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Supporters urge voters to pass $4.2 billion Environmental Bond Act, which is on this year's ballot

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Karen DeWitt
New York State Public Radio
Blair Horner with New York Public Interest Research Group speaks Thursday, Oct. 27, 2022, in favor of the $4.2 billion Environmental Bond Act on this year's ballot. He was part of a news conference held along the Hudson River in Albany.

Environmentalists, conservation groups and union leaders are joining together to promote a $4.2 billion Environmental Bond Act that’s on the ballot this year.

The proposal would provide funds to invest in fighting climate change at a time when the state is experiencing increasingly violent and damaging storms.

In the past decade, Superstorms Irene and Sandy caused billions of dollars in damages. In 2021, at least 13 people died in New York City during Hurricane Ida, including several who drowned when their basement apartments flooded.

Jessica Ottney Mahar with the Nature Conservancy said the bond act would provide funds for flood risk reduction and to restore areas flooded during storms. Funds also would preserve open space, improve drinking water quality and fix sewers and other infrastructure.

“This is a great opportunity to make sure that we are investing in our communities,” Ottney Mahar said. “So that our kids and our grandkids have a healthy place to grow up in.”

Ottney Mahar spoke Thursday at a media event along the Hudson River, where some representatives of the 300-plus groups that back the bond act also spoke.

Blair Horner with the New York Public Interest Research Group said the health of New York’s environment is on the ballot.

“It’s a vote on the environment. It’s a vote to deal with the climate catastrophe that we are living in now and that will get worse in the years to come,” Horner said. “We urge New Yorkers to flip the ballot and vote yes on Proposal One.”

The proposal is on the back of the ballot.

Supporters say the bond act also would give the state a better chance to draw down funds from the recently approved federal infrastructure and inflation reduction acts.

Promotions for the bond act are getting a late start. Thursday’s event was the first news conference the groups held on the issue. Gov. Kathy Hochul and the Democratic legislative leaders support the bond act but have not specifically highlighted it.

Ottney Mahar said the groups wanted to wait until closer to elections, when the public is better focused. Early voting begins in New York on Saturday. A $4 million ad campaign is planned.

“We have TV ads, radio ads, digital ads, social media ads, all running now,” Ottney Mahar said. “Hopefully that will cut through all of the other election clutter that New Yorkers are hearing.”

Opponents say the bond act is too expensive, with inflation rising in an uncertain economy. Assembly Republican Minority Leader Will Barclay, speaking on WAMC’s “The Capitol Connection,” said New York is not a high-polluting state, and the actions won’t curb carbon emissions coming from elsewhere.

“New York is only responsible for something like 0.5% of all global CO2 emissions,” Barclay said. “So, if all this money we’re spending, even if we are 100% successful … we’re not going to have a big impact on global warming.”

Supporters say it would cost more not to approve the bond act. They say the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers estimates that shoring up New York Harbor against expected rising sea levels in the next decades alone could cost $52 billion.

Karen DeWitt is Capitol Bureau chief for New York State Public Radio, a network of public radio stations in New York state. She has covered state government and politics for the network since 1990.