Greens Harshly Criticize Gov. Hochul, Legislative Leaders, Comptroller for Slow-walking Climate Action

Testifying at the state budget hearing on the environment, the Green Education and Legal Fund criticized the Governor’s budget proposals of following far short of the action needed to prevent climate collapse. (Testimony here)

GELF urged lawmakers to make polluters pay for the damage they have caused from burning fossil fuels (e.g., Climate Superfund), investing the revenues to speed up the transition to a clean energy future, while rebating significant funds to protect consumers from price increases. It called for Hochul’s proposed cap-trade-and-invest program to adopt goals to cut emissions far faster than presently included (40% by 2030) in the state’s climate law (CLCPA) and to set the initial floor for carbon pricing far higher than the proposed $23 a ton. It called for the State legislature to firmly direct the State Comptroller to follow through on divestment and jettison Exxon, Shell, Chevron and other oil and gas companies. (DiNapoli Fact Sheet)

“Governments like New York are moving far too slowly to curb greenhouse gas emissions and develop new renewable energy, leading the Secretary-General of the United Nations to say that such inaction has opened up the Gates of Hells. One would have hoped that a summer of extreme weather – including smoke from wildfires in Canada as the legislature was adjourning, to record flooding and heat waves – would have finally convinced the Governor to act like she understood we are facing a climate emergency. We are already close to the 1.5 degree C target for global warming,” noted Mark Dunlea, chair of GELF and author of Putting Out the Planetary Fire.

GELF did give the Governor credit for including much of the HEAT Act in her budget proposal. It urged lawmakers to include the full Heat Action in the budget, The legislation ensures that the policies and actions of all state agencies are in alignment with the state’s climate goals.  It urged lawmakers to reject the Governor’s effort to cut the state’s existing $500 million annual investment in the state’s clean water investment and instead raise it to at least $600 million. It also wants the budget to expand the bottle bill to include all beverages and to raise the nickel deposit to a time.

It said that the proposal by the Hochul administration to only cut emissions at the Empire State Plaza by 50% over the next ten years was ridiculous. I called for lawmakers to include the Renewable Capitol Act (S2689/A5633) in their one-house budget resolutions to commit the state to as rapid a conversion that is possible to zero emissions and 100% renewable energy. The legislation calls for converting the entire Capitol complex within 3 years (Michigan recently took 18 months to convert its state capitol to geothermal energy). GELF recommends that the state strongly consider geothermal to heat and cool the Capitol.

The state legislature five years ago rejected Governor Cuomo’s proposal to invest $88 million to expand pollution at the century-old steam plant in the low-income Sheridan Hollow community that heats/cools the Capitol complex and instead amended the budget to direct the funds g to renewable energy.

Last year state budget funded feasibility studies to decarbonize the 15 largest greenhouse gas emitters among the buildings that the state owns. Because NYPA and OGS have been looking at this over the last 5 years at lawmakers’ direction, including a 2-year not-yet-publicly-shared energy audit of the complex, the planning process should be able to be quickly completed, allowing for a plan to be adopted this year as to the timeline and goals for the conversion, something entirely consistent with the direction of the CLCPA. Reparations and investments are also needed in the Arbor Hill / Sheridan Hollow environmental justice community that the state itself has inflicted more than a century of air pollution from the burning of coal, oil, trash, and gas to power the Capitol complex. It said it supported the efforts with Aztech Geothermal to provide district geothermal energy in hundreds of homes in Sheridan Hollow and the South End.

GELF supported the Climate, Jobs, and Justice package of NY Renews, which includes a $1 billion capital investment in environmental justice climate projects this year, including $50 million to continue the conversion of the capitol complex.

GELF faulted the State Comptroller for delaying divesting the state’s pension fund from billions of dollars in Exxon, Shell, Chevron, and other oil and gas companies. It urged the State legislature to mandate the divestment in the upcoming budget and to ensure that public hearings are held on the climate actions and policies of the fossil fuel industry before any decision is made as to the climate impact of these polluters. As part of his agreement to decarbonize the state pension fund in exchange for lawmakers dropping legislation sponsored by close to a majority of all legislators, DiNapoli has been reviewing the climate agenda of Exxon and others since August 2022.

GELF also called for lawmakers to direct the NYS Teachers Retirement System to divest from fossil fuels. (A1101/S899).

The lead negotiator of the Paris Climate Accords recently announced that she had given up any hope of such companies making a positive impact on climate, noting how they had abused their record profits arising from the Uranian war. She urged government officials not to fall for the fossil fuels’ disinformation campaign, which includes the promotion of carbon capture technology, something even the International Energy Agency described as an illusion. Dunlea was the Green Party candidate for State Comptroller in 2018, focusing on the need for divestment.

While GELF continues to advocate for a carbon tax as the best method of carbon pricing, it laid out several recommendations to strengthen the cap-trade-and-invest program, including provisions to ensure that it doesn’t harm environmental justice communities as many similar programs have done. The International Monetary Fund, which estimates that governments annually provide a $7 trillion subsidy to fossil fuels by failing to make them pay for the damages they cause, recommends a carbon price of at least $85 a ton by 2030. DEC estimates that the present social cost of carbon is $121 a ton. GELF noted that the Congressional Research Service had previously concluded that the state’s existing cap-and-trade program for electricity, RGGI, has been ineffective in reducing emissions. GELF opposes exempting electric producers and high energy, trade challenged emission users from the new carbon pricing program.

GELF noted that cap-and-trade programs historically have failed to meet their emission reduction goals because at the last moment elected officials cave to lobbying by the fossil fuel industry and weaken the emission reduction provisions. Hochul demonstrated similar behavior in last year’s budget when at the last moment, following the carbon auction in the state of Washington, she suddenly sought to weaken the emission rules related to methane. The emission reduction goals in the CLCPA are lower than the 50 to 52% reduction by 2030 of the Biden administration. Greenhouse gas emissions have continued to climb globally, driving global warming far faster than scientists had anticipated.

It is estimated that air pollution from fossil fuels costs the state and its residents 50 billion a year in health care costs. In developing the state’s climate scoping document, the state estimated the annual cost to meet its “net zero” (85% emission reduction) by 2050 would be around $100 billion. While it assumes that 90% of these costs would be paid for by transferring existing energy expenditures, it has not documented that this is realistic or that it is presently occurring. GELF supports the proposed Climate Superfund Act to raise an estimated $3 billion annually for the largest emitters of greenhouse gas in the state.

GELF announced support for the Climate Education Bill (S278A / A1559A) to establish a course of instruction and learning expectations on climate education in all public elementary and secondary schools. GELF opposed the legislation to establish a Clean Fuel Standard. (A964/S1292). GELF is a supporter of the Packaging Reduction and Recycling Infrastructure Act, S4246-a/ A5322-a to mandate quick reductions in packaging and waste production. It continues to advocate for an ecosocialist Green New Deal.

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