Kaminksy / Engelbright bill follows Suffolk DA probe into illegal dumping of construction waste and hazardous substances
ALBANY, NY — July 25, 2020 — Legislation sponsored by Senator Todd Kaminsky, Assemblyman Steve Englebright and Assemblyman Steve Stern (S.6758B/A.10803A) to criminalize the illegal dumping of construction waste passed both the State Assembly and Senate. The lawmakers’ bill comes in the wake of a special grand jury report issued by Suffolk County District Attorney Tim Sini into the effects of construction waste dumping and other environmental crimes on Long Island and beyond. The grand jury report recognizes the lack of appropriate tools available to prosecutors in the fight against dumping. Kaminsky and Englebright’s measure now heads to Governor Cuomo for his signature.
“Our communities are too precious to squander away to polluters as a dumping yard for hazardous construction waste,” said Senator Todd Kaminsky, Chair of the Senate Environmental Conservation Committee. “By providing our district attorneys with the tools they need to protect us from toxic pollution and reckless environmental damage, we can ensure the continued safety and vitality of our communities for generations to come. From Baldwin to Brentwood, Long Island should not be anyone’s dumping yard for toxic waste—and this bill says that loudly and clearly. By finally having a provision of the penal law specific to dumping, New York will be treating this crime with the seriousness it deserves.”
“The law was weak and the expectation of enforcement also was weak. Our legislation changes that. “With a low risk of being caught and the allure of large profits some bad actors were willing to run the risk and call it the price of doing business. In almost every case the polluters were not just despoiling the land, they were also putting at risk Long Island’s sole source of drinking water,” said Assemblyman Steve Englebright (D-Setauket).
“Last year my office empaneled a Special Grand Jury to investigate environmental crimes, which resulted in the largest environmental dumping case in New York State history. The Special Grand Jury also found that the laws in our state did not adequately give prosecutors the tools we need to properly address environmental crimes and hold polluters accountable. Sen. Kaminsky took immediate action on the Special Grand Jury’s recommendations, partnering with our office to spearhead the fight in Albany by introducing this critical legislation. This legislation will hold bad actors who pollute our environment accountable and help protect Long Island’s most precious resource, our aquifer, the sole source of drinking water for all Suffolk residents. The type of crimes this legislation aims to address disproportionately impact communities of color, they threaten public health and safety for our entire region, and they are motivated out of pure greed for money. I thank Sen. Kaminsky for spearheading this legislation in the Senate and thank Assemblymen Stern and Englebright for their leadership on the issue in the Assembly, and I look forward to continuing a robust conversation about how we can continue to partner at every level of government to pass laws that further protect our drinking water and environment here in Suffolk County and across Long Island,” said Suffolk County District Attorney Timothy Sini.
In 2018, the Suffolk County District Attorney’s Office, in partnership with the DEC and SCPD, worked to uncover a massive illegal dumping scheme on Long Island. The investigation, known as “Operation Pay Dirt,” resulted in a 130-count indictment against 30 individuals and 9 corporations for illegally disposing of solid waste at 24 locations.
In connection to “Operation Pay Dirt,” a special grand jury was convened to investigate illegal dumping and consider legislative solutions to prevent these toxic acts from occurring in the future. The grand jury’s final report concluded that current law does not take into account the illegal acceptance or disposal of solid waste, construction material and hazardous substances.
Senator Kaminsky and Assemblyman Englebright’s legislation incorporates many of the recommendations included in the special grand jury report, by empowering district attorneys to adequately charge those who endanger the health and safety of communities and the environment at-large. It would create three new felony offenses in the State’s environmental conservation law relating to illegally dumping of construction and demolition waste and hazardous substances, while also expanding New York’s penal law to include a criminal fraud statute to cover cases involving illegally disposing solid waste. Additionally, their bill would also create a system for tracking construction and demolition waste generated in New York City and overseen by DEC, so that the state will have a handle on what is being moved by whom and where. Often this dumping takes place in Long Island’s most disadvantaged communities as evidenced by the massive dumping scheme uncovered in Clemente Park in 2018.
“Illegal dumping at Roberto Clemente Park in Brentwood exposed residents and children to asbestos, pesticides, heavy metals and other harmful contaminants. In the ensuing years, we’ve watched as polluters put their own profits ahead of protecting the health and safety of New Yorkers, particularly in working class neighborhoods and communities of color. These polluters poison our drinking water, public spaces, and communities. These actions need to treated as serious crimes and we need a system that holds these criminals accountable. CCE applauds Senator Kaminsky, Assemblyman Englebright and all the co-sponsors of this legislation, which will allow New York to deter illegal dumping and punish those who chose to poison our land and water resources,” said Adrienne Esposito, Executive Director of Citizens Campaign for the Environment.
Julie Tighe, President of the New York League of Conservation Voters, said, “Reducing illegal dumping will help improve our environment and public health, a problem that has been highlighted in particular on Long Island and in the Hudson Valley. This bill, S. 6758-B, will create heightened penalties for dumping materials improperly, which will in turn protect water quality, and decrease erosion and flooding. We thank the Codes Committee for advancing this important legislation and commend Senator Kaminsky and Assemblymember Englebright (AD-4) for their leadership.”
“For far too long, our Long Island communities have faced unprecedented environmental threats from criminals making profits by illegally dumping toxic materials in our vast open spaces,” said Assemblyman Steve Stern (AD-10). “These bad actors have taken advantage of weak laws and dispose hazardous materials near our homes, parks and playgrounds and impact our suburban quality of life. We can no longer afford to stand by and allow these criminals to evade responsibility. That’s why I am proud to partner with Senator Todd Kaminsky, a champion of Long Island’s environment, on historic legislation to strengthen the New York State penal code and impose the stiffest possible penalties on dumping violations. This bill empowers our law enforcement to charge these criminals in illegal schemes with meaningful penalties and ensure that dumping is no longer just a part of doing business. This legislation is also essential to the preservation of our water quality as these waste materials can contain dangerous contaminants that are extremely harmful to our surface waters and sole-source aquifer. We proudly stand with our local district attorneys and environmental advocacy organizations in support of this initiative and remain strongly committed to protecting our precious environment and the water we drink, now and for generations to come.”
Spencer MacDonald and Steve Smirti, Directors of Communications, NYS Senator Todd Kaminsky – 9th SD.