Green Means Wait: Big Climate Bills Stalled in Albany, While Those That Passed Still Need Gov’s Go

This weekend marked the sunset of another legislative session in Albany. In the face of a climate crisis that will lead to rising seas, warmer summers and more extreme storms, state lawmakers have given the green light to a handful of green measures now awaiting the governor’s signature.

Others, including some aimed at helping the state comply with its own climate law, did not make the cut.

While lawmakers stopped the expansion of some digital excavations to get dollars and gave a good vote to geothermal energy, they opted for measures to ban natural gas from new buildings and allow a state authority to develop renewable energy projects.

The governor has 30 days to sign or veto the bills from the time they are sent to her table, which can happen at any time until the end of the year. If Hochul does not take action, that is the same as a veto.

What Happened

Cryptocurrency moratorium

Lawmakers have approved a two-year limited moratorium on cryptocurrency “mining” in fossil fuel power plants in an effort to reduce the increase in carbon emissions from reactivating old power plants in the north of the state.

Some cryptographic mines use an energy-intensive process by which computers solve random puzzles and receive a reward when they are done. Worldwide, Bitcoin, for example, is estimated to consume about as much electricity per year as Argentina, a country of 45 million people.

Some environmentalists fear the operations could jeopardize the goals of New York’s 2019 Community Climate Leadership and Protection Act, under which the state must achieve a carbon-neutral economy by 2050.

The moratorium, which requires the Department of Environmental Conservation to study the impacts of the cryptocurrency industry, does not prohibit the mining of all digital currencies: companies that have already applied for or received air permits are exempt from the moratorium, as are operations that they use electricity. from the grill.

Mayor Eric Adams talks about cryptocurrency at the Manhattan Security Card Summit on May 16, 2022.

Michael Appleton / Mayor’s Office of Photography

The implications of the New York City moratorium, which Mayor Eric Adams has indicated he imagines as a hub for the cryptocurrency industry, are yet to be seen. But Alex de Vries, an economist and founder of the Digiconomist blog, points out that the local industry could still thrive.

“If you’re trying to become a cryptocurrency hub, having miners nearby is completely irrelevant. Mining operations can be carried out anywhere in the world,” de Vries told THE CITY. “It is a very specific constraint because [mining operations] you can still connect to the network … They can still move to New York, they just can’t revive one of those obsolete power plants. “

Gerrick Hileman, a cryptocurrency and blockchain technology researcher who is a visiting fellow at the London School of Economics, expressed concern that the Albany measure “regulates what acceptable uses of electricity are” and selects “technology winners and losers.” .

But, he added, the “New York City” industry could be in a unique position to overcome “any of the challenges the moratorium may pose, given the city’s continuing role as an economic powerhouse.

Thermal Under Where?

A wide range of unions, environmentalists and utilities came together to push for the Thermal Energy and Employment Network Act, which was only introduced in the last days of the session.

If Governor Kathy Hochul signs the bill, gas and electricity companies could build thermal heating systems, in which underground liquid pipes absorb heat and pump hot air into homes in the winter. Each company would start with up to five programs to test the technology in an attempt to make the transition from fossil fuels, train utility workers, and reduce carbon in buildings, which account for a third of the state’s emissions.

The Harlem River, November 12, 2021.

Hiram Alejandro Durán / THE CITY

In addition, the legislature passed a bill that creates stricter efficiency standards for home appliances and incorporates guidelines to reduce greenhouse gases into building codes. The New York State Research and Energy Authority has estimated that the measures will prevent emissions equivalent to taking nearly three million cars off the road for a year and save utility customers about $ 15 billion on their bills over 15 years. years.

Death and Electronics

New Yorkers could turn to compost when they die, according to another bill passed by Albany. Turning human bodies into soil is a greener alternative to burial and cremation, supporters say. Facilities that offer human composting would be subject to the same rules as crematoria, such as those that prohibit mixing of remains of different bodies.

And New Yorkers could extend the life of their laptops and smartphones longer, with a bill the legislature has advanced that requires certain electronics manufacturers to make more information and equipment available to facilitate repairs. The environmental impact of the measure is that it could prevent people from littering their equipment before it has reached the end of its useful life.

Which he didn’t

Electrical Buildings

The All-Electric Construction Act, which would have banned gas in new buildings of less than seven floors from 2024 and all others in 2027, never got the vote of the full Senate or Assembly. It was originally introduced in May 2021.

Following the New York City ban on natural gas connections in new construction, the bill would have implemented a key recommendation from the Climate Action Council, the group tasked with figuring out how to achieve the goals under the Climate Leadership and Protection Act. Community. The council supported a ban on gas in new single-family homes by 2025 and a ban on new multi-family and commercial buildings by 2030.

Without a measure, the state runs the risk of failing to meet legal climate targets. The DEC has yet to develop rules to ensure state compliance.

“Failure to pass the All-Electric Building Act was a major misdemeanor and although there have been other policies passed, it is not enough without it,” said Megan Ahearn, program director for the New York Public Interest Research Group. “Every year there isn’t enough done. It’s one year closer to more carbon in the atmosphere and that closing window of opportunity to avoid the worst impacts of the climate crisis.”

Gov. Kathy Hochul backed the 2027 calendar and the measure in her executive budget, a move that was followed by the Senate. The Assembly left it out of its single budget earlier this year. A spokesman for House Speaker Carl Heastie did not answer a question about the bill.

The measure has met with opposition from some unions and the real estate sector. Facebook and television ads paid for by New Yorkers Affordable Energy – a coalition of companies like National Grid and certain unions – and Energy Citizens, funded by the American Petroleum Institute, argued that the gas ban would be prohibitively expensive and cost jobs.

Who can own renewable energy?

Bills that would have fundamentally reshaped who can build and own renewable energy generation languished this session. Proponents of her case have been working to make the actual transcript of this statement available online.

Under the Community’s Climate Leadership and Protection Act, New York must be powered by 70% renewable energy by 2030 and zero-zero electricity by 2040. Currently, less than one-third of the state’s energy comes from renewable sources.

A wind turbine at Sunset Park, Brooklyn, October 28, 2020.

The Senate passed one, the Public Renewable Energy Construction Act, but it was stalled in the Assembly. That bill would give the New York Power Authority the go-ahead to build renewable electricity generators and sell the juice to residents. (The other bill would allow investor-owned utilities, such as Con Ed, to develop and own renewable electricity generation and sell energy. It never got a full vote in any of the chambers).

Critics of the bill, including associations representing independent energy producers and private promoters of renewable energy, said the measures would not address bureaucracy that slows or hinders the development of renewables and would lead to unfair competition in the renewable development market. .

In a statement, Heastie said he agreed with the goals of the Public Renewables Construction Act and asked two committees to hold a hearing on the bill in July. Public Power NY, a coalition of environmental organizations and DSA chapters supporting the measure, asked Heastie on Monday to “convene a special session the week after the hearing” to pass legislation.

Long before the deadline

Not all climate legislation arrived at 11 a.m., but none of it has been signed by the governor yet.

Earlier this year, the legislature advanced several green measures pending its enactment into law.

In May, lawmakers passed a bill to prevent polluting facilities, such as warehouses and waste transfer stations, from proliferating in neighborhoods where non-white, low-income people live, aggravating their health and environmental burdens.

That same month, Albany passed a bill requiring the conservation of at least 30% of the state’s land by 2030, with the goal of protecting natural resources and the plants and animals that inhabit those lands, keeping the air and water clean. and promote climate resilience. About 19% of New York’s land is already preserved or protected, according to the bill’s sponsor’s note.

Gov. Kathy Hochul walks through the homes of East Elmhurst, Queens, damaged during Hurricane Ida on September 3, 2021.

Kevin P. Coughlin / Office of the Governor

In April, a bill was passed requiring all passenger vehicles in the state to have zero emissions by 2035, and heavy and medium-sized vehicles to follow suit by 2040. It was a measure to address greenhouse gas emissions. greenhouse of the transport sector, the transport sector. second source in the state.

A Hochul spokesman said the governor is reviewing all legislation passed by both houses in this session and “will continue to push for initiatives that support New York Nation’s leading climate action plan.”

At least some climate legislation is not in danger of vetoing or dying at the governor’s table.

As part of the state budget, Hochul has already signed the $ 4.2 billion Environmental Bond Act, which lawmakers passed earlier this year and promoted as a climate achievement.

But it has yet to be approved by voters in November. The bonus law allows you to spend on electric vehicles, offshore wind and other green investments.

With elections on the horizon, green support hopes lawmakers at next year’s session can push for more climate legislation.

“We are facing a really aggressive target for 2030 in terms of renewable generation and emission reduction,” said Alex Beauchamp, director of the Northeast region of Food and Water Watch. “We can hit them, but we need policymakers to do what it takes to comply with the law.”

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