Bail has largely dominated state budget talks so far, but in a blink-and-you-missed-it moment of political drama, climate change very briefly became the topic du jour when Gov. Kathy Hochul reportedly tried to throw a last-minute proposal into the negotiations. The first report of Hochul’s attempt to change how the state measures methane gas emissions and her administration’s subsequent withdrawal of the proposal happened over less than a week’s time. But a lot happened in those few days.
Politico New York first reported on March 31 that Hochul had started discussing a change to the way that the state measures methane emissions, a rather technical change that climate activists argued would significantly undermine the state’s environmental and green energy goals. Immediately, those advocates and a number of Democratic lawmakers began to sound the alarm bells over the proposal that had the support of the fossil fuel industry. “Gov. Hochul’s excuse that New York needs to gut its nation-leading climate law in order to save New Yorkers money is flat-out wrong, especially when there’s a real solution to this problem right in front of her,” read an April 4 statement from state Sen. Liz Krueger and Assembly Member Jeffrey Dinowitz. The statement also called on the governor to support the Climate Change Superfund Act, which would require emitters to pay the state billions of dollars annually.
Activists mobilized quickly, holding a rally in the state Capitol on April 3, two days after the budget was due and the same day that lawmakers approved a temporary stopgap measure to keep the government running. Top climate scientists also stepped in with urgency to call on the Hochul not to go through with her proposal. “I wrote a letter to the Governor a few hours ago expressing my deep, deep concern,” Cornell University-based ecologist Robert Howarth wrote in an April 1 tweet. “This is NOT an issue to be decided in secret budget negotiations. Let's have some transparency.”
In the face of backlash, the Hochul administration initially dug in. On April 3, state Department of Environmental Conservation Commissioner Basil Seggos and Doreen Harris, president and CEO of the New York State Energy Research and Development Authority, penned an op-ed in The Journal News defending the proposal to change measuring standards for methane gas. “As it stands today, the climate act’s emissions accounting method is certain to be a major driver of future costs for New York families,” the pair wrote, defending the idea that sparked such fierce opposition as a smart fiscal move that would still keep New York on track to hit its ambitious climate goals.
But just two days later, on April 5, Seggos told reporters that the administration would pull the controversial proposal from budget talks in favor of other climate change agenda items of Hochul’s. “The fundamental takeaway is it’s full steam ahead for cap and invest with the climate action rebate and any other elements we’ll take up as soon as we can,” Seggos said, referencing a plan to cap greenhouse gas emissions from top polluters and a measure meant to mitigate decarbonization costs for the average consumer. Both received support from climate and environmental activists when the governor first included them in her executive budget.
With the ship righted again after a turbulent few days, the waiting game now continues negotiations drag on days after the deadline thanks to the same issue that has plagued the discussions from day one: changes to bail reform.