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The Climate 202

New York voters approved $4.2 billion for climate infrastructure. Now what?

The Climate 202

Good morning! This is Vanessa, the Climate 202 researcher, taking over today.  We hope you have a restful weekend, especially if you — like us — were waiting for today’s public sale for Taylor Swift’s The Eras Tour. But first: 

New York voters approved $4.2 billion for climate infrastructure. Now what?

Voters across New York state approved a $4.2 billion environmental bond measure during last week’s midterm elections that is intended to bolster climate mitigation and land preservation projects. But while the act has been applauded by environmentalists, many are calling on New York Gov. Kathy Hochul (D) to do even more now that she has won her first full term as governor. 

The bond act “is a beginning, not the end. We need an ongoing commitment to funding environmental justice and climate justice and climate solutions,” said Katherine Nadeau, the deputy director of Catskill Mountainkeeper. “If we don't put substantial funding into our communities, the consequences will be dire.” 

Known as the Clean Water, Clean Air, and Green Jobs Environmental Bond Act, the ballot initiative is the first to come out of the state in 26 years, according to the Rockefeller Institute of Government, a public policy think tank. 

It passed by a wide margin, with 67.5 percent of voters supporting the ballot measure and 32.5 percent voting against it. Advocates say the approval reflects an urgency among residents to address global warming because it allocates investments for a variety of mitigation projects, including flood risk reduction, clean energy, and land conservation. 

“This measure is going to bring projects to communities directly to help meet some of the greatest environmental challenges we're facing,” said Jessica Ottney Mahar, the Nature Conservancy’s New York director of strategy and policy.

Here’s how the money will be broken down: 

  • Up to $1.5 billion for adaptation initiatives and projects meant to reduce pollution, such as zero-emission school buses, green buildings and protections to address sea-level rise. It also specifies efforts, like increased green space and local cooling centers, to help ease the urban heat island effect.
  • At least $1.10 billion for ecological restoration projects, specifically in flood-prone areas, including the Long Island Sound, New York City and the Great Lakes. This money will also help with forest conservation and upgrades to infrastructure.
  • Up to $650 million for maintaining fish hatcheries and preserving open land, such as farms.
  • At least $650 million for water improvement efforts, like wastewater systems and storm runoff.
  • It mandates that at least 35 percent of the bond goes toward disadvantaged communities, or those disproportionately affected by climate change. Ottney Mahar said the funding for front-line communities will be focused on their individual needs, as opposed to being spread broadly. This way, she said, “there's a lot of flexibility for the communities and for the state to make sure that they're putting that money into communities in a way that they need and that matters.”

The measure was first introduced in 2020 by former governor Andrew M. Cuomo (D) as the $3 billion Restore Mother Nature Bond Act, but it was shelved because of the coronavirus pandemic. In 2021, the state legislature again passed the measure under a new name and Hochul amended it in this year’s state budget to include an additional $1 billion. 

Funding for the bill comes from general obligation bonds, or a type of municipal debt security that allows the state to borrow money to invest in capital projects. Opponents argue that the mechanism will drive the Empire State even further into debt. 

  • “We fear New York State’s reputation for unchecked spending will result in the possibility of the state legislature spending the entirety of the $4.2 billion on projects that should be paid with existing authorized debt, new federal sources, and pay as you go where possible,” New York State Conservative Party Chairman Gerard Kassar said in a news release.
Hochul in the hot seat

Environmental groups are looking to Hochul to advance New York’s climate agenda, which some say was stalled under the Cuomo administration. For example, they want her to make New York the first state to ban natural gas in new buildings. 

Pete Sikora, climate and inequality campaigns director with New York Communities for Change, said the bond act’s passage “should not be mistaken for serious progress, because what’s needed is so vastly bigger and this is a time-limited problem.” 

He said that politicians like to use such measures to appear as though “they are taking on the climate crisis when they are not.”

Hochul’s office did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Ottney Mahar said the borrowing plan was never meant to be the ultimate solution to the problem. Instead, she said, its intention is to supplement other state climate laws, including the 2019 landmark climate law, which requires New York to slash economy-wide emissions 40 percent by 2030 compared to 1990 levels and created the statewide Climate Action Council to draft a plan to help the state meet its ambitious targets. 

The state has also already been successful in stopping new large-scale fossil fuel infrastructure projects, and New York City introduced a bill in 2019 that requires buildings greater than 25,000 square feet to meet strict energy efficiency and emissions limits. That measure is known as Local Law 97

But, Sikora said, it’s still not enough to manage the worsening crisis. 

“New York is big on talk and short on action,” he said, adding that Hochul “has got to change that.”

International climate

As COP27 nears deadline, Europe makes ‘final offer’ of climate deal

 

 

Frans Timmermans, executive vice president of the European Union,  on Friday pitched the 27 nation bloc’s final plan to tie disaster funding with emissions reductions, The Washington Post’s Sarah Kaplan and Timothy Puko report. 

It would require all countries to begin reducing their planet-warming emissions by 2025 while funneling money into a designated loss and damage fund, which has been a contentious issue throughout the past two weeks of negotiations and is meant to compensate developing nations for the destruction caused by climate change. 

Although the conference is supposed to conclude Friday, many diplomats expected the talks to end late Saturday, with some blaming the Egyptian presidency for its haphazard approach to organizing the negotiations.

“There hasn’t been a real effort to bring this to a consensus,” said a European negotiator who spoke on the condition of anonymity because he wasn’t authorized to comment publicly. “It’s looking like a really quite challenging next couple of days.”

Here’s what else to know about the final days of the talks:

  • Climate delegates got a first look at the  overarching “cover decision” on Friday when the Egyptian hosts published a document that repeated the need for rapid emissions cuts to meet the world’s warming targets but showed little progress on broad commitment to a loss and damage fund. It also doesn’t include proposals — such as a call to phase out all fossil fuels — that many had hoped for.
  • In a more promising move on Thursday, Chinese special climate envoy Xie Zhenhua made a surprise appearance at a U.S. event on the Global Methane Pledge, which aims to cut emissions of the potent greenhouse gas 30 percent by 2030. Beijing stopped short of formally joining the pledge, but Xie said China has developed a “draft action plan” to curb methane emissions.

Agency alert

EPA orders troubled St. Croix refinery to obtain new permit

The Environmental Protection Agency said Thursday it will require an idled refinery in the U.S. Virgin Islands that rained oil onto nearby homes to obtain a new air pollution permit before restarting operations, Maxine reports.

The move, which comes after EPA inspectors found the plant could release “extremely hazardous substances” affecting disadvantaged residents in St. Croix, escalates the agency’s crackdown on the plant and could establish a precedent for how the Biden administration treats communities suffering from high pollution levels.

“EPA has been laser-focused on protecting public health and the safety of communities who have unjustly borne the burden of pollution,” EPA Administrator Michael Regan said on a call with reporters. “We’ve made environmental justice and equity a centerpiece of our agenda and have embedded these issues into EPA’s DNA.”

The refinery’s owners must apply for a permit under the Clean Air Act that would require them to conduct detailed air-quality analyses, the agency said in a statement, and use the best available technology for air pollution control. The move would probably result in “significant reductions” of several harmful pollutants, including sulfur dioxide, carbon monoxide and particulate matter, the agency said.

Energy Dept. solicits applications for power grid funding

The Energy Department on Friday announced it is accepting applications for the first round of competitive grants aimed at modernizing the nation’s power grid and building new and upgraded transmission lines.

The grant programs, authorized by last year’s bipartisan infrastructure law, will provide a combined $13 billion in funding — the largest single direct federal investment in transmission and distribution infrastructure, according to the White House.

“We believe that hardening our transmission and distribution systems and investing in smart, efficient technologies will make the grid more resilient against the types of 21st-century threats that we're facing, in particular extreme weather events … often spurred on by climate change,” Maria Robinson, director of Energy’s Grid Deployment Office, said on a call with reporters previewing the announcement.

On the Hill

House Republicans plan to scrap special committee on climate change

House Republicans plan to kill the Select Committee on the Climate Crisis when they take control of the chamber in January, the top Republican on the panel told Bloomberg News’s Ari Natter on Thursday.

“The climate crisis committee will not exist,” said Rep. Garret Graves (La.). “I don’t think that’s really consistent with what we are going to be focused on.”

Instead, House Republicans will promote an energy agenda that calls for boosting domestic fossil fuel production, Graves said, even as climate scientists warn that the world must rapidly phase out fossil fuels.

As of mid-October, House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) had not decided whether to keep the climate panel, which House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) created in 2019, The Climate 202 reported at the time.

In the atmosphere

Viral

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