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Climate Activists: End Fossil Fuel Subsidies In New York State

WAMC File Photo
National Parks Service

Environmentalists are calling on New York state to end fossil fuel subsidies.

In letters recently delivered to Governor Andrew Cuomo and other officials, the activists press for enacting a bill to require public disclosure of fossil fuel related tax expenditures and eliminate subsidies within five years, allowing for some legislative exemptions on a case-by-case basis.

They argue that New York continues to fund the fossil fuel industry despite a landmark law that requires a 50% reduction in greenhouse gas emissions in just 10 years.

Liam Smith is a freshman at Middlebury College who serves as co-director of government affairs for the New York youth climate leaders.

"Our letter reads the following. In the middle of an unprecedented fiscal shortfall, unnecessary subsidies are harmful to the people of New York state. While some subsidies are necessary to the health of the New York economy, subsidizing industries that damage our future and climate is fiscally and morally irresponsible. When draconian cuts are being made to essential public services, such as Medicaid and education, spending more than $1.5 billion every year on the fossil fuel industry is an outrageous and unconscionable waste of money. That money could be better used to help cover the budget shortfalls your state is experiencing in the midst of the coronavirus pandemic."

The measure passed the Senate in August and it currently sits in the Assembly government operations committee. Conor Bambrick, Director of Climate Policy at Environmental Advocates NY, says the bill "will take a hard look at all the various exemptions out there."

"...like sales tax exemptions for keeping fuels, or the tax cap on gasoline, currently in place to extensions and caps that are currently costing the state hundreds of billions of dollars. And this legislation will require the governor to make thoughtful decisions on which of these exemptions should be retired or sunsetted. And which ones may need to stay in place for a little while longer, while he's figuring out how to end them equitably, to make sure our lower income households throughout the states aren't suffering disproportionately for policies that have just been in place way too long."

New York City Democratic Senator Liz Krueger, who chairs of the Finance Committee, is lead sponsor of the senate counterpart to A.257-C:

"We're talking about $1.5 billion of expenditures in our tax policies that we have written into law over decades with no one ever even looking at them again twice, where we are actually saying, we want to incentivize certain activities. So we're going to give you tax deductions, why in the 21st century, would anyone imagine it's a good idea to incentivize, give an extra push to use fossil fuels? That is just completely counter intuitive to everything we're trying to do in environmental policy. So no ending subsidies, won't and all use of fossil fuels. But why the heck would we use our taxpayer dollars to incentivize their use in the 21st century?"

The activists say the onus is on committee chair Assemblyman Kenneth Zebrowski to move the bill forward when session resumes in January. Zebrowski, a Democrat from the lower Hudson Valley’s 96th district, says he is committed to “getting something done on this bill.”

“I do, 100 percent agree with the, what I believe to be the main focus of the bill, which is ensuring that New York state is not giving any tax credits to major fossil fuel producers. So as I think that as we get toward the new session, we’re committed to finding a path forward on this bill and making sure that New York is doing everything possible to move towards renewable energy and make sure that we’re doing everything possible to clean up our environment.”

Governor Cuomo’s spokesman Rich Azzopardi said in a statement, “New York under this governor has passed the most far reaching ?climate change bill in the nation and to the extent that additional legislation is needed we will review it. “

Dave Lucas is WAMC’s Capital Region Bureau Chief. Born and raised in Albany, he’s been involved in nearly every aspect of local radio since 1981. Before joining WAMC, Dave was a reporter and anchor at WGY in Schenectady. Prior to that he hosted talk shows on WYJB and WROW, including the 1999 series of overnight radio broadcasts tracking the JonBenet Ramsey murder case with a cast of callers and characters from all over the world via the internet. In 2012, Dave received a Communicator Award of Distinction for his WAMC news story "Fail: The NYS Flood Panel," which explores whether the damage from Hurricane Irene and Tropical Storm Lee could have been prevented or at least curbed. Dave began his radio career as a “morning personality” at WABY in Albany.
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