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NY budget proposals throw ‘make polluters pay’ environmental legislation into uncertainty

Budget negotiations remain ongoing at the New York Capitol ahead of the April 1 deadline.
Hans Pennink
Budget negotiations remain ongoing at the New York Capitol ahead of the April 1 deadline.

It’s budget negotiation season in New York, and environmentalists are looking to Albany to see what the budget proposals may mean for some of their climate priorities.

Legislators in New York have proposed a “make polluters pay” model for addressing climate change costs, where oil and gas companies would help foot the bill for some climate adaptation projects.

The legislation, called the Climate Change Superfund Act, remains pending. But budget negotiations are shedding some light on where the support lies, as well as the challenges of drumming up approval for a profound change to how the state will fund its response to climate change.

“The status quo is taxpayers will be on the hook for billions of dollars and climate costs,” said Blair Horner, executive director of the New York Public Interest Research group. “Those costs will escalate as the climate worsens.”

The Climate Change Superfund Act aims to shift that norm, instead placing some of the burden of paying for climate damages and investing in climate-resilient infrastructure onto oil and gas companies.

The state Senate and Assembly’s “one-house” budget proposals released Monday indicate how lawmakers have prioritized the legislation, Horner explained. The Senate’s proposed budget included the Climate Change Superfund Act. But the Assembly did not include it, nor did Governor Hochul, who released her executive budget proposal in January.

The three must reach an agreement for how to spend New York’s $230-billion budget by the deadline of April 1, though negotiations often drag on past that date. With only the Senate including the bill, Horner remains concerned it could be left out of the final budget altogether, leaving the legislation unlikely to pass this session.

“Even if a proposal is not included in the budget, it doesn't mean that it's on death's door,” Horner said. “But I think when it comes to the Climate Change Superfund Act, which has never been done before, I think the socializing of the idea takes time, and that does mean a slower process.”

Other climate-related initiatives have more widespread support. The NY HEAT Act, for example, would limit energy costs for low-income residents and end subsidies for utilities to expand gas systems. The Senate included the entirety of the bill in its budget, and both the Assembly and the governor’s proposal include support for some elements.

Environmental advocacy groups hope the full bill will make it into the budget and through the legislative process.

Liz Moran is the New York policy advocate for the environmental law advocacy organization, Earthjustice.

“Utilities are setting off a wave of rate hikes across the state, while resisting efforts to save New Yorkers money and move them off fossil fuels,” Moran said in a statement. “It could not be more important for the Assembly and the Governor to join the Senate in supporting the full NY HEAT Act in the final budget.”