The chair of the Senate Environmental Conservation Committee is pushing for a special fund in the next state budget to ensure revenue the state collects to reduce its greenhouse gas emissions is used for projects to satisfy the Climate Act.

The 2019 Climate Act requires the state to drastically reduce its carbon footprint over the next several years. A Cap-and-Invest program in Gov. Kathy Hochul's budget would help the state reach those benchmarks — allowing the state Department of Environmental Conservation and state Energy Research and Development Authority to cap New York's annual permitted greenhouse gas emissions, reducing it each year, and force businesses that want to contribute to the emissions to buy credits from the state.

The money would be used for renewable energy projects and consumer rebates, with Hochul proposing 33% to go directly to the Climate Action Fund for rebates, and the remaining 67% to NYSERDA for clean energy programs and tax incentives. As budget talks heat up, lawmakers and advocates say that split isn't the right way to ensure climate justice.

"We're on board with the concept, but the devil is in the details," said Sen. Pete Harckham, who chairs the Environmental Conservation Committee.

Harckham, a Democrat from South Salem, introduced legislation Friday with details of the Climate Community Protection Fund to safeguard how that money is spent.

"In the Legislature, we would like to see more guardrails around that directing the money specifically to purposes as outlined in the Climate Leadership and Community Protection Act, transitioning our economy to clean electricity and a clean power system," he said Friday, adding his bill also imposes labor protections while projects are completed.

NYSERDA would make the decisions about how to reinvest 67% of Cap-and-Invest revenue to reduce greenhouse gas emissions — it would not go into the state's general fund, according to Hochul's office.

But Harckham and advocates say the governor's proposal is too vague, and the fund would implement necessary oversight and transparency for the right projects to support disadvantaged communities. Revenue from the Cap-and-Invest program would be divided in four accounts for energy infrastructure and jobs, community organizations, training for workers and rebates to make the transition to clean energy more affordable for families.

"All we're saying is, you just can't have this kind of money going to the general fund when it's supposed to be going for specific purposes," the senator said.

Advocates say Cap-and-Invest rebates could net billions of dollars for New York, which needs roughly $10 billion per year to keep up with its climate laws. Harckham proposes 75% of the fund would support projects in disadvantaged communities, which have greater air pollution and adverse health conditions, according to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.

The legislation was introduced in partnership with NY Renews. Katherine Nadeau, member of the NY Renews Steering Committee and deputy director of Catskill Mountain Keeper, says the Climate Community Protection Fund would ensure the Cap-and-Invest program would move forward correctly, and avoid increasing pollution in low-income areas or minority neighborhoods that struggle the most.

"This is absolutely where the funding should go because it makes it democratic — it puts the funding in the hands of the state Legislature in the budget process so that people can weigh in," Nadeau said.

Polluters and companies must be prevented from trading pollution credits or allowances in several disadvantaged communities adjacent to each other. 

"That's how you create hotspots. That's how we get neighborhoods that have increased asthma, increased cancer rates and how we have a system that is inequitable," Nadeau said. "...As the state looks to set up a Cap-and-Invest program, it needs to do so really carefully to make sure that we are not increasing hotspots in already overburdened neighborhoods [and] making sure that we're making air quality better for the people who have been hit the hardest by dirty energy decisions in the past."

Harckham noted a key provision of his legislation incorporates prevailing wage requirements, buy U.S. procurement standards and wage and benefit protections, and more, to support workers.

The legislation would create a new Office of Equity for Energy and Environment under the state Energy Research and Development Authority to administer grants. 

Hochul included the Cap-and-Invest program in her budget after the Climate Action Council included it in its scoping plan finalized in December.

“As we work to drive down polluting emissions across the board, we must make sure that those who have already suffered from environmental injustice no longer bear an unfair share of the burden,” Hochul said earlier this winter about the Cap-and-Invest proposal. "...Through our innovative efforts, we will create a cleaner, greener future while helping New Yorkers with the costs of the transition.”

*Editor's note: This story clarifies information about the breakdown of Cap-and-Invest revenue as proposed in Gov. Hochul's budget.