New York has some of the strongest climate laws in the country. But when the state Legislature ended its most recent session in early June, some essential bills — ones needed to meet environmental mandates — were left out in the cold.
The starkest example is the All-Electric Buildings Act. Buildings emissions are one of the largest contributors to global warming. New York State consumes more fossil fuels in its residential and commercial structures than any other state. In New York City, nearly 40% of greenhouse gas emissions come from heating, hot water and cooking gas in buildings.
The All-Electric Buildings Act, sponsored by State Sen. Brian Kavanagh and Assembly Member Emily Gallagher, would prohibit infrastructure, building systems or equipment used for the combustion of fossil fuels in the construction of any new building statewide. But it didn’t even make it to the floor of the state Senate and Assembly this year.
After the monumental passage of the Climate Leadership and Community Protection Act (CLCPA) three years ago, advocates hoped that it would fast-track other bills into law to save the planet from the worst ravages of climate change. The CLCPA requires that, by 2050, the state of New York across all sectors cut greenhouse gas emissions by at least 85% below 1990 levels — and use 100% zero-emission electricity by 2040.
But local environmental groups and even some New York lawmakers themselves feel that they need to legislate faster before the impacts of climate change worsen.
In candid conversations, a dozen Democrat legislators gave reasons for why some measures are stuck. Gothamist also contacted more than a dozen Republican state legislators for this story but received no response.
Industry opposition and misinformation posed big challenges for lawmakers, they said. Many climate bills require a technical background to fully grasp which industries might be affected, and educating the Senate and the Assembly is a big part of a bill sponsor’s job, especially when most members are not scientists.
State Sen. Liz Krueger of Manhattan was a lead sponsor of about 10 environmental bills last session — and co-sponsor for many more. That includes the cryptocurrency mining moratorium that passed the Senate and Assembly this year and is awaiting signature on the governor’s desk. She said moving climate bills is “difficult and challenging.”
“This is not an easy assignment,” said Krueger, who represents parts of Manhattan’s East side, which has high ozone levels and is vulnerable to flooding. “If this was all an easiest assignment, we would not be here in 2022 racing against the clock.”
As the UN reported earlier this year, New York can expect flooding, extreme weather and heat waves to increase exponentially if greenhouse gas emissions aren’t drastically reduced to cap global warming at 1.5 degrees Celsius.
Krueger describes the tug-of-war that happens over climate bills as citizens versus industry. Large numbers of grassroots organizations driven by New Yorkers support climate legislation, but there are also “powerful forces from energy and manufacturing industries,” including labor unions. Gothamist reached out to industry representatives in cryptocurrency, manufacturing, building construction and real estate for comment — but did not receive an immediate reply.
Yet environmental advocates fear that with each legislative session that passes, the goals of the CLCPA get further out of reach.