Daily Gazette: Low-sulfur fuel oil focus of dispute over state mandates

(March 17, 2011)


Wednesday, March 16, 2011

By David Lombardo
Gazette Reporter

CAPITOL — Proposals from Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s mandate relief team, including a delay in requiring low-sulfur fuel oil, have drawn the ire of some environmental and health groups.

The main target of environmental and health advocates is the Senate’s inclusion of a mandate relief proposal that would delay the requirement of low-sulfur oil in home heating, which was originally scheduled for July 2012 and could be set back to July 2014.

The timetable was passed last year with the broad support of oil industry representatives, including the New York Oil Heating Association, environmental groups and health advocates. Supporters stress that home heating oil was the second biggest emitter of sulfur-dioxide air pollution, which could mostly be prevented by utilizing low-sulfur oil.

“Now is not the time to be running away from clean air,” said Michael Seilback, the vice president of public policy for the American Lung Association in New York. He voiced some optimism about its on-time implementation, as he pointed out that the Assembly left out the delay. “Hopefully they’ll stay strong and fight back this proposal.”

As proposed by the governor’s mandate relief team, the rationale for delay revolved around higher costs. Seilback argued that the cleaner oil would run more efficiently so people would need less. He noted that the original provision allowed the governor to suspend the requirement if prices got out of control.

“Savings would quickly outweigh the short term jump in price,” he said, “and that’s exclusive of the health care savings.”

Seilback argued the savings in health care dwarf any potential costs, with cleaner air limiting heart disease, asthma and other respiratory illness. This position was echoed by Ross Gould, the Air & Energy program director for Environmental Advocates of New York.

Health and environmental advocates also opposed two other proposal from the Cuomo team, including lifting the ban on the burning of brush in towns below 20,000 population and removing various air permit fees. Seilback suggested that these proposals stemmed from a mistaken belief that upstate New York was immune to poor air quality.

“The fact is, on some days, you’re going to see air pollution in a rural community as bad as a downstate community,” he said. “I don’t know how you can tell someone who lives in a small town that their air should be less protected.”

While neither of these two provisions were included in the budgets presented by the governor, Senate or Assembly, the governor has stated that the mandate relief effort isn’t limited to budget season. Cuomo’s office did not respond to inquiries about his position on low-sulfur oil implementation or other environmental mandates.

The Senate majority’s office did not respond to questions about delaying low-sulfur oil, but the entire Republican caucus voted against the scheduled transition when it was passed last summer.