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Post date: June 8 1999

Court Orders Feds To Pay State $2.3 Million In Environmental Fees

Attorney General Spitzer and Department of Environmental Conservation Commissioner John Cahill today announced that a federal court has ordered the U.S. government to pay $2.3 million to the state for environmental fees owed on federally-owned facilities.

The federal government failed to pay state environmental fees for 10 government-owned facilities from 1986 through 1997, forcing the state to resort to a lawsuit to collect the money.

"The court has made it very clear that there is no double standard for the federal government when it comes to environmental law," Attorney General Spitzer said. "We insist that New York businesses and industries pay these fees and we also insist that the federal government do so as well. Like privately-owned plants and factories, these federal facilities must abide by all of the state’s laws and regulations."

"This court order affirms a vital principle of American environmental law: no entity, whether it’s a business or a branch of government - state, local or federal - is above the law," said DEC Commissioner Cahill. "We believe that the federal government must meet its environmental responsibilities by paying its fees in New York, and I am delighted that the United States District Court agrees."

The 10 federal facilities are: Sage Military Complex, Fort Drum, Seneca Army Depot, Griffiss Air Force Base, Watervliet Arsenal, Plattsburgh Air Force Base, Brookhaven National Laboratories, Knolls Atomic Power Laboratory/Kesselring, and West Point Military Academy.

In reaching his decision in the case, Senior U.S. District Judge Neal McCurn rejected the United States’ claim that federal facilities should be exempt from paying state-assessed environmental fees. On June 2, Judge McCurn, who sits in Syracuse, ordered the federal government to pay New York $2,348,787 for 12 years worth of unpaid fees.

The environmental fees challenged by the federal government are assessed by DEC on all facilities in New York that discharge air or water pollution or generate hazardous waste. DEC uses the fees to help defray the cost of environmental oversight, analysis and monitoring of pollution sources throughout the state.

The case was handled by Assistant Attorney General Maureen Leary of the Environmental Protection Bureau and by Alison Smith, DEC’s legal affairs director.