ALBANY, N.Y. (CBSNewYork/AP) — Environmental groups are suing New York state over Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s plan to use federal clean water funds on the new Tappan Zee Bridge, saying that the idea would create a dangerous national precedent if it’s allowed to stand.

The lawsuit filed in Albany by Riverkeeper, Environmental Advocates of New York and others said the state’s proposal should be stopped because the bridge isn’t eligible for the funds and because the plan was endorsed by state officials without the legally required opportunity for public input.

Cuomo, a Democrat, wants to use $511 million in federal clean water loans, which are intended to be used on sewer and drinking water projects, to help pay for the $3.9 billion bridge project. Cuomo’s administration argues that the loans will help minimize the cost of tolls on the new span and will support efforts to make the project environmentally sensitive.

Peter Iwanowicz, executive director for Environmental Advocates of New York, said the state is in dire need of clean water fund money.

“Communities across the state are in desperate need, the need is in excess of $36 billion worth according to the state, for funding for water infrastructure improvements and the Cuomo administration should really be working with the EPA to develop the funding plan necessary,” Iwanowicz told 1010 WINS.

The Environmental Protection Agency has already rejected most of Cuomo’s proposal, announcing in September that it would only authorize $29 million for the project.

The lawsuit argues that none of the money should be approved for the bridge, and notes that Cuomo’s administration plans to appeal the EPA decision. Even if the state loses its appeal, advocates say they worry that Cuomo may simply ignore the EPA ruling.

“The state has vowed to appeal, so we’ve got to be in court to make sure this ruling remains in effect.” Riverkeeper President Paul Gallay told WCBS 880’s Jim Smith.

“We’ve said from the outset that this was wrong,” Iwanowicz said. “It was wrong to raise these clean water funds for bridge construction and demolition projects, it continues to be wrong that the administration is trying to appeal the EPA’s decision back in September, it’s wrong that they’ve hired — at additional taxpayers’ expense — an outside law firm to pursue the appeal.”

Advocates also say that if New York’s proposal is allowed to stand, other states may try something similar.

“The stakes are too high to let this illegal raid go through,” said Paul Gallay, an attorney and president of Riverkeeper, a group that works to protect the Hudson River estuary.

The proposal would reduce the new bridge’s total price tag by up to $35 million, according to Jon Sorensen, a spokesman for the state’s Environmental Facilities Corp., one of the agencies that approved the proposal and now a defendant in the lawsuit.

Sorensen said his agency “intends to vigorously defend its right” to dedicate the money to the bridge.

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