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Environmental groups call on New York legislators to return to Albany for special climate session

Jason Smith
WRVO News (file photo)

Environmental advocates in New York have been ramping up calls for lawmakers to address the climate crisis ever since Governor Kathy Hochul paused the state’s congestion pricing plan last month.

The plan aimed to reduce vehicle emissions and traffic in New York City. Hochul announced the indefinite pause at the end of the legislative session. Some lawmakers and advocates have said the move jammed up negotiations to pass other bills before the session ended.

Now, several environmental groups are calling on lawmakers to return to Albany for a special environmental session to pass legislation that would reduce the state’s reliance on fossil fuels and curb emissions that contribute to climate change.

“Climate change is really harming New Yorkers’ everyday lives right now, so we need leadership from the legislature,” said Liz Moran, a policy advocate at the environmental law organization Earthjustice. “They shouldn't let 2024 end, they shouldn't let New Yorkers experience another hot, expensive summer without passing policy to address the climate crisis.”

One piece of legislation that has been a priority for environmentalists all year is the New York HEAT Act, which would limit energy costs for low-income residents and end subsidies for utilities to expand gas infrastructure.

The bill passed the Senate, and both the Assembly and Governor Hochul previously indicated at least partial support in their budget proposals. But advocates and some lawmakers have said negotiations over the NY HEAT Act stalled at the end of the session as staff scrambled to respond to Hochul’s congestion pricing decision.

“There was less bandwidth that was available to tackle other issues,” said Blair Horner, executive director of the New York Public Interest Research Group. Horner said that took a particular toll on climate legislation under negotiation at the end of the session.

Horner and other environmental groups are also calling for legislators to reconvene to consider the so-called Bottle Bill, which would permit more types of plastic containers to be recycled at redemption centers.

Legislators have returned for special sessions in the past, but it’s rare. Hochul has yet to indicate whether that could happen this year.

In the meantime, environmentalists' eyes are on another bill, called the Climate Change Superfund Act, which did pass the Assembly and Senate before the session ended. The bill would require oil and gas companies to help pay for some climate adaptation projects. Hochul has until the end of the year to sign it into law.

Copyright 2024 WSKG

Rebecca Redelmeier