Climate Legislation Tough Enough for New Yorkers

Catherine Auerbach, Staff Writer, Environmental Columnist

In light of the recent wildfires, heat waves, flooding, and all the other catastrophic natural disasters that have been plaguing our world, it is more evident than ever that urgent societal change must be made. However, if the past few years have taught us anything, it’s that the only way real change will be implemented is through government-issued legislation. New York State has been a pioneer for climate legislation in the past, but still has a long way to go. 

 In 2019, the state passed the Climate Leadership and Community Protection Act (CLCPA), a law that requires New York to significantly reduce its levels of greenhouse gas within the next few decades. It calls for a decrease in emissions by 40 percent by 2030, and 85 percent by 2050. While this law sets explicit guidelines adequate for implementing meaningful change, the CLCPA lacks the critical funding that would have been provided by the Climate and Community Investment Act (CCIA), had it been passed in the New York State Senate’s 2021 legislative session. 

The CCIA greatly increases corporate accountability and protects the communities most harmed by climate change on a standard that no other legislation has committed to. Introduced to the State Senate on March 22nd, 2021, the CCIA plans to raise $15 billion per year to invest in a just transition to a greener economy by taxing corporate polluters. This tax would provide an incentive for companies to look for renewable energy alternatives, as well as generate funds to invest directly into frontline communities. Spending on local programs would look like community solar panels and efficient home energy system. Larger scale projects would include investments in electrical grid stability, sustainable public transportation, vehicle electrification, and state wide solar infrastructure. The bill would also provide direct assistance to moderate and low income families/people/NYS residents, in forms such as transit vouchers, direct cash benefits, and Low-Income Home Energy Assistance Program benefits. With proper funding, this bill would give back to those who’ve had the most taken from them, and strengthen their communities amidst a rapidly changing climate.

But the CCIA didn’t pass. Lawmakers opted against urgent action, some voting against it because of its corporate impact. Others, like Steve Englebright, a Democrat representing Suffolk County, claimed the bill could compromise future carbon tax initiatives. While Englebright possibly acted on good intent, a vote in the future is a vote for no future.

To vote against the CCIA is to ignore decades of scholarly advocacy for a more environmentally-just society. In her book Environmental Justice: Creating Equality, Reclaiming Democracy, author Kristin Schrader-Frechette outlines notions of distributive justice integral in CCIA policy. Schrader-Frechette identifies distributive justice as “the morally proper apportionment of benefits and burdens— such as wealth, opportunity, education, toxic waste dumps, dirty air, and so on—among society’s members.” 

The CCIA seeks to distribute resources equitably and maximize opportunity for those most disadvantaged during the climate crisis, living up to Shrader-Frechette’s definition. We must not let government contentedness or presumption of our perfection as a nation cause hesitation in the examination of our flaws. 

Further, it is essential lawmakers embrace what scholar Sheila Jasanoff calls a “Second Enlightenment,” an essential new age of sociopolitical thinking in which, in order to implement transformative action, we analyze our nation’s systemic flaws and commit adequate steps to resolve them. We cannot combat climate change through simple temporary fixes, but rather through long-term restorative legislation that provides reparations to every sector of society. We must not be complacent with what many are calling “climate apartheid,” where the wealthy can afford to shield themselves from the uncomfortable aspects of global warming, while the rest of the world suffers. We are nearly out of time to act, and each day we spend lingering in inaction eats away at any future for our posterity. 

There is no perfect time to act. That moment is long past. Already deep into the climate crisis, our action must be both preventative and restorative in response to climate change. The CCIA would have done just this. New Yorkers must urge lawmakers to support this bill when it is reintroduced in the future, and to understand the potentially fatal consequences that rest upon their vote. Lawmakers must prioritize equity and distributive justice as new climate legislation is written if we are to prevent total deterioration of our planet. Finally, we must give adequate recognition to marginalized communities through real policy and real action.  

There will be no perfect bill; no law can appease all lawmakers or instantly reverse climate change. We must embrace this opportunity to act, and the only time left to do so is now. 

I’m involved with a group called NY Renews, a coalition of hundreds of organizations united to lobby for environmental policy and act against climate change. With the NY Renews Youth Committee, I’m helping to plan upcoming events where the New York community can come together to demand action. NY Renews is tackling the climate crisis head-on and hosting a variety of opportunities to get involved. Firstly, to learn more about these bills and their wider impact, attend a virtual educational event hosted by NY Renews on Thursday, November 4th, 2021, from 6:00 – 7:30 PM EST. You can RSVP here

Second, if you’re interested in larger, in-person action, RSVP at this link to participate in a march from Times Square to Governor Hochul’s Office at 12 PM EST on Sunday, November 13th, 2021. 

Climate change won’t wait for us, and we cannot wait any longer to fund its reversal.