Lawmakers leading the climate fight are turning up the heat about which climate protection measures should be in the final state budget and which are a priority for the remainder of the legislative session as Democrats start to fracture over how to pay to successfully meet New York's emission reduction goals outlined in state law.
Gov. Kathy Hochul has made it clear her administration won't include a provision in the next budget to alter the Climate Leadership & Community Protection Act, or Climate Act, and the timeline used to calculate greenhouse gas emissions. But it doesn't mean it won't be a possibility later this session, or that the other more robust measures climate advocates are pushing for won't advance outside the budget, either.
"We have a lot of costs and we have to begin to dramatically shift so that we can provide our kids and the grandkids a safer, more reliable environment — a cleaner, safer environment so that they don't have to worry about their future," said state Assembly Environmental Conservation Committee Chair Deborah Glick.
Glick, a Democrat from Lower Manhattan, rallied in the Capitol with many of her colleagues Monday, urging the governor and legislative leaders to include the Climate Change Superfund Act in the budget, which would create a $30 billion fund for polluters like coal, oil and gas companies to pay for statewide environmental upgrades. Dozens of lawmakers and advocates also pushed for climate-related measures they've been pressing for for months, including the All-Electric Building and the NY HEAT acts to ban new gas and fossil fuel hook-ups within the next few years and put a 6% income price cap on electricity bills for low and middle-income families.
Infrastructure projects to curb climate change is estimated to cost New York $10 billion annually by 2050. Effective climate measures and improving the state's supply of renewable energy does not have to break the bank, Glick said.
"There is a lot of fear-mongering about how much this is going to cost," the assemblywoman added. "The state has spent billions of dollars on recovery from major storms — 500-year storms that come every other year. Individuals have their insurance costs going up because of the damage to their homes. Doing nothing has no cost. ... It won't be easy. We're going to have to work hard, but it is doable, and it is essential that we do."
Environmental advocates continue to blast new legislation backed by Gov. Hochul and fossil-fuel companies that would align New York with the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change and calculate methane gas emissions over 100 years, as is done at the federal level. Instead, New York's Climate Act requires the state review to take place every 20 years.
Sponsor Assemblywoman Didi Barrett voted for the 2019 Climate Act, and argues her legislation does not gut nor change the climate goals set in the law, but helps achieve them by not "strapping steep costs on the back of everyday New Yorkers."
"...The landscape has changed in the four years since the CLCPA passed – the administration in Washington, the economy, a global pandemic, and the availability of billions of dollars in federal funding through the Inflation Reduction Act (IRA),” Barrett said in a statement Monday. “Aligning New York State’s accounting system with the federal government’s will allow us to tap into this vital funding, helping us reduce emissions and co-pollutants right away - rather than years from now. This legislation is about giving us the tools and resources to continue to build out the electric infrastructure needed for a just transition from fossil fuels, to reach our climate goals and to ease the burden on already cash-strapped New Yorkers.”
The state must be more creative in using different fuel and resources to make the Climate Act a success, Barrett added.
“We can start using biofuels today, drop in fuels that will significantly decrease our carbon emissions and the amount of emitted particulate matter," Barrett said. "We know this particulate matter negatively impacts public health, especially in our disadvantaged communities which the CLCPA sets out to protect. Or we can wait for the solar and wind projects in the queue to come online and for energy infrastructure to be built, which is years out, and continue to use fossil fuels in the interim. To me, the former makes more sense.”
A growing number of lawmakers also want to address higher costs than expected during a transition away from fossil fuels.
State Department of Environmental Conservation officials worked with thousands of stakeholders over three years to devise and finalize a plan to achieve the Climate Act's benchmarks.
A Cap-and-Invest program in Gov. Hochul's budget would help the state reach those goals — allowing the DEC 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.
After meeting with the governor late last week, DEC Commissioner Basil Seggos said they are reviewing the prices and data on the heels of Washington state holding its first auction under its cap-and-invest program.
But DEC officials will continue to review the potential cost issue and nuanced changes to the Climate Act as session continues beyond the budget.
"We want to remain at the vanguard of climate action nationally, but it must be affordable," Seggos said, adding changes remain on the table. "So that conversation must begin now. If we can make advancement in the next few weeks, fantastic. if it takes longer than that, probably all the better, as long as we get a program that is ultimately affordable and successful.
"...At a bare minimum, we need to land with a program that will help drive costs down," the commissioner said.
Gov. Hochul values the Legislature passing the 2023-24 budget, now 10 days late, which is done correctly rather than completing it closer to the fiscal deadline.
But conversations about bail reform and housing continue to dominate negotiations.
Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie said Monday those debates have not left room for much other discussion, including about the state's climate plan.
"If bail is taking up 90% of the oxygen in the room, that doesn't leave a lot of room for other discussion, so I would say, when that falls, then you can probaly ask me about other things," Heastie told reporters Monday. "That's so far down on the list, not because of what's important but because of the way the governor has laid out what is important to her, we haven't even gotten to that."
But Democratic lawmakers say they're committed to fighting beyond the state budget negotiations for the climate measures that will be the most affordable and effective for New York.
"We're gonna fight one battle at a time," Glick said.