News & Politics

Climate advocates plan to spend against incumbents blocking NY HEAT Act

The Spring Street Climate Political Fund is targeting Assembly Members Didi Barrett and Michael Benedetto, who are facing left-wing primary challengers.

Assembly Member Didi Barrett (center) is being targeted by climate advocates who are upset that she has not signed on to co-sponsor the NY HEAT Act.

Assembly Member Didi Barrett (center) is being targeted by climate advocates who are upset that she has not signed on to co-sponsor the NY HEAT Act. Michael M. Santiago/Getty Images

With the remaining days of the legislative session dwindling down, climate advocates are turning towards upcoming elections in hopes of passing the NY HEAT Act, which would eliminate a gas company subsidy and cap utility bills. A new independent expenditure committee is planning to spend in at least two competitive Assembly races against incumbents who have not signed on the bill.

Spring Street Climate Fund, an environmental advocacy nonprofit, recently launched the Spring Street Climate Political Fund. The independent expenditure committee is legally allowed to spend money either supporting or opposing a candidate, as long as it doesn’t collaborate with any candidate’s campaign. This committee is currently planning to spend on digital ads opposing Assembly Members Didi Barrett in the Hudson Valley and Michael Benedetto in the Bronx. “Inaction on a piece of legislation that would improve people's lives should have consequences,” said John Raskin, president of Spring Street Climate Fund. “This is a popular piece of legislation – if voters and constituents know about it, and know what their representatives are not doing.”

Neither Barrett nor Benedetto are co-sponsors of the legislation, which has several major components. It would eliminate the so-called “100-foot rule,” which subsidizes new gas hookups if they’re installed within 100 feet of an existing hookup. The bill also would cap utility bills for low- and moderate-income New Yorkers at 6% of their income. Additionally, the legislation would empower the state’s Public Service Commission to advance rules to help the state meet its climate goals. Neither of the two Assembly members returned a request for comment about campaign spending against them based on the NY HEAT Act. 

Both Barrett and Benedetto are facing left-wing challengers. In the Hudson Valley, Claire Cousin has the support of the Working Families Party to take on Barrett. Cousin has been a vocal supporter of the NY HEAT Act and mentions it on her campaign website as one of her climate priorities. Benedetto’s challenger, Jonathon Soto, who is backed by both the New York City chapter of the Democratic Socialists of America and the WFP, has also criticized what he has called the incumbent’s lack of support for the legislation.

Although the independent expenditure committee from Spring Street is opposing Barrett and Benedetto, it isn’t supporting either of the insurgent candidates and will not explicitly encourage voters to support Cousin or Soto. Spring Street has not yet said how much money it has raised, though it announced earlier this week that it already had 100 donors. The committee formally registered with the state Board of Elections on May 3, and Raskin said they began fundraising last week. “Our plan is to start spending right away,” he said. “We feel the urgency, we want elected representatives to understand the urgency.”

The NY HEAT Act passed the state Senate for the second year in a row in March, and Gov. Kathy Hochul included key parts of it as part of her budget proposal. But the legislation has faced opposition in the Assembly, where according to Politico New York, negotiators floated a compromise that was rejected by the governor and the state Senate, and later excoriated by environmentalists. After the budget passed, Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie left the door open to revisiting the legislation before breaking for the year. Conversations over the bill are ongoing, though one Assembly source told City & State that the prospect of a vote on the legislation has not come up yet.

Still, Raskin expressed optimism about the prospect of the movement on the NY HEAT Act. “We wouldn’t be investing this enormous amount of energy in trying to pass the bill if we didn’t think it were a live question in the Assembly that has real potential to pass in the next couple of weeks,” he said. Separate from the independent expenditure committee that is spending in Barrett and Benedetto’s races, Spring Street Climate Fund and other climate groups are flyering in a number of districts to encourage members to support the legislation. Spring Street began those efforts at the district offices of eight Democrats on the Assembly Corporations Committee, where the NY Heat Act currently sits. Six of the eight Democrats on the committee – including Assembly Members Stefani Zinerman, who both face primary challenges – are already co-sponsors of the bill, while two (Assembly Members Nily Rozic and Erik Dilan) are not.

The in-district flyering and canvassing are not campaign related but meant to raise awareness about the bill. The flyers read, “Don’t come home without passing NY HEAT.” “We're trying to make clear to the majority party in the State Assembly, it's not rhetoric that counts here, it’s action,” Raskin said. He added that if lawmakers “fail to take action” on legislation like the NY HEAT Act, “we want to make sure everybody knows.”