Albany Agenda

New six-figure ad buy to push for NY HEAT Act in state budget

Climate change advocates are taking their fight to the airwaves.

A screenshot from an ad backing the NY HEAT Act.

A screenshot from an ad backing the NY HEAT Act. Screenshot/Better Buildings New York coalition

Climate change advocates are taking their budget push for the NY HEAT Act to the public. The Better Buildings New York coalition is paying six figures for television, Facebook and radio ads across New York, calling on state leaders to include the legislation that would lower utility costs and discourage new gas hookups.

The ad features New York City resident Mone Choy, a member of the group WE ACT for Environmental Justice. She describes herself as a “disabled senior” who struggles with paying her utility bills. “If my boiler is out, I have to bubble wrap my windows so that I can stay warm,” Choy said. “Meanwhile, the gas company keeps charging more and for the same old dirty gas that causes extreme weather and climate change.” She said state lawmakers need to pass the NY HEAT Act, sponsored by state Sen. Liz Krueger and Assembly Member Patricia Fahy, in the state budget. The television ad will be featured in the Albany, Buffalo, Rochester and Syracuse metro areas, while the Facebook and radio versions will be statewide.

The state’s spending plan is due on April 1, but both chambers have approved a temporary budget extender to keep the government running until April 4 as leaders continue negotiating.

The NY HEAT Act would cap utility bills for low- and moderate-income New Yorkers at 6% of their annual income. Advocates said this could save on average $136 a month for New Yorkers who struggle to pay their heating bills. The legislation would also eliminate a subsidy for utility companies that incentivize new gas hookups. Gas companies currently provide free gas hookups to customers within 100 feet of a gas main and that $200 million annual cost gets shifted to ratepayers. The bill would also broadly expand the power to align state regulations with achieving New York’s ambitious climate goals established in the Climate Leadership and Community Protection Act.

“Energy costs are out of control, and across our state it’s people like Mone who are bearing the brunt of rising costs for the same old dirty fracked gas,” said Sonal Jessel, director of policy at WE Act for Environmental Justice, a member organization of the Better Buildings New York coalition. “Without timely action from Albany, struggling families could see their bills skyrocket further, which is why we need lawmakers to finally step up and pass the full NY HEAT Act in the budget.” The state Senate approved the legislation last week for the second year in a row, and included it as part of its one-house budget resolution. The Assembly has not approved the bill yet, but included the utility bill cap as part of its one-house budget proposal. The chamber also said it was open to “exploring” the idea of eliminating the 100-foot rule.

In her executive budget, Gov. Kathy Hochul included the elimination of the 100-foot rule, but not a provision that would codify the utility bill cap. The state currently has nonbinding guidelines that seek to ensure that low-income New Yorkers never pay more than 6% of their income on utility bills.

Although pushed as one of climate activists biggest legislative priorities, the bill still faces opposition from utilities and groups like New Yorkers for Affordable Energy, a coalition that advocates for the expansion of natural gas. Republicans rallied with the group’s executive director, Daniel Ortega, last week against the NY HEAT Act, arguing that it would raise rates for many New Yorkers, cost ratepayers money who may need to transition to electric heat and eliminate union jobs.