Energy & Environment

Hochul’s budget proposes taking action on climate

Charging polluters, banning natural gas in new buildings and building up public renewable energy supply are all actions the governor wants to take to promote New York’s energy transition.

Gov. Kathy Hochul’s executive budget includes some potentially nation-leading proposals that would again cement New York as a national climate leader.

Gov. Kathy Hochul’s executive budget includes some potentially nation-leading proposals that would again cement New York as a national climate leader. Bruce Bennett/Getty Images

For years, climate and environmental advocates have faulted the state for failing to follow up the landmark Climate Leadership and Community Protection Act of 2019 with the kind of bold legislation that would allow New York to actually meet the ambitious goals the law set. That may change this year as Gov. Kathy Hochul’s executive budget includes some potentially nation-leading proposals that, while still short of what some progressives may want, would again cement New York as a national climate leader.

The price of pollution

The key part of Hochul’s climate agenda in her budget proposal would charge polluters for the right to pollute, raising money for climate initiatives while slowly phasing out the number of allowances that companies can buy. Hochul first alluded to the practice known as “cap and invest” during her State of the State address, but provided some new details as part of her budget. Notably, that a third of the revenue raised from charging companies would go directly into the Climate Action Fund, which primarily funds rebates to New Yorkers to help them deal with increased energy costs.

The cap and invest program was a key component of the Climate Action Council’s scoping plan, released late last year per the 2019 climate law. The council put forward a number of proposals to direct the state toward meeting the goals the law enacted, including reducing carbon emissions 85% by 2050.

The inclusion of the proposal was welcomed by climate advocates, but they cautioned that getting the details right will make all the difference in terms of efficacy and equity. “This program has potential, but it must align with the (2019 climate law’s) equity provisions – while avoiding the numerous pitfalls of similar programs implemented elsewhere,” Liz Moran, New York policy advocate for Earthjustice, said in a statement, likely referencing California’s version that activists have criticized as reducing emissions too slowly. As detailed in Hochul’s budget, much of the regulation would fall to the New York State Energy Resource and Development Authority, “leaving uncertainty towards how much funding the program could raise and how it would ensure emission reductions are prioritized where they are needed the most,” Moran added.

No more gas in buildings

Hochul’s decision to include a proposal to ban gas hookups in new buildings also won praise. Legislation to do that has been a priority for climate advocates and has failed to move through the Legislature in the past. “The proposal of a zero emissions buildings measure is a must-do in 2023,” the New York League of Conservation Voters said in a statement. “By requiring new construction to be zero emissions… we can ensure that our buildings sector is one built on clean energy going forward.” 

But like with the cap and invest program, advocates say the devil is in the details, with some criticizing the later start date compared to the legislative proposal as adding unnecessary time to the process. The League and other environmental groups still called for the language from the Legislature to be added into the budget in place of what Hochul has put forward in her executive proposal.

More public renewable energy projects

Hochul also notably included parts of the controversial Build Public Renewables Act in her budget, legislation that would both enable and require the New York Power Authority to expand its renewable energy production. Progressives in the Legislature have billed it as a necessary measure to reach the state’s climate goals, and the state Senate approved it shortly before the end of session last year. It however failed in the Assembly, where lawmakers held a hearing on the legislation over the summer.

The version included in the governor’s budget is a stripped back version of what lawmakers have proposed, authorizing NYPA to expand its renewable energy production capacity without requiring it to actually do anything nor including provisions for labor. As with the other major climate initiatives the governor has put forward, advocates have offered tempered praise while expounding the ways she should go further. “Governor Hochul’s budget proposal takes tentative steps in the right direction, but New Yorkers deserve to go all the way,” the Public Power NY Coalition said in a statement. It added that the state must implement “a true mandate for NYPA to actually build renewables when the state is falling behind,” something the governor’s budget would not do.