Blair Horner: The 2019 Legislative Session Is In The Books

Jun 24, 2019

Last week, state lawmakers wrapped up the 2019 legislative session and it represented a big change from what New Yorkers have seen in the recent past.  Sweeping changes to the state’s law regulating home rental apartments, an impressive expansion in the state’s voting laws, decriminalization of marijuana possession, and other important issues were approved. 

And it wasn’t just a list of big policy changes, the sheer volume of lawmakers’ work showed a dramatic uptick in production.  For example, the number of bills that were approved by both houses jumped over 50 percent from last year and represented the highest total in well over a decade.

Why?  Having one political party dominating the state’s political establishment is the main reason.  Democrats have large majorities in both the state Senate and the state Assembly and coupled with a Democrat in the governor’s mansion, makes it much more likely that legislation can get done. 

One of the important issues that was addressed was global warming.

As part of the session, the governor and state lawmakers agreed on a bill that is considered one of the most ambitious in the fight against climate catastrophe.

The key provisions of the legislation are clear: electric power production must be carbon free by 2040, an 85% reduction in the emission of greenhouse gas pollution by 2050, with the other 15% offset by qualifying carbon offset projects, like forest restoration, preservation of carbon sinks, and more.

How will these goals be accomplished?  The legislation leaves the detailed decisions to a “climate action council.”  The council will consist of 22 members and they will have a couple of years to make the technical decisions on how New York will transition to a carbon-free economy. 

There is no denying that action is needed.  According to the world’s experts, unless actions are taken in the next decade, the world may face a catastrophic collapse in its environment that will lead to misery for billions of people.

The world’s experts agree that action needs to be taken to move to the world to an economy that does not rely on power from the burning of fossil fuels by the year 2050, or the most dire warnings of environmental catastrophes will come true.

The United States must play a leadership role in following the science and re-organizing the world’s economy based on the use of non-fossil fuel to one that relies on renewable, power – like solar, wind and geothermal sources.

And the U.S. has a moral obligation to lead as well. The United States is one of the world’s leading emitters of greenhouse gases – the stuff that is keeping the heat in the atmosphere and fueling global warming.  The U.S. is also the world’s leading economy, so its actions matter.

But the President refuses to “believe” in basic science and the result is gridlock on needed actions.  Thus, states like California and New York must lead.

If New York was a nation, it would be one of the largest economies in the world.  Combined with actions in California – with a state-based economy that is larger than New York’s – policies to begin the shift to renewable power would show the nation how it can achieve a carbon-free future.

That’s why the action last week was so important.  Approval of sweeping legislation to respond to the looming climate catastrophe is exactly the leadership needed.

But there are lots of questions.

In the past, New York’s political leadership have made promises of shifting the state’s power systems from fossil fuel-powered to renewable power.  Promises that sounded good at the time, but never came close to being achieved. 

Taking the steps to achieve the goals of this legislation is something that New Yorkers must closely monitor.  If they are to succeed, the changes that will be necessary under this legislation must have broad public support. The governor’s office must ensure that detailed annual public reports are issued documenting the progress being made, the legislature must hold public hearings to closely examine those reports, and the public must stay informed to ensure that the state’s leadership feels accountable for their actions – or inactions.

Changing the trajectory of the climate is an immense task - one state alone simply cannot make much of a dent in what is happening worldwide.  But change must start somewhere. If not us, who? If not now, when? By developing the policies to avert economic and environmental collapse, New York can show the nation what can be done and how the United States must lead the world.

Blair Horner is executive director of the New York Public Interest Research Group.

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