January has been a brutal month for Long Island. Torrential rains, strong winds, and high tides have pounded the island on multiple days in what some officials described as the worst storm since Superstorm Sandy. This month it was Long Island’s turn, but there’s no part of our state that has been spared from climate change-driven extreme weather. New Yorkers know that climate change is not something in the distant future – it is right here, right now.
Across New York state, we’re grappling with a climate catastrophe, and the price tag for recovery from just these most recent disasters is staggering – potentially billions of dollars. This month’s disaster is in company with a record-setting number of billion-dollar weather events nationwide last year. The reality is clear – we are not equipped to deal with it. New York state must take action to adapt to this new and increasingly hostile climate.
Protecting Long Island alone will cost at least $75 to $100 billion; upgrading New York City’s sewer system is estimated to cost $100 billion; a single project to protect the city’s coastline is estimated at $52 billion.
That’s why I, along with one hundred of my fellow local elected officials, am urgently calling on Gov. Kathy Hochul to include the Climate Change Superfund Act in this year’s state budget. This act demands accountability from the major oil, gas, and coal companies – the industry most responsible for the climate crisis, that continues to rake in record profits – to pay a total of $75 billion over 25 years to New York state for damages caused by their past activities.
Companies like Saudi Aramco, ExxonMobil, Chevron, Shell, and BP, profiting while our state suffers, should foot some of the bill, not New York tax payers and businesses. And the design of the assessments ensures that the costs won’t be passed down to consumers.
In her recent executive budget, Gov. Hochul proposed vital initiatives to help our communities adapt to the climate crisis that is already lapping at our doorsteps. These include a voluntary home buyout program, increased support for our local emergency services, green infrastructure grants, and investing in cooling and air quality equipment in our schools. Just this week she announced several million dollars to repair some of the most recent damage to Long Island. But the crucial question remains – who is paying for it?
These programs are necessary, but they are not free. The governor estimates that the newly proposed programs will cost $435 million. That is on top of over $2 billion in resilience and recovery projects announced by the governor in the last year. What the governor overlooks is the question of who will foot the bill. Without the Climate Change Superfund Act, it’s you and me, with potentially hundreds of millions of dollars on our shoulders just for these new programs. New York tax payers and businesses will continue to pick up one hundred percent of the tab for these programs and all our other adaptation needs.
This much is undeniable - the climate crisis is here, and we must adapt to safeguard our future. New York must lead by saying that Big Oil, the ones who made this mess, should pay to help clean it up.
Cate Rogers is Deputy Supervisor of the Town of East Hampton.