In her second State-of-the-State address, New York State Governor Kathy Hochul reinforced her commitment to the environment and fighting climate change.
But once again came up short in addressing the disproportionate impacts of climate change, air pollution, toxic chemicals, and other environmental hazards on low-income communities and communities of color.
Low-income communities and communities of color are disproportionately impacted by climate change, pollution, and nearly every environmental hazard. And that is why we would like to see additional funds committed to the exciting initiatives we’ve highlighted, inclusion of key initiatives that have been overlooked, and a greater focus on addressing the environmental disparities faced by these communities.
We appreciate the Governor’s inclusion of the following initiatives that WE ACT has been advocating for as well as identify initiatives that cause us concern:
● The Governor announced her much anticipated Cap-and-Invest program, which is expected to raise an anticipated $1 billion annually to address the climate crisis and help New York State reach its mandated pollution reductions goals for 2030 and 2050. The program would set a cap on greenhouse gas emissions and polluters that exceed that cap will be required to invest in helping disadvantaged New Yorkers with their utility bills, transportation costs, and decarbonization efforts. We remain concerned that this Cap-and-Invest program will make environmental inequities even worse, as similar programs have done in other jurisdictions. It’s vital that the Governor’s program have extremely strict pollution limits that decline over time, and that there are guardrails to ensure the pollution limits are met in overburdened communities and that these communities are benefiting equitably via improved air quality, public transportation, and deeply affordable housing. The State must use more than the minimum 40 percent of its revenue and additional fees collected from this program to address the climate crisis and legacies of environmental injustice in disadvantaged communities.
● We applaud the Governor’s support for legislation to mandate that all new buildings be fossil fuel free by 2025 for small buildings and 2028 for large buildings, and we encourage a more ambitious timeline of 2024 for the bill to go into effect.
● It is exciting to have programs such as Empower Plus that will subsidize the cost for low-income buildings and their tenants to upgrade their homes to be more energy efficient and weatherized, while ensuring the costs remain affordable with an Energy Affordability Guarantee.
● A $200 million expansion for the utility bill relief program that will address crushing utility debt to ensure New Yorkers are not paying more than 6 percent of their income on energy bills.
● We support an important goal to prohibit new fossil fuel heating sources starting in 2030, as they are the source of dangerous toxic pollution that harms the health of residents.
● While there is good acknowledgement that reducing pollution and limited utility bill costs is vital, we were disappointed that the Governor did not include very important goals to end the “obligation to serve” and the “100-foot rule,” which are necessary for allowing the state to move away from fossil fuels in existing homes.
● As New York State continues to lead the country in the worst childhood lead poisoning crisis, we are glad the Governor has proposed a plan to address the crisis by requiring home inspections and remediation in some zip codes. Sadly, the Governor’s plan is inadequate, since many municipalities had their budgets cut for their primary prevention program and the Governor did not state an intention of bringing it back. It is vital we have expansive lead remediation work across the state and that it is funneled through counties and local health departments.
● We are glad the Governor acknowledged that housing is a human right. However, a plan to greatly increase housing supply must be paired with ambitious tenant protection and healthy housing initiatives. We are disappointed that the Governor did not voice support for the growing importance of passing Good Cause Eviction legislation and ensuring a majority of the State’s new housing supply will be deeply affordable and free of pollution.
● It is exciting that the highly toxic “forever chemicals,” PFAS, were mentioned in the Governor’s priorities and we look forward to seeing a clear plan for how New York State will embark on its proposed program to clean up these chemicals from our environment and waterways. However, we urge the Governor to actually stop the continued contamination of PFAS by enacting legislation that eliminates its use in many of our everyday products.
Governor Hochul’s 2023 State-of-the-State Address is available here. And to see what policies we have prioritized for this year, WE ACT’s 2023 Policy Agenda is available here (PDF). We look forward to working with Governor Hochul, state legislators, and their staff on these issues, and we also look forward to reviewing the details of the Executive Budget later this month.
WE ACT for Environmental Justice is a Northern Manhattan membership-based organization whose mission is to build healthy communities by ensuring that people of color and/or low-income residents participate meaningfully in the creation of sound and fair environmental health and protection policies and practices. WE ACT has offices in New York and Washington, D.C. Visit us at weact.org and follow us on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram.