NYPIRG: As Gov. Hochul Stresses Affordability and Climate, She Leaves Obvious Solution Out of Budget
Climate change costs NYers hundreds of millions every year, and Climate Change Superfund Act would make oil companies – not taxpayers – pick up the tab
ALBANY, NY (05/02/2023) (readMedia)-- As the NY Legislature passes budget bills today, they are not voting on the Climate Change Superfund Act, which was in the Senate One-House - even after negotiations around climate measures centered on affordability and taking the cost burden of climate off of taxpayers. Blair Horner, Executive Director of NYPIRG, issued the following statement in response:
"While there are some important climate measures in the new budget, it's not nearly enough to match the climate catastrophe that already costs New Yorkers hundreds of millions every year. Governor Hochul claims affordability is her top consideration for climate policy, but she left out the obvious solution: the Climate Change Superfund Act. As a result, New York taxpayers are still on the hook for the massively expensive mess that record profit-earning Big Oil is still making, even though these corporations have known about climate change for decades. If Governor Hochul and the Legislature actually want to deal with the affordability and the climate crisis, they must pass the Climate Change Superfund Act and make corporate climate polluters pay this session."
The Climate Change Superfund Act is first-in-the-nation legislation to put Big Oil, who is still driving the climate crisis, on the hook for climate damages and resiliency. Currently, taxpayers are footing the bill for this mess. The legislation is modeled on the existing toxics superfund law (which deals with land and drinking water contamination) that makes corporate climate polluters financially responsible for the environmental damages that they have caused. These costs wouldn't fall back on consumers, according to an analysis from the think tank Institute for Policy Integrity at NYU Law.
2022 was a record profit year for big oil, with the top companies' combined profits reaching an astounding $376 billion. Those record profits allowed them to deliver unprecedented returns to shareholders while doing little to address the climate crisis they knew was coming, but did all they could to undermine climate action. Starting in the 1970s, scientists working for Exxon made "remarkably accurate projections of just how much burning fossil fuels would warm the planet." Yet for years, "the oil giant publicly cast doubt on climate science, and cautioned against any drastic move away from burning fossil fuels, the main driver of climate change."
Big Oil is at fault for climate change, and it can certainly afford the costs - which are uniquely necessary - and expensive - in New York. A new report from Rebuild by Design "Atlas of Disaster: New York State'' identifies the impacts of recent climate disasters across New York State at the county level, for the years 2011-2021. The data shows that every single county in New York has experienced a federal climate disaster between 2011-2021, with 16 having five or more disasters during that time. In that decade, more than 100 New Yorkers died as a result of climate-driven disasters. In 2022 that number grew exponentially when Winter Storm Elliot in Buffalo killed 39 people.
In a separate report, Rebuild by Design estimated that the climate costs to New York could be $55 billion by the end of this decade. Furthermore, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers estimated that it would cost $52 billion to protect NY Harbor alone. And while storms get worse, sea levels are rising and groundwater poses a higher risk of flooding - and we don't even know how much yet. Clearly, New York is facing staggering – and growing – climate costs.
Climate Change is already costing New Yorkers. Governor Hochul recently announced a $4 million coastal resiliency project in Jefferson County, funded by taxpayers, part of a $300 million resiliency project for Lake Ontario. And in just the first two months of this year, she announced a combined $750 million in taxpayer funds to pay for climate change-driven damages. A new study from NYS Comptroller DiNapoli found that over a ten-year period (the last five and next five years), 55% of New York localities' municipal spending outside of NYC was or will be related to climate change. Separately, the Comptroller's office looked at New York City's FY 2023 budget and found that the City plans to spend $829 million on projects fully intended for climate change adaptation and resilience just this year. The City also plans to spend an additional $1.3 billion on projects that are partially for these purposes.
The Climate Change Superfund Act isn't just necessary – it's popular. According to a poll from Data for Progress, 89% of New Yorkers support fossil fuel companies covering at least some of the cost for climate damages. 200+ groups including key labor unions such as DC37 sent a letter to Senate Majority Leader Stewart-Cousins and Assembly Speaker Heastie urging them to include the bill in the one house budgets. In their letter, the groups write that the fossil fuel industry should be subject to the state's climate costs since their "decisions led to global warming; justice requires that they-not New York's other taxpayers-be financially responsible for the tragically enormous climate crisis impacts that they created."