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New York's environment gets a legislative hearing

State lawmakers have been moving along through the legislative budget hearings process and are expected to wrap them up next week. This week, one of the big hearings focuses on Governor Hochul’s proposed budget plans for the environment.

Like in any proposed Executive Budget, the governor’s plan contained good news and bad. Her proposal included ending the so-called “100 foot rule.” The 100 foot rule, which dates back to 1981, requires energy utility companies to hook up any new customer to its gas line if the transmission line is within 100 feet of the structure and the customer wants the hookup. The connection is provided at no charge to the new customer and the hookup cost gets spread among all gas ratepayers. Advocates for scrapping the rule argue that it incurs costs of $1 billion over five years, distributed among gas ratepayers.

The governor proposed that the state’s Environmental Protection Fund maintain its funding at $400 million, although she does shift some costs within the program. The governor also proposed to spend $250 million of the state’s recently approved Environmental Bond Act for a voluntary buyout of properties threatened by climate change and spending $47 million to plant over 25 million trees by 2033.

Her budget did draw jeers from environmentalists for some of the plans – in particular her plan to cut in half the state’s investments in upgrading water infrastructure. The Cuomo Administration had pledged in 2019 to spend $2.5 billion investing in upgrading water supplies, with that spending phased in over five years. The five years are up. Governor Hochul has proposed in her budget that the state spend $500 million over two years ($250 million per year) on water infrastructure upgrades, cutting in half the amount spent over the previous five years.

For many, one area that the governor did not address got the most negative reaction. The governor did not meaningfully tackle the looming costs from damages caused by a rapidly heating planet. The governor did propose a comprehensive resiliency plan to “protect New Yorkers from extreme weather as part of her 2024 State of the State and included $435 million in the Executive Budget proposal to help implement the initiatives.”

But as proposed by the governor, those costs would be borne by the taxpayer. And the amount she recommended is woefully inadequate to meet the worsening task.

New York’s climate costs are expected to skyrocket. It has been estimated that Long Island alone faces up to$100 billion in climate costs. Astudy from NYS Comptroller DiNapoli found that over a ten-year period (the last five and next five years), more than half of New York localities' municipal spending outside of NYC was, or will be, related to climate change. New York City estimatesas much as$100 billion will be needed to upgrade its sewers for more intense storms. And those costs are on top of the$52 billion that the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers has estimated is needed to protect New York Harbor from rising sea levels. Those costs – like the temperature of the planet – are expected to keep increasing.

New Yorkers could see those costs rise to as much as$10 billion annually. New York taxpayers shouldn’t have to bear that burden alone.

Yet, the governor’s budget did not highlight the necessary funding for tackling this problem. According to my colleagues at NYPIRG, New York spent over $2 billion last year to address climate damages and resiliency costs.

Unless something changes, the costs of addressing the damages from a worsening climate – repairing roads and bridges, protecting low-lying areas, adding air conditioning to schools and much more – will be borne by taxpayers. Those most responsible for the mess that we’re in – the biggest oil companies – are off-the-financial-hook.

Big Oil has known for decades that the burning of fossil fuels would trigger a heating planet and possible devastation. The most recent revelation is that the industry knew as early as 1954 of the possible dangers. That’s not the only evidence, but despite knowing, the industry did all it could to undermine efforts to address the climate crisisthey caused and knew was coming.

Meanwhile, while the bills pile up for taxpayers, the industry responsible for this mess is raking in cash. The top Big Oil companies in the U.S. are on track for a second consecutive year of record profits, and the industry globally is performing much better than expected. Those record profits allowed them to deliver unprecedented returns to shareholders.

Unless something changes, Big Oil will continue to enrich itself, block needed actions, and New York taxpayers will be stuck with the tab.

As New York’s budget process plays out, making Big Oil accountable for the mess that they made, must be central to the state’s environmental budget.

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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