After Climate Disaster Closes Subway + Streets, Frustrated NYers Demand Gov. Hochul Leadership on NY HEAT Act
'Take Steps to Stay Safe' is Not Climate Leadership, Advocates Tell Governor
ALBANY, NY (10/02/2023) (readMedia)-- After New York City was pummeled by yet another extreme climate-driven rainstorm, lawmakers and advocates from across the state gathered to demand Governor Hochul show urgent climate leadership by passing the NY HEAT Act in next year's executive budget.
"In the few months since the end of the legislative session in early June, our state has experienced nightmarish wildfire smoke, thousand-year flooding in the Hudson Valley, heat waves, and now torrential rain that completely overwhelmed New York City's outdated infrastructure. It is absolutely clear that all responsible people in government must pursue every available avenue to combat the climate crisis. The first step is to stop digging and make a real plan for a smart, reliable, and affordable transition, and that's what NY HEAT is all about - that and saving ratepayers hundreds of millions of dollars a year in subsidies for gas. We have got to make passing NY HEAT a priority for 2024; we cannot afford any more delay," said Senator Liz Krueger, Senate sponsor of the NY HEAT Act.
"Our new climate normal is here in the form of annual 1,000-year flood events and increasing extreme weather events like what we saw in New York City this past weekend," said Assemblymember Patricia Fahy, Assembly Sponsor of the NY HEAT Act. "Our clean energy transition is incomplete without the NY HEAT Act, which ends ratepayer subsidization of fossil fuel infrastructure by removing the 100-foot-requirement, and codifies our climate mandates into New York's public service law to support our long-term clean energy transition. New York is leading the nation's clean energy transition with ambitious policies that prioritize affordability, building decarbonization, and environmental justice in communities across the state. Including NY HEAT in this year's executive budget proposal would cement our commitment to phasing out fossil fuels, reversing devastating climate effects, and transitioning to a clean energy future."
"Friday's storm shut down subways, Metro North, and roads, and flooded schools, businesses, and homes. Our executive officials were caught flat footed. It's not enough just to tell people to stay safe and acknowledge this as our new normal. Governor Hochul must commit to the NY HEAT Act NOW to help us get off the polluting, outdated fracked gas pipeline system that supercharges storms like this. Delaying NY HEAT will only increase the cost of our transition off of gas and will make these climate disasters more damaging and expensive," said Sonal Jessel, Director of Policy at WE ACT for Environmental Justice.
"When I take my daughter to school in the morning, I shouldn't have to worry about rain so hard that the bus itself fills with water. We were driving through ponds so deep I could have used a canoe. It was dangerous and scary for both of us. Governor Hochul told us to take steps to stay safe, but the fact is, when the weather is like that there's no way to stay safe. We need our leaders to be aggressive about passing laws to tackle climate change. That's what will actually keep us safe," said Justin Henning, Brooklyn parent and factory manager.
New York City is still recovering from Friday's record-breaking disaster that shut down subways, Metro North, and roads, and flooded schools, businesses, hospitals, and homes. It was the most rain ever recorded in New York City, and the third time in two years that rain fell at rates near 2 inches per hour in Central Park, a phenomenon that was previously unusual. Less than three months ago, deadly storms shut down trains, destroyed homes, and took a life in the Hudson Valley. Only two years ago, Hurricane Ida broke records and killed at least 13 New Yorkers. Governor Hochul called this kind of flooding the "new normal," but neglected to make commitments to prevent future destructive weather and lead on climate change. Without real leadership, extreme weather like this will continue to damage New Yorkers' lives and livelihoods.
The NY HEAT Act will help get New York off of climate-destroying fossil fuels, and stop New Yorkers from having to pay for expanding and replacing the polluting, expensive, and outdated fracked gas pipeline network. It will save low and middle income families money – up to $75/month – on their energy bills so they don't spend more than 6% of their income for energy. That's significant savings for families that already spend three times more of their income on energy bills than other households. The bill would save all gas customers in New York $200 million annually by ending the 100-foot rule, which forces every day New Yorkers to subsidize the expansion of the gas system.
Instead of investing in the fracked gas pipeline network that supercharges dangerous weather, the NY HEAT Act will allow New York utilities to redirect an estimated $150 billion toward clean energy. This won't just shore up our fight against deadly storms – it will free New Yorkers from volatile price spikes (like National Grid's proposed 17% hike) driven by our reliance on fossil fuels.
"The NY HEAT Act notably removes the 100-foot subsidy that incentivizes gas line expansion and will protect ratepayers with low incomes from shouldering too much of the transition costs to sustainable energy sources. The record-breaking heat from the summer and the climate-change fueled storms we are experiencing are telling us to enact this legislation in a hurry," said Senator Pete Harckham, Chair of the NYS Environmental Conservation Committee.
NY State Senator John Liu stated, "Last week's extreme rainfall is yet another reminder of why we must act now to protect against climate change. The NY HEAT Act will put New York on a path to resiliency by reducing our reliance on harmful fossil fuels while simultaneously saving at the bank."
"The devastation of the climate crisis has been on full display in New York, from wildfire smoke choking our air to floodwaters shutting down our city. Our state must step up its climate leadership efforts, and the NY HEAT Act will do just that. We are running out of time to break our reliance on fossil fuels – we need to act before it's too late," said Assembly Member Brian Cunningham.
"The record rainfall in New York City last Friday was just the latest in a series of extreme weather events that New Yorkers have faced this year,"said Assemblymember Linda B. Rosenthal (D/WF - Manhattan), Chair of the Assembly Committee on Housing. "The dangerous impacts of climate change are undeniable and serve as a constant reminder that we must pass the NY HEAT Act. As utility companies rake in larger profits amidst the climate crisis, consumers will be increasingly strapped with higher energy costs and unpredictable gas prices. It is time we pass the NY HEAT Act into law to save consumers money and help the state reach its goal of a clean energy future."
"Climate change isn't coming – it's already here," said NYS Assembly Member Khaleel M. Anderson. "The devastation from last Friday's extreme weather event is the new normal, and it is clear from the delayed and poorly coordinated response that New York City and the State are behind the eight ball. We are not hopeless, and we owe it to vulnerable coastal and working-class communities to turn the tide. The NY HEAT Act is a prudent step to divest from toxic pollutants, fortify our energy infrastructure, prepare our homes, and reign in skyrocketing energy bills. We call on Governor Hochul to sign the NY HEAT Act so that vulnerable New Yorkers have a fair and fighting chance in the face of our climate crisis."
Assemblymember Jo Anne Simon, "Once again, our city has been pummeled by storms supercharged from climate change. We are seeing an increase in extreme weather events and the impacts of those storms on residents and businesses in flood zones like Gowanus and Park Slope is immense. The time for half measures is over. I stand with my colleagues and advocates in supporting the NY Heat Act and for full investment in climate protections."
"The NY HEAT Act is a no brainer; it accelerates our Green Energy transition and saves ratepayers money. We are getting regular reminders of the cost of inaction through torrential rains, choking forest fire smoke and deadly heat waves. The time to pass the NY HEAT Act is now," said Assembly Member Alex Bores.
??"If this summer's extreme weather, including Friday's devastating flooding, has taught us anything, it's that we need to do everything we can to mitigate climate change. Key to this effort is phasing out natural gas infrastructure to make way for more sustainable utilities. In addition to doing this, NY HEAT will cap low-to-middle-income NY residents' energy costs at 6% of their total income. NY HEAT is a win for the environment and a win for New Yorkers." said Assembly Member Harvey Epstein.
"The recent climate disaster and flooding in NYC highlights the urgent need to take swift action on our climate priorities. Inaction is the most costly choice we can make, and one we absolutely cannot afford. We need the Governor to include the NY HEAT Act in the budget. While more New Yorkers are realizing the environmental and economic benefits of all-electric appliances and heat sources, we cannot allow the burden of rising gas costs to shift to vulnerable communities as New York transitions to renewable energy sources. We also cannot continue to subsidize aging gas infrastructure projects, which likely will be obsolete as soon as they are finished. NY HEAT Act offers affordability now and long-term planning, permanently capping gas utility bills at 6% of income and taking a managed, phased approach to the state's transition from fossil fuels," said Assembly Member Anna Kelles.
"Once again, New York has been thrown into chaos from extreme weather supercharged by our continued reliance on fossil fuels. With subways down and homes flooded throughout the city, it's never been clearer that we need bold action from Governor Hochul to move off fossil fuels. She should start by putting the NY-HEAT Act in her budget and committing to get it done this session," said Alex Beauchamp, Northeast Region Director at Food & Water Watch.
The NY HEAT Act passed the Senate at the end of last session, and momentum around the bill, which now has 70 co-sponsors in the Assembly, continued all summer. Throughout August, more than 30 lawmakers participated in the "Hot, Broke Summer" ice cream tour across NYC, handing ice cream out to their constituents, talking about energy savings and climate change, and building support for the bill.
In 2022 and 2023, NY HEAT was blocked by campaigns financed by the fossil fuel industry. In 2023, the utility National Fuel Gas used ratepayer money to finance a campaign against building electrification. And in 2022, a campaign financed by the fossil fuel industry that spread disinformation and lies derailed the bill. The industry has set up a front group called New Yorkers for Affordable Energy to preserve the status quo. A report from Little Sis reviewed the organization's tax filings which show that its mission is "to expand natural gas service." The group is meant to have the appearance of a grassroots coalition, but it was founded and is run by fossil fuel executives. From the report: "The coalition is backed by a range of fossil fuel companies and lobbying groups, including utility companies National Fuel and National Grid; pipeline companies Williams, Enbridge, and Millennium Pipeline; and the American Petroleum Institute. Other backers include corporate lobbying groups like the Business Council of New York State, regional chambers of commerce like the Buffalo Niagara Partnership, and fossil fuel industry trade groups like Independent Power Producers of New York and Energy Coalition New York."
Nationwide, the fossil fuel industry is still heavily involved in misinformation efforts against necessary legislation like this. The New York Times reported about the Propane Education Research Council sponsoring HGTV star Matt Blashaw. Blashaw calls propane - which contributes to climate change and is the most expensive heating fuel- "an energy source for everyone."