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Will any of the climate change bills in the NYS legislature actually become law this year?

Andy Mager with the Syracuse Cultural Workers says grassroots support like this is why New York is making advances on battling climate change.
Scott Willis
Andy Mager with the Syracuse Cultural Workers is joined by others calling on polluters to pay for environmental damages in 2022.

The New York Senate and Assembly celebrated a belated Earth Day this week by acting on anti-climate change and environmental bills. But the two houses voted on different measures, though, and lawmakers could not predict if any of the legislation will become law in 2024.

Senate Democrats touted their package of bills, approved Tuesday, that includes what’s known as the Climate Change Superfund Act. It would create a dedicated fund of $3 billion each year, financed by the major oil companies, to combat climate change.

Other measures include limiting toxins in air emissions, shifting state buildings to clean energy sources, and creating more electric charging stations in state-owned parking garages.

Senator Liz Krueger, who sponsors the Climate Change Superfund Act, says bills to reverse the effects of a warming Earth are more important than any other issue facing lawmakers.

“Because if we don't get this right, it doesn't matter what else you want,” Krueger said, referring to lobbyists who are asking for changes to health care policy or mass transit improvements, among other items.

“If we don't have a planet to live on, none of this matters,” she said.

However, the Climate Change Superfund bill did not advance in the Assembly. The lower house instead acted on a different bill, the New York Packaging Reduction and Recycling Infrastructure Act.

This legislation would eventually cut plastic packaging by 50% and outlaw a form of plastics recycling known as chemical recycling. It was approved by two committees and was to be discussed in the closed-door Democratic majority party conference, where major decisions on legislation are made.

The plastics and chemical industry opposes the measure, which is stalled in the Senate's Finance Committee. Senate Environmental Committee Chair Peter Harckham says the measure is still being revised.

“We continue to work on it,” Harckham said. “Honestly, we're still in the sausage-making phase.”

The Assembly also moved forward a measure to expand the state’s bottle law, but THAT bill is stalled in the Senate.

Another key piece of legislation that is currently stalled is the NY HEAT Act.

It would, among other things, stop the practice of allowing gas companies from charging customers for installing new gas lines within 100 feet of a home or business.

Governor Kathy Hochul put portions of the HEAT Act into her budget proposal, but those provisions died in the state Assembly.

Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie says he’s open to discussing the provisions in the remaining weeks of the legislative session.

“We’ll keep talking, and hopefully we can come to agreement by the end of the session,” Heastie said on April 24.

Senator Harckham says even though both houses are led by Democrats, they don’t always see eye to eye on everything.

“Sometimes there are bills that they pass that we don't get to,” Harckham said. “It's just the way it works.”

The disconnect between the two houses has frustrated advocates.

A group of green business leaders, including 7th Generation, and sustainable furniture and cosmetics companies, came to the Capitol to lobby for the bills, and other changes to promote clean energy and a green economy.

Bob Rossi, with the NY Sustainable Business Council, says the governor and Legislature aren't showing any true leadership. Rossi says his group is very disappointed with the recently approved state budget, which he says does not include any new funding to combat climate change.

“Our budget demonstrates a lack of leadership or improper leadership, irresponsible, I'd say, leadership,” Rossi said. “That is why we're here today. Because we need to make up for lost ground from the budget.”

The session is scheduled to end in early June.

Karen DeWitt is Capitol Bureau Chief for New York State Public Radio, a network of 10 public radio stations in New York State. She has covered state government and politics for the network since 1990. She is also a regular contributor to the statewide public television program about New York State government, New York Now. She appears on the reporter’s roundtable segment and interviews newsmakers. Karen previously worked for WINS Radio, New York, and has written for numerous publications, including Adirondack Life and the Albany newsweekly Metroland.