Governor Cuomo Signs Pace University Endangered Species Bill

Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo has signed into law a bill increasing New York State’s powers to protect endangered species from the threat of federal policies that weaken protections. The bill was based on research conducted by student clinicians in Pace University’s Environmental Policy Clinic.

Alumna Allie Granger ‘19, as a student, found a loophole in the five-decade old state law that would allow the U.S. Department of the Interior to remove any species its designation had automatically placed on the New York State list, even if the state believed those species still needed protection. In such a case, the state would then have to launch its own research and regulatory process, which could leave species unprotected indefinitely, according to Granger.

The new law, sponsored by Assemblywoman Didi Barrett and Senator Todd Kaminsky, empowers the Commissioner of Environmental Conservation to protect the state’s animals and plants, “regardless of the removal of such designation as an endangered or threatened species by the Secretary of the Interior.”

“Critical species are declining worldwide,” said Michelle Land, clinical associate professor in Dyson College’s Department of Environmental Studies and Science. “The federal government has sent many signals it may further weaken endangered species protections. Any state that relies on federal designations must strengthen its laws, or risk losing key native species.”

“In some circumstances, such as migrating animals, the federal government may possess the evidence to designate them as endangered or threatened,” said Granger. “But if it removes that designation for its own reasons, it can leave state species without vital protections.” Granger, who conducted her research in 2018 while a student in Dyson College’s Masters in Environmental Policy program, is now a policy associate with the Animal Welfare Institute in Washington, DC.

One example cited by the Policy Clinic is Atlantic Sturgeon, the iconic state fish that can reach more than 200 pounds, and which migrates from the ocean to spawn in the Hudson River. In 2012, the Department of the Interior gave it endangered species status based on federal research. “That action automatically added the sturgeon to the New York State list. Under the new law, it will remain on the state list as long as the Commissioner of Environmental Conservation deems necessary, even if Interior removes it from the federal list,” said Professor Land.

The Pace Environmental Policy Clinic has earned a national reputation for its work developing innovative environmental protections on a range of issues. The New York State Elephant Protection Act, authored and lobbied by Clinic students, was the first law in the nation to prohibit the use of elephants in circuses and all other forms of entertainment. The Clinic was co-founded and is taught by Professor Land, Dyson College, and John Cronin, director of the Blue CoLab at Pace’s Seidenberg School of Computer Science and Information Systems. In fulfillment of Pace University’s dedication to civic engagement, the Clinic trains undergraduate students as policy practitioners, lobbyists, and advocates through a program of learning and service. Students apply their Pace University education to the creation of real-world environmental solutions and the development of professional skills that serve society.

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