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Commentary & Opinion

Ida Collides With NY, Who Will Pay For The Cleanup?

By the time Hurricane Ida hit the Northeast, it was downgraded to a tropical storm. But its impacts on New York City, New Jersey and surrounding communities was devastating. The damage to New York City was particularly bad: More than a half a foot of rain fell in just a few hours, overwhelming mass transit systems, inundating roadways, flooding basement apartments and resulting in the deaths of at least 45 people and leaving more than 150,000 without power across the region.

The scenes of waterfall-force rainwaters pouring into subways, of emergency teams rescuing people from the rooftops of cars and hundreds more from mass transit systems, underscored that our society is simply not prepared for the dramatic weather changes already triggered by the global warming crisis.

Governor Hochul has stated that New York needs to make long overdue infrastructure improvements to better handle flash floods and other problems related to a rapidly heating planet. She is right. But who should pay for those improvements?

While we need to rapidly wean the world off power generated by fossil fuels, the greenhouse gas emissions that are driving climate change will continue to cause global warming and the resultant weather changes and more powerful storms.

The price tag for New York, the nation, and the world, to adapt its infrastructure for this new reality will be enormous. The question for policymakers must be: Who should pay for the needed infrastructure changes?

President’s Biden’s $3.5 trillion infrastructure plan currently under consideration by both the US Senate and the House, relies on revenues from increasing the corporate tax rate from 21% to 28%. But should a corporate giant like Google pay an increase that is the same as Big Oil behemoth ExxonMobil? After all, Exxon knew of the dangers resulting from the burning of fossil fuels as early as the 1970s, yet buried their own research and spent millions undermining climate science and making campaign contributions in order to block climate-science legislation. Google didn’t do that.

No, ExxonMobil and the other big oil and gas companies should pay more.

There is an effort in the Congress to do just that and New York lawmakers are at the heart of the effort. Representative Jamaal Bowman (NY) is spearheading the push to get the House to include a “Make Polluters Pay” provision in its budget plan to charge the big oil and gas companies an assessment of at least a half trillion dollars toward the nation’s costs of responding to climate changes. His effort has been joined by a diverse coalition of other Representatives with support from Congressional firebrand Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, longtime liberal lion Jerrold Nadler, suburban moderate Tom Suozzi, and Congressional environmental leader Paul Tonko. These members are leaders in a group of 40 members who are urging House Speaker Pelosi to make the climate polluters pay for the damages from climate change.

On the Senate side, the effort is led by US Senator Van Hollen (MD) with support by Senator Sanders (VT) and Senators Markey and Warren (MA), among others. The most important Senator in this effort will be New York’s Chuck Schumer, who plays the critical role as Majority Leader. It will be his influence that will make the difference in whether a “Make Polluters Pay” provision ends up in Senate’s budget plan.

The Van Hollen/Bowman approach is modelled on the toxic waste site “Superfund” clean up laws. It is expected that both plans will be considered during the House and Senate budget debates over the next couple of weeks.

As children we all learned early on that if we made a mess, we were responsible for cleaning it up. As the nation faces trillions of dollars in infrastructure costs, the portion for the damages caused by climate change should be borne by those most responsible for the mess – Big Oil.

New York’s US Senator Schumer will play an outsized role in determining whether that lesson learned will be applied to the biggest polluters in the history of the world. Here’s hoping that Senator Schumer makes the climate polluters pay.

Blair Horner is executive director of the New York Public Interest Research Group.

The views expressed by commentators are solely those of the authors. They do not necessarily reflect the views of this station or its management.

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