New York State has a rich and diverse array of natural resources. From prominent resources, such as Long Island Sound, the Hudson River, the Adirondack Park, and Niagara Falls to small rural ponds, creeks, wetlands and municipal parks - the Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC)'s mission is to conserve, improve and protect all of the natural resources of New York State for the benefit of its citizens. The Commissioner of Environmental Conservation is the Trustee for the natural resources of the State of New York, having been so designated by the Governor. In order to aid the Commissioner in fulfilling his Trustee obligations, DEC's Natural Resource Damages Staff seek to recover damages from responsible parties when natural resources are injured and use such damages to restore or replace those resources.
What are Natural Resource Damages?
When a spill or release of contaminants into the environment results in injuries to natural resources, Natural Resource Damages (NRD) are sought from the party or parties legally responsible in order to restore the injured natural resources and compensate the public. The goal of an NRD claim is the restoration, replacement, or acquisition of the equivalent of the injured resources, and compensation for past and future lost services that the injured resources would have provided had they not been injured by the release. Damages also include the cost of the damage assessment. "Natural resources" that may be the subject of an NRD claim include, but are not limited to, land, water, groundwater, drinking water supplies, air, fish, wildlife, and biota.
Recovery of damages for injury to natural resources is authorized by both federal and state law. The federal laws are: the Superfund law (Comprehensive Environmental Remediation, Compensation and Liability Act, or CERCLA), the Oil Pollution Act, and the Clean Water Act. The State laws are: the Environmental Conservation Law (ECL), the Navigation Law and common law. CERCLA requires the U.S. president and each state governor to designate federal and state officials who will act on behalf of the public as trustees for natural resources. The Governor has designated the Commissioner of Environmental Conservation as the Trustee for New York's natural resources. Frequently, DEC is a co-trustee with the federal Trustees from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) and the Department of the Interior (DOI), among others, and, in certain cases, with Native American tribes. In most cases, the resolution of NRD claims is handled by attorneys in DEC's Office of General Counsel, but in some instances DEC refers cases to the NYS Office of the Attorney General for legal representation when a claim will be pursued in court.