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Post date: June 1 2000

Federal Court Orders U.s. To Pay N.y. $2.3 Million In Fees

Attorney General Spitzer and Department of Environmental Conservation Commissioner John Cahill today hailed a precedent-setting federal appellate court decision ordering the U.S. government to pay $2.3 million to the state for environmental fees on federally-owned facilities.

The May 31 ruling ends a long-running controversy over whether federal military and research facilities in New York are required to pay state fees to help defray the cost of assuring their compliance with state environmental laws. The federal government claimed immunity from state fees and has refused to pay them from 1986 to the present on 10 facilities it owns in New York.

In response to this position, the state sued to collect the money. The U.S. government also refuses to pay environmental regulatory fees in other states and the May 31 decision by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit is expected to set a standard for deciding similar cases across the nation.

"This court has made it very clear that federal facilities that generate pollution in New York have an obligation to pay fees to the state to help offset the cost of regulating their activities here," said Spitzer. "New York taxpayers should not have to pay those costs. This decision means there is no double standard since federal facilities are held accountable for the same reasonable environmental fees that privately owned facilities are rightfully obliged to pay."

DEC Commissioner John Cahill said: "I am pleased with the court's decision holding the federal government accountable for its fair share of the costs related to regulatory programs DEC has in place to protect the public health from the impacts of pollution generated from federal facilities in New York."

The 10 federal facilities involved in the lawsuit 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, West Point Military Academy, and Governor's Island.

The environmental fees challenged by the federal government are assessed by the 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 hazardous waste fees are imposed based upon the amount of hazardous waste generated, and the appeals court held that was a reasonable way of apportioning costs.

On June 3, 1999, Senior U.S. District Court Judge Neal McCurn in Syracuse rejected the federal government's claim that it was immune from paying environmental regulatory fees levied by New York State. The government appealed, but the May 31, 2000 circuit court of appeals decision affirmed McCurn's ruling and ordered the government to pay New York $2.3 in fees.

The case was referred by the DEC to the Attorney General's office for prosecution where it was handled by Assistant Attorney General Maureen Leary of the Environmental Protection Bureau.

Environmental Fees
Owed by Federal Facilities in New York

U.S. Military Sage Complex Syracuse $26,000
Watervliet Arsenal Watervliet, Albany County $598,660
Seneca Army Depot Romulus, Seneca County $266,400
West Point Military Academy West Point, Orange County $88,927
Fort Drum Jefferson County $178,000
Knolls Atomic Power
Laboratory/Kesselring Site
Schenectady $360,000
Brookhaven National Laboratory Upton, Suffolk County $438,000
Plattsburgh Air Force Base Plattsburgh, Clinton County $170,575
Griffiss Air Force Base Rome, Oneida County $247,884
Governor's Island New York City $4,000
Total   $2.3 million