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In New York, state lawmakers eye measures to fight climate change

Anti-climate change advocates rally at the State Capitol in Albany on March 20, 2024.
Karen DeWitt
/
New York Public News Network
Anti-climate change advocates rally at the State Capitol in Albany on March 20, 2024.

A bill that would extend New York state’s ban on natural gas fracking is heading to Gov. Kathy Hochul’s desk after the State Legislature acted recently to prohibit using liquid carbon dioxide to extract the gas from shale rock. 

It’s one of a number of measures that lawmakers are considering to combat climate change.  

New York banned the hydrofracking of natural gas in 2014. Since then, a fracking process using carbon dioxide has been pioneered in China. Many environmentalists say the process can potentially cause earthquakes and acidify drinking water. 

Senate Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins said she wants to make sure it’s not used in New York.  

“As one of the first states to ban fracking, we’re once again leading the way by prioritizing the health and well-being of our residents over short-term profits,” Stewart-Cousins said. “This is not just a policy decision, but it's a moral decision to protect the lives of our constituents in their communities.” 

Sen. Lea Webb represents parts of the Southern Tier, including Binghamton, where the underground shale rock contains untapped natural gas. She said over 6,000 landowners in her district have received land leasing offers from fracking companies wanting to use liquified carbon dioxide to extract the gas.  

“There's concern that if we don't close this loophole sooner rather than later, it is going to essentially open up the proverbial gateway for further exploration,” Webb said. “Which is also going to be problematic.”

Both houses passed the bill earlier this month, and it next goes to Hochul. Stewart-Cousins said she does not know if the governor is on board with the fracking ban extension because the two have not discussed the issue. 

“It is my hope that she is,” Stewart-Cousins said.  

Hochul spokesperson Avi Small said the legislation has not yet been sent, but when it does, the governor will review it. 

The bill is one of several in the 2024 legislative session that addresses climate change. 

A measure known as the NY HEAT Act would eliminate a policy that allows gas companies to charge ratepayers for the cost of installing new gas lines if they are within 100 feet of a home or business. That cost is estimated at $200 million a year. The Senate approved the legislation, and Hochul included it in her budget plan. The HEAT Act would also cap low-income utility customers’ bills to 6% of their total earnings.   

In addition, the Hochul administration is implementing the Climate Change and Community Protection Act, which aims to reduce greenhouse gas emissions to zero by 2040. It bans natural gas hookups at newly constructed buildings beginning in in 2026, and limits appliances in new buildings to electric only, beginning next year.

Senate Republican Leader Robert Ortt, whose party is in the minority in the Legislature, disagrees with the measures. He said they will result in the loss of good-paying jobs in New York’s energy industry, and higher prices. 

 “The bottom line is, the people who put down our infrastructure, they are going to be harmed. The people who pay for that infrastructure are going to be harmed,” Ortt said on March 20. “Our ratepayers are going to be harmed at a time when all we hear about is affordability.” 

Ortt spoke at a news conference on the Capitol’s grand central staircase. A floor above him, anti-climate change advocates were rallying.

New York state Sen. Jessica Ramos, D-Queens, addresses environmental advocates at a rally on March 20 in Albany.
Karen DeWitt
/
New York Public News Network
New York state Sen. Jessica Ramos, D-Queens, addresses environmental advocates at a rally on March 20 in Albany.

Sen. Jessica Ramos, a progressive Democrat, addressed that rally. She said some residents in her East Elmhurst district in Queens drowned when unprecedented rainfall during Hurricane Ida — which is believed to be connected to climate change — flooded their basement apartments.

She said she will be pushing to make sure the state stays on track in its goals to reduce emissions. 

“The clock is ticking. And we cannot wait. We cannot wait any longer,” Ramos said. “I will not wait for another one of my neighbors to drown.” 

In addition to the other measures, Ramos backs the Climate Change Superfund Act, which would require big oil companies to pay for damages caused by climate change. She said it could net $3 billion to the state to fund efforts to reduce greenhouse gases.  She said the measure has public support. 

“This is how we want to use our taxpayer dollars,” Ramos said. “We want these companies to pay, so that we have the funding to put shovels in the ground and update our infrastructure as our health outcomes require.” 

The Climate Superfund Act is included in the Senate’s budget proposal. The Assembly did not add it to their budget plan but included language saying that they support the concept. 

The measure is opposed by the major oil companies, who say it would be a retroactive tax.

Karen DeWitt is Capitol Bureau chief for the New York Public News Network, composed of a dozen newsrooms across the state. She has covered state government and politics for the network since 1990.