State's Inaction on Climate Protection Unconscionable
By Eddie Bautista, executive director, New York City Environmental Justice Alliance
Published in the July 6, 2017 edition of the Albany Times Union.
In an announcement fit for reality television, Donald Trump on June 1 made the historically destructive decision to withdraw the U.S. from the Paris Climate Agreement. You would think that in the immediate aftermath, when the urgency and appetite for state leadership on the issue of climate change have never been greater, that New York would finally get its act together, and pass the Climate and Community Protection Act. The visionary climate, jobs and justice legislation has been sitting on the legislative docket for more than a year.
The bill was sponsored by all eight members of the Independent Democratic Conference, who call themselves "pragmatic progressives" who can work with Republican leadership to pass real progressive priorities. By any standard, they failed their own test, and failed New Yorkers at a time when our planet, our health, and our communities are under attack from a hostile federal government.
Instead of prioritizing the bill and doing everything in their power to bring it to a vote, the IDC sat on it, effectively supporting head-in-the-sand Republicans, whose Senate majority remains the single biggest impediment to passing ambitious climate legislation in New York. Until they prove otherwise, the IDC's endorsement of the Climate and Community Protection Act will ring hollow.
Meanwhile, beyond the Albany intrigue, climate and environmental justice are already matters of life and death for many communities. I've seen firsthand the toll that fossil-fuel-caused asthma has on kids in the Bronx, the toll that Superstorm Sandy had on public housing residents in the Rockaways. Climate change and environmental pollution hurt everyone, but they disproportionately burden low-income and communities of color. That's why the Climate and Community Protection Act would triage at least 40 percent of state energy funding to environmental justice communities, who overwhelmingly supported the bill's passage.
The bill had such strong backing, that it served as the inspiration for the ambitious federal climate legislation recently introduced by Sens. Jeffrey Merkley, D-Ore., and Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., which included very similar equity provisions.
So for environmental justice communities, being told to wait on this bill is a slap in the face. We already didn't have time to wait years ago. Delay now is simply unconscionable.
It is time for the governor to step up and work with Senate leaders to get this bill passed. In fact, this already should have happened in last week's special session, which saw the Legislature returning to Albany to settle the question of mayoral control over New York City's public schools.
If New York cannot pass ambitious climate legislation — and soon — questions about the quality of our children's' schools will be undermined by questions about the quality of their futures. Especially for the low-income children on the front lines of the growing climate crisis, the governor and Senate have no excuses for delay.