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New York Lawmakers Want Superfund and $10B for Climate

Democratic state lawmakers have asked Gov. Hochul to allot $10 billion for climate projects and proposed legislation that would require fossil fuel companies to pay for major storm-related issues and climate resiliency projects.

The Gowanus Canal in Brooklyn, New York
The Gowanus Canal in Brooklyn, New York, was designated a Superfund site in March 2010 and will takes years to clean. However, some have been using the polluted canal, like members of the Gowanus Dredges, who volunteer their time to take students (like this group of summer camp students from Battery Park City in Manhattan). The Gowanus Dredgers want people to have an appreciation for the canal and to use this unique waterway in an environmentally friendly way.
(Carolyn Cole/Los Angeles Times/MCT)
(TNS) — Nearly four years ago, New York committed itself to what lawmakers billed as the most progressive — and aggressive — climate plan in the country. It requires the state to transition away from most of its carbon emissions within the decade, while prioritizing communities that have long been most affected by pollution zones and major natural disasters.

It's a big ask, and one that many Republican legislators and the energy industry remain wary of. And the billion-dollar question that remains: How does the state plan to pay for its lofty goals?

Democratic lawmakers and environmental advocates this week called on Gov. Kathy Hochul to dedicate $10 billion in her executive state budget proposal to fund projects outlined in the 2019 Climate Leadership and Community Protection Act. Without those dollars, they say, the state's ambitious goals will be placed at risk near the start of a decades-long effort.

Lawmakers and advocates suggested forming what they dubbed the " Climate and Community Protection Fund" and diverting $10 billion of state dollars to fund "just transition" programs and create union jobs that will aid in the development of renewable energy. Legislation to formally get that proposal in front of both chambers is pending, according to the group New York Renews.

"We have these beautiful solutions," said state Sen. Anna Kelles, D- Tompkins County. "But to do all these things, we have to hire people ... and we don't have that training, and we haven't invested in our communities."

Lawmakers also took aim at major oil companies as they previewed a climate legislation package, and charged that the larger fossil fuel industry has knowingly played a direct role in climate change as well as water and air pollution.

A related bill to create a climate change Superfund, sponsored by Sen. Liz Krueger and Assemblyman Jeffrey Dinowitz, would require companies involved with fossil fuels to foot a $30 billion bill to address lingering issues associated with previous major storms — such as 2012's Hurricane Sandy — and fund climate resiliency projects.

Companies would be required to pay on a sliding scale that corresponds with their share of greenhouse gas emissions between 2000 and 2018. The state is now by law required to drastically cut carbon emissions by 2030.

"They have the money ... it's their responsibility, all the damages that we're all dealing with," said Blair Horner, executive director of the New York Public Interest Research Group. "They should pay."

Democrats have pointed to recent crises like Buffalo's December blizzard as proof that urgency is required when dealing with climate legislation.

But during a joint Senate hearing on Thursday examining the state's ambitious climate plan, Republican legislators questioned New York's role in leading the charge, noting that the state contributes to a small portion of global carbon emissions and could be compromising residents' access to reliable and affordable energy as it decarbonizes.

"I think it's almost premature, that we're cutting off our nose to spite our face," said Sen. Anthony Palumbo, a Long Island Republican.

Palumbo said he has taken steps to reduce his own home's carbon footprint, including installing solar panels. But he and other Republicans said they were concerned the state is moving too fast in its conversion away from natural gas and fossil fuels.

"I think we need to get there with the technology," Palumbo said. "I know that we're trying."

Democrats on the Senate's environmental and energy committees have joined advocates to insist that the existing fossil fuel dependency is already an unreliable system that has placed consumers at the mercy of utilities and oil companies. They also say that the move to green energy will create thousands of jobs — if the state agrees to put money behind its legislation.

Eddie Bautista, the executive director of the New York City Environmental Justice Alliance, noted that $10 billion represents about 4 percent of the total state budget.

"We're talking about a crisis — existential crisis of our lifetimes," Bautista said. "Four percent doesn't sound like a lot to me."

Hochul, meanwhile, has already signaled that she will be pursuing the so-called "Cap-and-Invest" program, which will force the biggest emitters of greenhouse gases to purchase allowances tied to their emissions. The program in theory will incentivize the market to transition to lower-carbon alternative energy sources.

The state's recently approved Environmental Bond Act includes a $4.2 billion long-term taxpayer investment in stormwater and infrastructure projects over the next several years.

(c)2023 the Times Union (Albany, N.Y.) Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.
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