Calls are growing for Gov. Kathy Hochul to include policy in her executive budget proposal that would force fossil fuel companies to pay billions of dollars to reverse the impacts of climate change in New York.
The efforts come as state senators in the Finance, Environmental Conservation and Energy and Telecommunications committees will hold a hearing Thursday to examine what lawmakers need to do to achieve New York's climate goals required under the 2019 Climate Leadership and Community Protection Act.
"At that hearing, one of the key issues is, how do you pay for these changes?" New York Public Interest Research Group Executive Director Blair Horner said Wednesday.
Horner is scheduled to testify to lawmakers on the subject during the hearing.
New York has to reduce its greenhouse gas emissions 40% by 2030 to satisfy the law. But state officials, lawmakers and experts continue to squabble over the best way to pay for infrastructure upgrades needed to transition to renewable energy.
The Climate Change Superfund Act would force fossil fuel companies to pick up the tab and pay into a $75 billion fund for 25 years, averaging $3 billion annually.
"They're making more profits now than they've ever made, and they're responsible," Horner said. "They knew that the problem of climate change was going to happen and for decades, denied and undermined advocacy."
The proposal was expanded from its initial of $30 billion over a decade.
Localities would work with state agencies for the monies collected in hopes of removing the cost from taxpayers.
Climate change has led to rising sea levels and more intense storms, with the state receiving more than $26 billion in federal disaster assistance for 16 declared disasters over the last decade, according to FEMA data compiled by Rebuild By Design.
Advocates say the frequency, severity and dire cost of the storms throughout the state's 62 counties prove time is of the essence for the fund to be established. The most recent snowstorm that ravaged Western New York over Christmas weekend killed more than 40 people.
Bill sponsor Sen. Liz Krueger says New York is ready to lead the nation in putting fossil fuel companies on the hook, and is prepared to battle it out in the courts.
"I think it's absolutely true that the oil and gas companies will sue us over this, and it might take us a couple of years in court, which is why I'd like this to move sooner than later," she said in the Capitol on Wednesday.
Krueger said she and her staff have been working with environmental scientists, economists and environmental attorneys from around the nation who say the fund would hold up against legal challenges.
"The oil and gas industry ... they try to litigate and bully anybody who takes them on, but we're a big state," Krueger said. "The state of New York is ready to take on the oil and gas companies."
Republican lawmakers continue to be cautious about the affordability of the state's ambitious climate laws. They stand against the Climate Change Superfund Act, arguing the proposal would hurt businesses and further drive up costs for New Yorkers.
Assembly Energy Committee member Phil Palmesano said the policy will do little to impact an international crisis.
"This is really an attack on the energy affordability and the energy grid and energy producers," said Palmesano, a Republican from Corning. "This policy is not working in the right direction; it takes a narrow focus on what's going on."
The fund would give people additional reasons to move out of the state, Palmesano added, citing ongoing population decline.
The fund was first proposed last year, but Hochul didn't include it in her climate change priorities outlined in her State of the State address.
The governor announced a Cap-and-Invest Program to drive emissions reductions, which includes the creation of the Climate Action Rebate to fund decarbonization efforts and mitigate costs to consumers, as part of her legislative priorities. It's estimated to generate more than $1 billion in proceeds to New Yorkers each year, according to a spokesperson with Hochul's office.
"New York is leading on climate action, delivering climate justice, and creating family-sustaining green jobs for New Yorkers, all while prioritizing energy affordability," the governor's spokesperson said in a statement Wednesday. "...Gov. Hochul has also prioritized climate resiliency efforts across the state, most recently by supporting the passage of the $4.2 billion Environmental Bond Act to safeguard clean water and modernize our infrastructure. Since voter approval of the Environmental Bond Act in November, Governor Hochul has convened an interagency working group to identify needs for environmental funding and build a program to deliver the $4.2 billion across the state."
It's unclear if Hochul will include the Climate Change Superfund Act in her executive budget proposal due Feb. 1.
Krueger and advocates say they'll be fighting hard for its inclusion in the FY 2023-24 state budget due April 1.
The bill will specifically dictate the eligible infrastructure projects and climate upgrades the monies could be used for.
Lawmakers are discussing drafting other legislation this session to create a new state agency to oversee climate programs and related revenue, Krueger said.
Krueger submitted the proposal for a similar federal fund to both houses of Congress last year. It was briefly included in the Build Back Better Act, but did not make the final version.