Advocates Beware

Herein lies a cautionary tale of politics and climate change.

The fossil fuel industry in New York State faced its most determined threats in the past two years and prevailed. Although a supermajority of Democrats in the State senate and the Assembly would appear to be insurmountable, the fossil fuel industry used its lobby arm and judicious donations to Democratic coffers to defeat legislation that would have aggressively torn into their profit models. These models, based on the continued use and expansion of fossil fuels in the state, will remain untouched by the legislature this year.

The legislature closed its session without comment on any of the climate bills that moved into committee but failed to come to the floor for a vote. The most ambitious of the climate bills, the Climate and Community Investment Act, often referred to by its initials, the CCIA, was the second half of the Climate Leadership and Community Protection Act that passed in 2019 with far reaching mandates but without funding mechanisms. The CCIA was proposed as a “make polluters pay” tax bill, placing the burden of switching from fossil fuels to clean renewable energy – and cleaning up the pollution left behind – upon the large-scale carbon producers in the state The mechanism was a $55 tax on every ton of carbon dioxide.

The CCIA was proposed by the largest coalition of environmental organizations in the state’s history. Over 280 organizations joined the NY Renews coalition to fight for the CCIA. The coalition included environmental organizations, social justice organizations, local and regional groups, houses of worship, labor unions, and private businesses. They organized protests, rallies, education events, and an aggressive lobbying schedule across the state. The coalition far exceeded its own goals in reaching out to legislators and shepherding the bill through the legislative process. At the end of the session, legislative leaders were silent on the fate of the bill.

Two other climate bills with organized backing behind them also failed to come to a vote. The first, the Clean Futures Act, would have prohibited building new fossil fuel infrastructure in New York. The bill would have shut down three projects in Queens, Brooklyn, and Newburgh, located on the Hudson River. None of the projects are necessary for electrical capacity. The consequence of the bill’s failure is a green light for new natural gas projects.

The Build Public Renewables Act was the third bill to disappear in legislative silence. The bill would have required the New York Power Authority to provide only renewable energy and power to its customers, namely state-owned and municipal properties. The bill was passed into committee and died there.

So thoroughgoing was the fossil fuel industry and the New York Business Council in squelching all three bills, that the legislators are not speaking to any of the proponents of the bill. Members of the NY Renews coalition had been asking for weeks for clarification of hurdles and challenges to the CCIA bill. They did not receive answers. The continued silence of the legislators is a thunderous conclusion of a session that began with raised expectations of success.

By Glenn Jacob

Rabbi, Community Leader, Fundraiser, Board Development, Non-profit management, strategic planning, educator, writer, and editor.

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