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Will the Legislature "kick the can" on climate costs?

This week Albany heads into a new phase in the development of the state budget as both houses of the New York State Legislature unveil their budget priorities. Governor Hochul advanced her plan back in January. With the expected approval of the Senate and Assembly plans this week, the battle to reconcile the three competing plans will start in earnest.

The final budget is supposed to be completed by the end of this month, although in recent years the fight over the final version extended well into April — beyond the start of the new fiscal year.

The final budget will authorize the state to raise and spend somewhere around $235 billion over the next twelve months. In addition to the fiscal side, the final budget will address pressing state programmatic and policy priorities. Yet, in one key area — the rising costs of spending on damages caused by a rapidly worsening climate — Governor Hochul’s budget plan comes up short: It includes some spending on climate projects, but does so in a way that would pass those costs solely onto the backs of taxpayers.

What will the Legislature do in response?

Last year, the state Senate advanced a budget that shifted a large portion of climate damage response costs off taxpayers and onto the largest oil companies. The plan also was designed to protect the public from having those fees shifted back onto taxpayers in the form of higher consumer costs. Unfortunately, last year’s Assembly plan sided with the governor in requiring that all climate costs be paid by taxpayers, not Big Oil.

Will it happen again?

This year is different — the coalition calling for Big Oil to pay is large and diverse and at least half the Assemblymembers support the proposal that matches the Senate’s plan.

A coalition of over 400 environmental, civic, religious, and youth groups and 100 local elected officials have been demanding that the world’s largest oil companies pay for New York’s staggering infrastructure climate change costs as part of a final budget agreement.

The Climate Change Superfund Act requires the companies most responsible for greenhouse gas emissions to pay $3 billion annually for each of the next twenty-five years to help cover the environmental damage they have done. The legislation is designed to prevent these costs from being shifted onto the public, as confirmed by an independent think tank’s analysis.

Climate change resiliency measures are uniquely necessary — and expensive — in New York. A recent review of Governor Hochul’s climate-related public announcements documented that she had pledged over $2 billion in 2023 to cover damages and projects to boost the resiliency of New York’s infrastructure damaged by climate change-driven extreme weather — funds that would instead be paid by Big Oil if the Climate Superfund was approved.

It's expected that the state’s climate costs will be enormous. A study by New York State Comptroller DiNapoli revealed that over a ten-year span, more than half of New York localities' municipal spending outside of New York City was or will be linked to climate change. New York City may need to spend around $100 billion to upgrade its sewer systems to withstand intensified storms. And those costs are on top of the$52 billion that the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers has estimated it will cost to protect New York Harbor from rising sea levels and storms. Estimates suggest that Long Island alone could incur up to $100 billion in climate-related costs.

These financial burdens are projected to escalate, potentially reaching $10 billion annually for New Yorkers by the middle of the century.

Who’s on the financial hook? Right now you are — unless legislation is passed to allocate at least some of those costs to those who are most responsible and who have the greatest ability to pay — the largest oil companies.

Remember, scientists working for oil companies like Exxon decades ago made “remarkably accurate projections of just how much burning fossil fuels would warm the planet.” Yet for years, the industry “publicly cast doubt on climate science, and cautioned against any drastic move away from burning fossil fuels, the main driver of climate change.”

This week, we’ll know which side the Legislature is on. Will they protect taxpayers and put Big Oil on the hook? Or will they adopt the governor’s position and agree to pass all of those climate costs onto the public? The answer will have a big impact on your wallet.

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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