Climate Change Activists Urge NY Gov. Cuomo To Go Further

Feb 13, 2017

Environmental groups are pushing New York Governor Andrew Cuomo to codify into law some of the steps he’s taken to protect the environment and cut down on pollution related to climate change. At a budget hearing Monday, lawmakers were focused on a more immediate concern - clean drinking water.

Legislative budget hearings were interrupted once again, this time by anti-climate change activists, shouting that they want “climate justice in the budget”.

Travis Proulx is the spokesman for a coalition  of 104 groups who back what they are calling the Climate  and Community Protection Act. Some of their members were among the demonstrators. The groups say the governor has issued a number of good executive orders, and they praise his plans to get half of the state’s energy from renewable sources by 2030 as a “great start”. But Proulx says, as they are learning with the transition from the Obama administration to the Trump administration, that there needs to be a law.

“If there’s one thing we’ve seen out of the federal government recently, it’s that executive orders and executive actions just don’t cut it,” said Proulx. “The next executive can come in, as we’ve seen with President Trump, and simply undo the good that’s been done.”

The measure goes farther than what Cuomo has done. It would eliminate all climate changing pollution by 2050, including from power plants and cars, and build more mass transit, and do more to encourage electric cars. It would also require fair labor standards be followed when creating new green energy jobs. Proulx says the groups are disappointed that the governor, so far, has not been willing to take additional steps.

“The governor’s failed to include any meaningful climate action within his state budget proposal,” he said.

Proulx says with the Trump administration poised to dismantle many federal environmental regulations, it’s more important than ever that New York act now. 

“Because of threats we see coming out of the federal government, and because of the ignorance and anti-science views we see coming out of the President Trump’s mouth,” he said.

Proulx says New York has a chance to take the lead and set a high bar.

“To show the rest of the country and the world that the United States can make these things happen,” Proulx said.

He says there is support for the measure in the legislature. The state Assembly, led by Democrats, already approved the bills. In the Senate, many Democrats as well as members of  the Independent Democratic Conference are backers, and several Republicans are also in favor. It has not come to the floor for a vote in that chamber.

Lawmakers holding the budget hearing waited politely until the demonstrators finished, then continued to listen to testimony from Governor Cuomo’s environmental conservation commissioner, Basil Seggos. They did not directly discuss climate change, though lawmaker said they want to spend money on a more immediate concern -  ensuring clean drinking water for residents in the state.

Senate Finance Committee Chair Kathy Young, a Republican  from Olean, says lawmakers are likely to propose spending more than Governor Cuomo’s proposed $2 billion to repair and maintain water sources. The Senate GOP has introduced a $5 billion bond act to go before voters in November.

“We’re an old state, we were settled hundreds and hundreds of years ago,” Young said. “As a result, our communities across the state struggle with infrastructure problems." 

Meanwhile, a report by State Comptroller Tom DiNapoli, a Democrat, said the costs to keep water safe are far higher.The report finds the EPA puts the costs of just maintaining the existing infrastructure at $22 billion between now and 2030, and the State Department of Health says $39 billion will be needed. 

A spokesman for Governor Cuomo responded to the charges of the activists that the governor needs to do more. Spokesman Rich Azzopardi says Cuomo already has a strong track record of banning hydro fracking, and says the governor’s greenhouse gas reduction plan for 2030 is “nation leading”. He says the governor has also made “unprecedented” commitments to off shore wind, solar and geo thermal development.

“While others have talked, this governor has acted,” he said.