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New York Governor Backs Proposal to Gut State’s Landmark Climate Law

The proposal has won approval from state Republicans and energy companies that are among the governor’s top donors.

Gov. Kathy Hochul greets the crowd at an election night watch party in New York City on November 9, 2022.

Climate action groups and scientists are denouncing an effort by New York Democratic Gov. Kathy Hochul to gut the state’s signature emissions reduction law — one of the most ambitious in the United States — as the governor’s office claims the move is aimed at saving money for consumers and attempts to disguise it as a technical accounting change.

The proposal Hochul is backing has won approval from state Republicans and energy companies that are among the governor’s top donors, and would change how state agencies determine the harmful effects of a project’s emissions before approving it under the 2019 Climate Leadership and Community Protection Act (CLCPA).

The landmark law requires New York to reduce fossil fuel emissions 40% below 1990 levels by 2030 and 85% below those levels by 2050. New York is one of two states that has required officials to consider the effects of emissions over a 20-year period — a metric that scientists say more accurately accounts for the impact of methane emissions, which trap more than 80 times more heat than carbon dioxide in their first 20 years in the atmosphere.

Hochul’s office has said in recent days that it supports a metric that would account for emissions over a 100-year period instead — an accounting methodology used by most other states and countries but one that makes “methane emissions appear much less damaging than they actually are,” Shiv Soin, co-executive director of climate action group TREEage, told The Washington Post Tuesday.

“What appears to be a dorky accounting change is in fact a severe weakening of the climate law,” Pete Sikora, climate and inequality campaigns director for New York Communities for Change, told the outlet.

The governor’s office has told news outlets this week that the provision, which Hochul supports including in New York’s $230 billion budget, is aimed at lowering costs for consumers as state agencies craft a cap-and-invest program.

Cap-and-invest would set an overall limit on emissions for New York and require companies to purchase emissions “allowances.”

The Hochul administration says large polluters would pass on the costs of complying with the law to consumers, costing households 61% more in gas expenses.

As The Lever reported Tuesday, Hochul received nearly half a million dollars in donations in the last election cycle from energy companies that are pushing for the 100-year metric, including $117,000 from the CEO of oil and gas giant Hess Corp and $94,000 from the CEO of United Metro Energy.

Those companies would benefit from the provision, which would allow them to “include more natural gas in their energy mix while still complying with the state’s climate law,” The Lever reported.

Groups including Earthjustice and Food & Water Watch joined climate advocates in the state Assembly on Monday in a press conference where they denounced the two bills (S.6030 and A.6039) pushing for the change to the CLCPA.

“Gov. Hochul’s attack on the state’s landmark climate law is unconscionable,” said Alex Beauchamp, northeast region director for Food & Water Watch. “At a time when scientists are begging governments around the world to move faster, our governor seems intent on bending to the will of the fossil fuel lobby… It’s time for Gov. Hochul to wake up and reject this proposal to weaken our most important climate law.”

The proposal would deliver “a body blow to the nation-leading law,” said Blair Horner, executive director of the New York Public Interest Research Group (NYPIRG).

“The governor and legislature should immediately reject this special interest scheme to undermine New York’s science-based law which currently allows decision makers to accurately access the harms of methane-based fuels and provide the basis for urgently needed climate action,” added Horner.

Sikora told The Lever that the proposal “is indistinguishable from something a [Republican] Gov. Lee Zeldin would have tried to get away with.”

“This isn’t really that complicated,” he said. “Instead of trying to gut the law on behalf of the gas lobby, she should implement it.”

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