Newsday Spin Cycle: Environment: Paterson giveth and taketh away

October 28, 2010

By Jennifer Smith

Two big news items Thursday for those following the ongoing soap opera at the state Department of Environmental Conservation.

In the afternoon, Gov. David A. Paterson's office announced that Deputy Secretary for the Environment Peter M. Iwanowicz would also take on the job of Acting DEC Commissioner. This of course would fill the spot left vacant by former Commissioner Pete Grannis, who was abruptly fired last week after a memo was leaked to the Albany Times-Union that said planned layoffs would decimate the agency's ability to protect the environment and public health.

Iwanowicz's former employer, the American Lung Association in New York, applauded the move with a statement: "While he certainly is faced with many challenges and he has big shoes to fill; Peter has dedicated his life to cleaning our air & environment and is the best person to serve..."

Iwanowicz also put in time at the Albany-based Environmental Advocates of New York. Prior hats worn by him in the Paterson/Spitzer administrations: Assistant Secretary for the Environment and first Director of the New York State Office of Climate Change.

Earlier that day, Paterson said during a radio interview that the agency would lose 150 jobs by year's end--among the biggest cuts in a planned elimination of 858 jobs, but fewer than had been threatened.

Those layoffs will halt the state's participation in federal Superfund cleanups, he said, but the long-term impact is not clear. Budget office spokesman Erik Kriss elaborated somewhat yesterday afternoon, saying DEC staff who now work on those projects will no longer do so, but the EPA cleanups themselves will continue because they are federal projects.

It appears that the change stems from an anticipated lack of available stuff, since federal grants now cover the administrative costs the DEC incurs in its role as a support agency for federal Superfund, according to the DEC web site.

Also unclear: how the state's pullout from the program will affect the speed or costs of the federal cleanups. New York pays 10 percent of construction costs for state sites cleaned up under the federal Superfund program through the 1986 Environmental Quality Bond Act, the agency's web site said.