife. Wetlands within urban areas are particularly valuable, as they can counteract the impacts of hard surfaces that don’t absorb rainwater or snowmelt. 

“The Clean Water Rule will restore safeguards to 28,000 miles of waterways in New York and 20 million acres of wetlands across the country — an area the size of South Carolina and home to millions of birds and fish,” said Leibowitz. “That’s why yesterdays’ action is the biggest victory for clean water in a decade.”

The court rulings had put small streams, headwaters and certain wetlands in a perilous legal limbo, allowing polluters and developers to dump into them or destroy them in many cases without a permit. In a four-year period following the decisions, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency had to drop more than 1500 cases against polluters, according to one analysis by the New York Times.

First proposed in March 2014, the joint rule by EPA and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers is backed by robust scientific review and has gained broad support across a wide range of constituencies. Mayors, brewers, kayakers, anglers, small businesses, and farmers joined a throng of citizens to submit more than 800,000 comments in favor of the rule last fall.

Environment New York, among those pushing for restored stream protections for the better part of the last decade, has gathered 65,000 comments from New Yorkers and held more than 100,000 face-to-face conversations about the need to close the loophole in the Clean Water Act in the past year alone.

Despite broad public support for restored clean water protections, oil and gas companies, developers, and other polluters have waged a bitter campaign against them. The U.S. House has passed multiple bills to block or severely weaken the rule, including one measure as recently as two weeks ago.

While yesterday’s action signaled the final chapter in the decade-long fight for small streams and headwaters, advocates warned today that U.S. Senate leaders were more determined than ever to use their authority derail the Clean Water Rule. Last Tuesday, a key subcommittee adopted a measure by Sen. John Barrasso (R-Wyo.) to thwart the rule. This summer, the Senate is likely to use the Congressional Review Act block the clean water protections, setting up a veto fight with the president.

“Yesterday the administration signed and sealed critical protections for our streams and wetlands,” said Leibowitz. “However, we need Senator Kirsten Gillibrand in New York to become a forceful advocate against polluters to make sure these clean water protections get delivered.”