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Will Governor Hochul make the climate polluters pay?

As they enter a second week of late budget negotiations, Governor Hochul and the state’s legislative leaders reportedly are focusing on their top budget priorities: funding for K-12 education, Medicaid, and housing. An important looming issue that has drawn little media attention is the effort to put the largest fossil fuel companies on the financial hook for New York’s burgeoning climate damage costs.

That issue is squarely on the budget negotiating table since the state Senate included it in their one house budget plan. The state Assembly also included language showing that they too wanted the fossil fuel industry to kick in for climate damages. Since thus far Governor Hochul has remained mum on the issue, any lack of agreement can only be attributed to her opposition.

Given the secrecy surrounding budget negotiations, New Yorkers are in the dark about what is going on behind Albany’s closed doors, but at some point soon, they will know. Yet, the effort to make the climate polluters pay received a boost last week.

According to a report issued last week, only 57 oil, gas, coal and cement producers are directly linked to 80% of the world’s global fossil CO2 emissions since the Paris climate agreement, the year when nearly all countries signed the U.N. Paris Agreement, committing to take action to curb climate change. Although governments pledged in Paris to cut greenhouse gases, the report found most companies had expanded their fossil fuel production since 2015.

This expansion, which continues to this day, runs contrary to a stark warning by the International Energy Agency that no new oil and gas fields can be opened if the world is to stay within safe limits of global heating. Climate scientists say global temperatures are rapidly approaching the Paris threshold of going no more than 2.7 degrees Fahrenheit above the pre-industrial era. Failure to keep to that limit could lead to dire consequences for the planet.

Global energy-related CO2 emissions hit a record high last year, according to the International Energy Agency and 2023 was the hottest year on record. The world’s climate experts urge that the world needs to virtually eliminate its reliance on fossil fuels by the middle of this Century or face environmental and humanitarian catastrophe.

Back in New York, action has been taken to set strong climate goals. In 2019, the Climate Leadership and Community Protection Act (Climate Act) was signed into law. The Climate Act is among the most ambitious climate laws in the nation and requires New York to reduce economy-wide greenhouse gas emissions 40 percent by 2030 and no less than 85 percent by 2050 from 1990 levels. Those goals are in line with the best climate science that is available.

In December of 2022, a state commission issued its blueprint on how best to implement those goals. The report called for the creation of a “resilient infrastructure fund and prioritize investments in Disadvantaged Communities.” To date, no such fund – at least one that can handle the scale of the problem – has been established.

It was that call that inspired the legislation advanced in both houses to make fossil fuel polluters pay up for New York’s climate damages: the Climate Change Superfund Act. Governor Hochul has not said what her position is on the legislation and has advanced no alternative.

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. Last year alone, the governor announced over $2 billion in spending on costs related to climate damages and efforts to boost the state’s climate resiliency. Taxpayers shouldn’t have to bear that burden alone. 

Unless Governor Hochul supports making the climate polluters pay, 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. Unless the governor weighs in, 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 adds to the evidence that despite knowing the industry did all it could to undermine efforts to address the climate crisisthey caused and knew was coming.

New Yorkers will soon know where Governor Hochul stands on this important issue. Once the final budget is approved, taxpayers will know if they will see some relief from climate costs. If they don’t get it, there is only one person who should answer the question “why?” – and that’s Governor Hochul.

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