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Regulatory Reform - Overview and Background Information

The New York City Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) must comply with various state and federal laws.  At the state level, DEP is regulated by the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) and the New York State Department of Health (State DOH); at the national level, our primary regulator is the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). In many cases, these laws seek to impose “command and control” regulations from the top-down and only consider a narrow set of issues.  New York City is home to 8.4 million people and has a long history of growth and development.  This density and rich cultural history make our city wonderful and unique, but also makes it especially difficult for us to meet broad and rigid state and federal regulations.  Rules imposed by the EPA and DEC often seek compliance with specific regulatory requirements without regard for comparative public health benefits, competing economic priorities, likely impacts on consumers who pay the bills, or the complex challenges of an ultra-urban city.  When a city like New York is required to satisfy these unfunded mandates by building multi-billion dollar water supply and wastewater treatment facilities, New Yorkers carry the debt burden to pay for these projects for decades.

In contrast, PlaNYC and similar bottom-up sustainability initiatives seek to advance a holistic, urban agenda through a mix of inspiration, incentives, and narrowly tailored laws.  Sustainability unites environmental protection and economic development to create a more livable city. Rather than conceiving of environmental protection coming at the expense of economic growth, or vice versa, sustainable initiatives maximize synergies and minimize tradeoffs among energy, air, water, land, and climate policies. Environmental justice considerations and robust public engagement generate innovative solutions and determine shared priorities for spending scarce public resources to meet our greatest social needs.

Until the landmark federal environmental legislation of the 1970s, including the Clean Air Act, the Clean Water Act, and the Safe Drinking Water Act, DEP and its predecessors made decisions through local processes, and based on local considerations, about how best to serve New Yorkers’ needs for essential services, recreational outlets, and economic development. For example, some of the first wastewater treatment plants in the United States were built in New York City because residents and resort owners demanded clean bathing beaches at Coney Island. Similarly, our world-class drinking water infrastructure was built with local funding, designs, and construction oversight to meet the residential and industrial needs of a growing city. These initiatives provided significant environmental, public health, and economic benefits. A consensus is emerging about the need to make sustainability part of the calculus that drives decisions by utilities and future regulatory mandates by the state and federal governments.

New York City and other cities need partners in the state and federal government that realize that urban areas are vital to our economy – and the redevelopment of cities is one of the most efficient ways to combat sprawl, air pollution, habitat degradation, and carbon emissions. DEP is committed to a collaborative approach with our regulators and we are making good on the goals set forth in Strategy 2011-2014 to engage them in proactive regulatory review.


Strategy 2011-2014