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New Yorkers vote on Proposition 1, the Environmental Bond Act

Ten years ago this past weekend, Superstorm Sandy pummeled the East Coast, resulting in the deaths of 44 New Yorkers, flooded 50 miles of New York City land, left 2.5 million residents without power, resulted in $19 billion in damages and lost economic activity, rendered 35,000 residents temporarily or permanently displaced, and caused damage to more than 9,100 homes.

In the decade since then, storms are only getting stronger and more deadly. Recently, Hurricane Fiona hammered Puerto Rico and the Canadian Atlantic Coast and Hurricane Ian devastated Florida. Ian was the deadliest hurricane to strike the state of Florida since 1935, killing over 130 in Florida, with regional economic damage estimated to be more than $50 billion.

As the planet heats up from the burning of fossil fuels and other releases, the resulting warmer sea surface temperature intensifies tropical storm wind speeds, giving them the potential to deliver more damage if they make landfall. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration has predicted an increase in Category 4 and 5 hurricanes, alongside increased hurricane wind speeds. Warmer sea temperatures also cause wetter hurricanes, with an estimated 10-15 percent more precipitation.

Global warming is continuing and a hotter planet will lead to deadlier storms – and costs to all of us.

At the state level, New Yorkers are already seeing those rising costs. A 2022 federal report found that over the past 20 years, New York State experienced so many severe storms due to the climate crisis that it has cost the state $50-$100 billion, and up to $20 billion for just 2021. Recently, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers estimated that it will take $52 billion to protect NY Harbor alone.

Of course, significant policy changes must be enacted to curb and eventually eliminate greenhouse gas emissions. But in the meantime, societies across the world will have to “harden” their infrastructures in order to adapt to more intense storms.

On the ballot for New York voters this election is a question about whether to allow the state to issue bonds to finance capital projects to do just that. The question is on the back of the ballot that voters receive during the early voting and General Election.

Proposition #1, the “Clean Water, Clean Air, and Green Jobs Environmental Bond Act of 2022” provides $4.2 billion in financing for the state to adapt to the threat posed by global warming as well as improve the state’s drinking water infrastructure and other environmental projects.

If approved this year, the Bond Act would provide:

  • $1.5 billion in climate change mitigation (which includes funds for zero emission school buses);
  • $1.1 billion in restoration and flood risk reduction;
  • $650 million in open space land conservation and recreation;
  • $650 million in water quality improvement and resilient infrastructure.  Many New Yorkers don’t realize that the infrastructure that delivers drinking water is over one hundred years old and still uses dangerous materials such as lead pipes; and,
  • Requires that 35% of the total funds must be spent in disadvantaged communities.

If approved, Prop #1 positions New York to leverage federal funding already approved in the Bipartisan Infrastructure Act and Inflation Reduction Act. The Bond Act could provide the matching funds which would help local government bring more federal dollars into their communities for critical infrastructure upgrades.
Of course, $4.2 billion is a lot of money, but it’s not enough to cover all the costs of climate change as well as upgrading water supply infrastructure. It is, however, a really good start.

When it comes to the worsening climate catastrophe, it’s hard not to get depressed. But action is warranted, not hand wringing. Prop #1 moves New York forward in adapting the state to the growing climate threats.

This year not only are statewide elected officials and lawmakers on the ballot, the environment is too.

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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