ITHACA, N.Y. —New York state passed a codified ban on fracking in its state budget in addition to a number of other measures including the potential issuance of $3 billion in bonds to fund environmental projects which will go before voters in November.

The ballot measure will appear before voters in November and if passed will grant a long-sought win for environmental advocates during an especially tumultuous time for the state’s finances due to COVID-19.

“If anything the coronavirus experience has demonstrated the importance of planning prior to the crisis arriving at our doorstep full force,” former chair of the Tompkins County Environmental Management Council Brian Eden told the Ithaca Voice.

State Senator Tom O’Mara (R-Big Flats), former chair of the Senate Environmental Conservation committee criticized the move to issue bonds given the state’s fiscal uncertainty in a statement to the Ithaca Voice.

“There is critical work underway,” O’Mara wrote. “Nevertheless, I am not convinced that now is the appropriate time for New York State to add to what is already one of the nation’s highest debt loads. Priority number one needs to be the state’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic and then economic recovery with getting people back to work.”

Other county officials couldn’t provide specifics on where any of the potential $3 billion in bonds may be put to use in Tompkins, not yet, anyway. The legislation outlines that at least a third will be spent on flood risk reduction, a persistent problem in part of Ithaca, with other categories regarding water quality improvement and infrastructure also receiving at least $500 million.

Governor Andrew Cuomo previously placed a moratorium on natural gas fracking via executive order, but the legislation passed in this budget locks in the ban, making it much more difficult to repeal in the future.

A spokesperson for Assemblymember Barbara Lifton (D-Ithaca) didn’t respond to requests for comment. Lifton has regularly advocated for environmental measures including opposing natural gas. Lifton did name codifying a franking ban as a priority for her final legislative session when she announced her retirement earlier this year.

The budget also included a measure to ban the use of styrofoam packing peanuts

Vaughn Golden

Vaughn Golden is a freelance radio and print reporter covering politics around the southern tier and central New York. He authors the weekly "Capitol Watch" watchdog report on Ithaca's representatives...