Cuomo Can Bypass Trump’s Anti-Climate Agenda Now, Lawmakers & Activists Say

With President-elect Trump’s inauguration only days away, individual states are preparing to lead the way on responding to climate change – how to prepare for it, and how to reduce its worst effects by cutting carbon emissions.

New York State has already shown that it is prepared to prioritize human health over fossil fuel extraction with its refusal in 2014 to permit high-volume fracking. Now Governor Cuomo is being urged to support what advocates say is the “most ambitious climate legislation in the country” – the Climate and Community Protection Act.

Details on the Bill

The bill, which has already passed the New York State Assembly, has four key objectives:

• Commit New York State to the use of 100% renewable energy by 2050, and 50% by 2030;
• Dedicate 40% or more of climate investments to environmental justice and low income communities;
• Create good local jobs in clean energy, and protections for workers impacted by the transition away from fossil fuels; and
• Use funding to “accelerate a worker and community-centered transition to a sustainable economy.”

Read the text of the legislation here.

“New Yorkers have witnessed firsthand the devastating loss of life, homes and livelihoods caused by Superstorm Sandy and tropical storms Irene and Lee,” said Assemblymember Steve Englebright after the bill passed the Assembly in June. Englebright chairs the Assembly’s Environmental Conservation committee and is the bill’s lead sponsor.

“These extreme weather events are related to climate change…storms, the migration of lobsters to cooler waters, new pests, and threats to public health all point to the undeniable fact that climate change is happening now, not in some distant future,” he continued.

“This legislation includes provisions to both minimize the potential impacts of climate change and address the impacts that cannot be mitigated. It will also advance environmental justice and provide new well-paying jobs in the field of clean energy,” Englebright concluded.

The Climate & Community Protection Act is also being pushed by NY Renews, which describes itself as a multi-sector, statewide coalition of 100 environmental, social, labor and economic justice organizations.

The group’s stated mission is to “move New York State’s economy off of fossil fuels and foster a just transition to renewable energy.”

Lawmakers and activists are urging Governor Cuomo to include the legislation in his 2017 budget. In the State Senate, a bipartisan majority reportedly supports the bill.

New Yorkers can contact the Governor’s office at (518) 474-8390, or via his webform, to share their thoughts.

The National Context

New York State has already set the goal of an 80 percent cut in fossil fuel emissions by 2050 (relative to 1990 levels), as has New York City. It is unclear if the incoming Trump administration will have any objectives related to climate change.

Trump has stated publicly that there is no scientific consensus on climate change, and that the U.S. should exit the Paris Climate Accords. He has appointed a series of fossil fuel advocates to high-level cabinet posts, including Rex Tillerson, the CEO of Exxon Mobil as the new U.S. Secretary of State; former Texas governor Rick Perry as Secretary of Energy; and Oklahoma Attorney General, Scott Pruitt, as head of the Environmental Protection Agency.

One of the central arguments used to delay action on climate change is that cutting back on fossil fuel use and extraction will harm the U.S. economy and cause job loss.

NY Renews, which arose from organizing around the 2014 People’s Climate March, argues that New York State will be able to address climate change and socio-economic inequality with the same set of policies.

The coalition says that an economy centered around renewable energy has the potential to revitalize many local communities, and create thousands of new jobs, with the added benefit that jobs in solar, wind and hydro are safer for workers than jobs in the fossil fuel industry.

“This legislation offers tremendous opportunities to preserve and expand our workforce,” said Assemblymember Michele Titus, chair of the State Assembly’s Labor committee. “As our state begins to rely more on renewable energy, the demand for quality skilled jobs will also increase, offering hardworking New York families the job security they need and deserve.”

In Session’s Final Hours, State Lawmakers Push For More Environmental Protections

There are other issues at stake in Albany this week besides New York City’s rent laws and tax credits for developers. Members of the State Caucus of Environmental Legislators are calling for the passage of six “key” bills before the end of the regular legislative session.

The Environmental Caucus, chaired by Assemblymember Brian Kavanagh of Manhattan, is made up of state senators and assembly members, and describes itself as “nonpartisan.” Each of the bills backed by members of the Caucus has both Republican and Democratic sponsors, and most have advanced in one or both houses.

The Caucus provided the following summaries of bills that they have targeted for passage. Find out more info about these and other bills by checking the State Senate and Assembly websites.

Community Solar Program

(Paulin/Griffo, A07964/S5841 – In Assembly Energy Committee, in Senate Energy and Telecommunications Committee)

This bill would create a pilot program allowing electric corporations to offer subscriptions for solar power.

Many New Yorkers are interested in improving the environment and protecting electric system reliability through the use of solar energy, but up-front costs and space limitations prevent many from owning or leasing their own solar energy systems.

Child Safe Products Act

(Englebright/Boyle, A05612/S4102 – Passed Assembly, in Senate Environmental Conservation Committee)

This bill would require the state Department of Environmental Conservation to publish a list of chemicals found in items meant for children that pose a risk to human health. Manufacturers of children’s products would be required to notify retailers when the merchandise they are selling contains one of the listed chemicals.

Sale of children’s products that contain the most harmful chemicals would be banned.

Microbead-Free Waters Act

(Schimel/O’Mara, A05896/S3932 – Passed Assembly, in Senate Environmental Conservation Committee)

This bill would ban the sale or distribution of personal cosmetic products containing microbeads, which are micro-sized pieces of plastic found in some facial and body wash products that slip through municipal water treatment plants and into bodies of water throughout the state.

The beads enter the food chain where they can be mistaken for food by fish and they are capable of absorbing toxins that pose a serious threat to human health and wildlife.

Hazardous Waste Loophole Bill

(Englebright/Avella A06859/S0884 – On Assembly floor, in Senate Environmental Conservation Committee)

This bill would require a comprehensive analysis of oil and gas drilling waste to determine whether its chemical content and characteristics make it hazardous. Such waste would be properly tracked and disposed of only at facilities equipped to safely handle it.

More than 500,000 tons of fracking waste have been transported from Pennsylvania to New York landfills. This waste is often hazardous- it can be toxic and flammable, and contain chemicals, metals, benzene, and other dangerous substances. New York State environmental regulations currently exempt oil and gas drilling waste from being treated as hazardous waste.

Financial Liability for Crude Oil Storage

(Fahy/Avella, A07625/S05751A – In Assembly Codes Committee, in Senate Environmental Conservation Committee)

This bill would require that companies have financial security to meet all responsibilities for cleanup and decontamination costs associated with the accidental release of crude oil.

The storage of crude oil has increased dramatically in the U.S. over the past five years. Rail transport of crude oil has increased from over 9,000 carloads in 2008 to over 400,000 in 2013, expanding the need for safe and secure storage facilities.

(The Cuomo administration is also taking steps to prepare for crude oil spills during transport.)

Paint Stewardship

(Peoples-Stokes A03304 or Stirpe/O’Mara, A06199/S4926 – In Assembly Ways and Means and Environmental Conservation Committees respectively, on Senate floor)

These bills would create a take-back program for leftover paint similar to those established for electronic waste, rechargeable batteries, and thermostats.

About 10 percent of paint purchased in New York goes unused. This results in about 3.1 million gallons of leftover paint each year in New York State which need to be properly disposed of.

 

New York State’s Water Crisis

In Troy, New York, just across the Hudson River from our state Capitol, some residents recently went without water for 10 straight days because of a water main break. Other Troy residents were forced to boil their water for several days because of a separate break.

What is happening in Troy is not an isolated problem, say advocates, local elected officials, and even the state’s own environmental protection agency.

Money is badly needed by municipalities for repairs to both wastewater management and drinking water systems. Last fall, Comptroller Thomas DiNapoli identified a gap in annual state spending of $800 million for wastewater and over $300 million for drinking water infrastructure.

And these infrastructure upgrades are more critical than ever, given the projected increase in rainfall and extreme weather events across the state due to climate change.

The state has put off addressing the problem for long enough, argue almost two dozen state senators. They are pushing the Governor to include $800 million for new water infrastructure funding in this year’s state budget. Currently, there is no grant money set aside in the proposed budget for municipal water infrastructure projects.

The water superintendent of one upstate city told NYER that they “fully supported” the state senators’ fight for $800 million in infrastructure funds. The official, who asked not to be identified for fear of alienating the Governor, added, “it should probably be a lot more.”

The state has the ability to make an $800 million investment this year because it has received more than $5 billion in bank settlement funds, the senators maintain.

“This is not a Republican or Democrat issue,” Senator Carl Marcellino of Long Island, who is pushing for the $800 million, told Capital New York. “We all drink the same water.”

State Assembly Not on Board

So far, the state Assembly is not joining its colleagues in the Senate to fight for $800 million for water infrastructure.

The Assembly will be requesting $250 million, Elizabeth Nostrand, legislative director for Assemblymember Steve Englebright, told NYER. Englebright, a Democrat from Long Island, chairs the Assembly’s Environmental Conservation Committee.

Nostrand said that Assemblymember Englebright and his colleagues agreed with the senators that addressing the state’s infrastructure needs was a “top priority.” But she said that numerous competing proposals had been put forward for the use of the bank settlement funds.

The Assembly was advocating for a number, Nostrand said, which was within “the realm of possibility.” Nostrand added that the Assembly’s proposal for $250 million in water infrastructure funding was far better than the Governor’s, “which was zero.”

$12.7 Billion Requested by Local Governments

An analysis released last week by a coalition of environmental and clean water organizations makes the case that communities across New York State have an “immediate documented need” for $12.7 billion in wastewater infrastructure projects alone. This need now impacts every single county, they point out.

Roughly two-thirds -over 500- of the projects covered by this $12.7 billion are essentially “shovel ready,” said Dan Shapley, the Water Quality Program Manager at Riverkeeper.

Riverkeeper and three other organizations, Environmental Advocates, the New York League of Conservation Voters, and the Adirondack Council, prepared the analysis. The groups found that of the $12.7 billion in aid requested by local governments, the state Environmental Facilities Corporation plans to provide $757 million, just under 6 percent.

That $757 million will come primarily in the form of no- and low-interest loans via the Clean Water State Revolving Loan Fund, which is administered by the EFC.

Who Is Supposed to Pay for Water Infrastructure?

The State’s lead environmental agency is in agreement that New York is facing a water infrastructure “crisis,” both in terms of wastewater and drinking water.

“One-quarter of the 610 [sewage and wastewater treatment] facilities in New York are operating beyond their useful life expectancy,” notes the state Department of Environmental Conservation, “and many others are using outmoded, inadequate technology, increasing their likelihood of tainting our waters.”

According to the American Society of Civil Engineers, New York has reported $27 billion in drinking water infrastructure needs over the next 20 years; along with $29.7 billion in costs related to upgrading wastewater treatment infrastructure.

Who pays for such pressing – and fundamental – projects? Local, state and federal governments are all supposed to share the burden.

A key problem is the fact that individual municipalities, especially smaller ones, do not necessarily have the cash on hand, or the ability to borrow large sums from the Clean Water State Revolving Loan Fund. One contributing factor is the state’s two percent cap on local property taxes (instituted by the Governor), which essentially ties the hands of local governments.

Current levels of local investment in water infrastructure projects are a fraction of where they need to be, says a report released in September by State Comptroller Tom DiNapoli. For instance, municipalities are spending one-fifth to one-sixth of what the Department of Health believes is necessary to adequately upgrade drinking water systems across the state.

Missing An Opportunity?

Is the Governor missing a golden opportunity by not putting bank settlement dollars into upgrading sewage treatment plants, storm drain systems and drinking water mains?

Investing in the state’s water infrastructure is not just a liveability issue; it’s also an economic development issue, say advocates. Functional infrastructure is required for growth.

And investing in the state’s wastewater and drinking water systems will create jobs, as many as 30,000, they add. The economic activity generated by the level of construction needed will help to increase local and state tax revenues, they argue. This, in turn, will help to pay for the two decades of infrastructure improvement projects that lie ahead.

What Are Your County’s Water Infrastructure Needs?

Clean water advocates have tabulated the applications -just for wastewater infrastructure projects- to the EFC’s Clean Water State Revolving Loan Fund. Over 900 projects are pending.

According to this analysis, Brooklyn (Kings County) has the greatest documented need, with pending applications for 63 projects, at a whopping total cost of over $3 billion.

What’s an example of what is being requested for Brooklyn? The City of New York has requested funds for a “sewage treatment plant upgrade at Coney Island to improve water quality to the Rockaway Inlet.” The Rockaway Inlet lies between Brooklyn and the Rockaways.

Estimated cost for this one project? $20,533,250.

Click here to read a description of the projects for which your county has requested support. Project descriptions start on page 41. The descriptions provide a window on just some of the water-related problems that local governments are trying to solve.

New York City’s projects are identified by the letters NYCMWFA [Municipal Water Finance Authority]. Interestingly, a number of New York City’s projects are related to “storm” and “flood mitigation.”

The totals, by county, are as follows:

County Total $ # of Projects
Nassau $1,871,423,843 55
Suffolk $1,968,210,400 53
Bronx $179,836,762 17
Kings $3,135,778,182 63
New York $405,059,903 30
Queens $601,488,136 40
Richmond $114,526,549 17
Dutchess $194,030,190 27
Orange $288,258,968 39
Putnam $54,765,276 3
Rockland $98,135,778 11
Sullivan $104,542,750 18
Ulster $14,828,933 8
Westchester $794,696,577 47
Albany $128,123,434 23
Columbia $6,712,000 2
Delaware $113,070,596 3
Greene $27,314,000 4
Montgomery $19,425,000 7
Otsego $27,809,000 8
Rensselaer $41,528,832 8
Schenectady $93,949,400 11
Schoharie $12,499,000 5
Clinton $53,456,000 11
Essex $50,787,407 17
Franklin $49,190,456 13
Fulton $25,754,000 4
Hamilton $6,465,000 3
Saratoga $87,996,737 21
Warren $41,696,095 17
Washington $24,622,000 6
Herkimer $27,869,000 13
Jefferson $85,545,000 20
Lewis $19,891,000 6
Oneida $520,213,596 27
St. Lawrence $77,797,000 20
Broome $64,661,000 6
Cayuga $30,517,270 10
Chenango $20,232,000 3
Cortland $27,706,000 4
Madison $29,467,000 6
Onondaga $227,467,000 23
Oswego $86,805,000 12
Tioga $7,196,000 1
Tompkins $19,727,000 10
Genesee $7,422,000 6
Livingston $23,999,000 6
Monroe $104,984,774 25
Ontario $20,580,053 10
Orleans $4,110,768 2
Schuyler $37,109,000 5
Seneca $2,568,000 3
Steuben $44,891,778 11
Wayne $48,014,000 11
Yates $28,451,000 5
Allegany $17,734,153 7
Cattaraugus $60,946,282 10
Chautauqua $87,207,470 12
Erie $243,543,160 26
Niagara $40,170,200 23
Wyoming $9,176,658 3
Total: $12,661,983,366 917
Average by County: $207,573,497 14.8