© 2023 WRVO Public Media
NPR News for Central New York
Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00 0:00
Available On Air Stations

New York lawmakers rally behind efforts to combat climate change

Hurricane Sandy, which caused damage to these homes, is one of several storms that have pounded the state in recent years.

A new White House climate report paints a dire picture for New York if something drastic isn't done to address climate change, and the Obama administration is preparing to act without Congress.

The Third National Climate Assessment predicts dramatic changes in coastal states like New York. But the state’s junior Democratic senator, Kirsten Gillibrand, says upstate residents and businesses are at risk too.

"It's also the Hudson River Valley," Gillibrand said. "It's rural areas. And the combination of stark droughts combined with torrential flooding is devastating to families. It's devastating to farms. It's devastating to businesses. And so the economic impact of this report is severe."

Unlike most other members of their party, many New York Republicans support efforts already underway to clean the nation's air. Rep. Chris Gibson from the Hudson Valley says his policy positions have been forged by the view from his New York windowsill.

"You know, we went through three major storms in the last three years," Gibson said. "Clearly we have changing weather patterns."

Still, prominent national Republicans and party leaders are brushing the White House report aside -- and many in the party deny humans are making the planet warmer. New York Republican Rep. Tom Reed says the entire subject has been cloaked in the wrong terms.

"You know, we could spend all day, you know, pointing -- what's causing the issue?" Reed explained. "But if we both fundamentally agree that polluting our environment is not good policy, why don't we just say, OK, let's agree on that? And then move legislation, move national priorities that will address pollution in our backyard."

New York Democratic Sen. Chuck Schumer is predicting the Republican Party will soon have a conversion of sorts when it comes to global warming.

"New York had a dramatic turnaround, even in the most conservative areas, after Sandy," Schumer said. "And the fact that the temperatures are changing, and it's having consequences all across the country, is having an effect."

The White House has given up trying to convince skeptical lawmakers. The Environmental Protection Agency is getting ready to drop a new rule drastically limiting the amount of carbon that new coal-burning power plants can emit. While critics call it an effort to kill coal, Gillibrand says it's part of the EPA's mandate, something Congress gave it under the Clean Air Act, a mandate later upheld by the Supreme Court.

"I think it's important that EPA regulates clean air and clean water," Gillibrand said. "And they should not cower from those responsibilities. I think they have them. They should use them."

Gibson says he agrees with the intent of the EPA -- to scrub the air of pollutants.

"But moving so quickly right now, especially when so many of my working-class families and my small businesses just came through a winter where they were paying so much for energy -- I think they should take -- they should take that into account and they should be much more methodical and look at this thing in greater detail," Gibson said.

Gillibrand argues there's no reason to move slowly.

"We have such incredibly important wind energy and solar energy and tidal energy sources that could be used very effectively, not just in New York but across the country," Gillibrand explained. "We also should be investing in a new electric grid. We waste, I think, something like eight percent of our electricity in New York state alone just because of a faulty electric grid."

For now it’s a waiting game, but Schumer says the nation will catch on eventually.

"It's a slow process, but within two, three years, all of America's going to realize how bad, you know, the consequences of climate change and we're going to start doing something," Schumer said.

As the national debate rages on over what's causing the temperature to rise, New York continues to brace for its next storm, and its next, and its next...all mingled with prayers and hopes that none are as bad as the last few.