Climate advocates to rally for NY HEAT Act

The law would limit what low-income residents pay for utilities and get rid of a subsidy for new gas hookups.

Activists are rallying Thursday for a state law that tackles heating costs to low-income New Yorkers and to the planet.

Activists are rallying Thursday for a state law that tackles heating costs to low-income New Yorkers and to the planet. Aitor Diago/Getty Images

Climate and environmental advocates in New York City and Albany are set to rally Thursday in favor of the New York Home Energy Affordable Transition – or HEAT – Act. They’re calling on the governor to include the legislation that would remove a subsidy for new gas and oil hookups in her executive budget proposal.

Advocates and lawmakers have heavily pushed one aspect of the bill, which would codify that low-income New Yorkers never pay more than 6% of their annual income on utility bills, which they estimate will save ratepayers up to $75 a month. “I grew up knowing what it was like to not be able to afford heat or electricity, not have it affordable for people who need it, and to actually lose it and suffer through winters in the cold with just a blanket to warm you,” SUNY Cortland student Maurysha Cuttino told City & State. Cuttino, who will be attending the Albany rally, said that she also developed COPD at a young age due to dust from coal heating her grandfather used when he couldn’t afford the electric bill.

The NY HEAT Act also removes subsidies for utility companies that encourage new gas hookups, including one that puts the cost on existing gas customers if they live within 100 feet of a proposed new hookup. That amounts to about $200 million in subsidies a year paid for by New Yorkers. The bill also requires the Public Service Commission, which regulates utilities in the state, to adopt policies to decrease reliance on fossil fuels and decommission existing gas systems where possible. “We're holding rallies in New York City and in Albany, along with our legislators, to send a clear message to Gov. Kathy Hochul that New Yorkers cannot afford to subsidize the fracked gas system that is killing our climate and also impacting our wallet,” said Laura Shindell, an activist with Food and Water Watch. She said that timing also coincides with the start of the cold weather season following recently approved rate hikes across the state.

Heading into 2024, the New York HEAT Act remains one of the top priorities for climate activists in the state after it failed to receive approval last year. Although it passed in the state Senate, it stalled in the Assembly. And unlike other major environmental policies, like banning gas hookups in new buildings starting in 2025, the bill did not make it into the budget either.

The New York HEAT Act is one of two major environmental priorities for state Sen. Liz Krueger, who sponsors the bill, and she expressed confidence that it will get approved either in the Legislature or as part of the state budget this year. “It’s not that radical a bill, I don’t understand why people don’t get it,” Krueger told City & State, noting other major laws that set various goals, benchmarks and requirements already, including banning new gas hookups. “So we’re saying now we should change an old law that’s still on the books that actually says to (the Public Service Commission) you have to make sure there’s gas lines into everything being built.” 

Climate bills that aim to phase out fossil fuel use have faced staunch opposition. A zero-emissions building law approved as part of last year’s budget that bans gas hookups in new construction starting in December 2025 faced widespread and national criticism from Republicans, for example. They dubbed it a gas stove ban and implied that the law would force everyone to replace their gas stoves. It does not do this, though climate advocates would like to phase out gas appliances once they reach the end of their natural lives by requiring replacements be electric. That provision did not make it into the final budget. In October, gas and construction trade groups filed a federal lawsuit to block the law.

Republicans and utilities have also successfully prevented a carbon tax imposed on polluters from gaining traction in New York. Opponents to the proposal claimed that it would raise gas prices by 55 cents a gallon for everyday New Yorkers, despite a provision in the legislation that provides a tax rebate for consumers. Republicans in the state Legislature have also opposed the NY HEAT Act, which has stalled in the Assembly.

Krueger said she’s well aware of the opposition that climate bills like the NY HEAT Act face, but said that those pushing perpetual panic over the fear of change are only hurting the people they say they want to help.  She also argued that concerns about higher costs upon phasing out fossil fuels have not panned out. “Yes, we have a huge problem: It's called climate change,” Krueger said. “Guess what? We are in a better position than almost any country in the world to address it, and New York state is in a better position than most of the states in the country.”

Corrections: This story has been updated to reflect that the NY HEAT Act impacts only new gas hookups. It has also been updated to correctly characterize the zero-emissions building provision in the state budget.

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