How much will Hochul include in New York state budget for environment?

How much will Hochul include in New York state budget for environment?

By Rick Karlin | Times Union, Albany (TNS)

Albany – On Wednesday, Gov. Kathy Hochul will release her first full-year budget proposal for the 2023-24 fiscal year.

The governor’s budget proposal is an annual event at the Capitol and marks the actual start of the year’s legislative session. It is being watched closely by a wide range of actors, from activists to lobbyists to lawmakers and business groups who will also try to influence the Senate and House budget proposals. The horse-trading between all three then leads to a state budget, hopefully by the April 1 deadline.

This year’s budget will be of particular interest to environmentalists, climate activists and those in the growing clean energy arena for several reasons.

In November, New York voters approved a $4.2 billion environmental impact law. Additionally, this is the year when lawmakers and attorneys and experts from state agencies work out the laws and regulations for achieving carbon reduction goals established in the 2019 Climate Leadership and Community Protection Act.

With that background, here are some of the budget components to consider on the climate, environment and energy fronts.

Bond Act

The $4.2 billion Clean Water, Clean Air and Green Jobs Act environmental unions won’t come all at once. Like other bond laws, the state will raise money in the coming years through a series of bond sales over time. This will help pay for flood risk prevention, clean water, open spaces and reducing emissions.

But being ready for this spending will require hiring staff in government agencies and other planning, all of which costs money and can be reflected in the budget. Those expenses, by the way, could eventually be financed by bond bills.

“They really need to think about how to administer the program,” said Jessica Ottney Mahar, The Nature Conservancy’s New York policy and strategy director.

Environmental Protection Fund

This fund grew from $300 million to $400 million last year and there is an expectation that it will not shrink and can grow. It pays for open space protection, parkland and pollution control, among other things.

Clean water

Hochul called for $500 million in new funding for the Clean Water Infrastructure Act. It helps utilities upgrade aging water systems. Environmental Advocates NY believes the amount should be increased to $1 billion, given the need for toxic PFAS cleanups and the hundreds of thousands of lead pipes still in use across the state.

“The demand from local governments for Clean Water Infrastructure Act grants is enormous,” explained Brian Keegan, spokesperson for Environmental Advocates.

Additionally, Environmental Advocates wants $1 million in the budget for the Public Service Commission to collect data on how many people are at risk of losing or have lost access to water across the state.

While figures on how many people are at risk of electric shutdowns are public, this is not the case with water bills.

Building electrification

This is a big item, as it is seen as key to achieving the goal of a carbon-free economy by 2050. Heating and cooling buildings, from sources such as natural gas or oil, are major contributors to greenhouse gases.

A number of bills have already been proposed to eventually end new gas connections to homes in favor of technology such as electric-powered heat exchangers or geothermal pumps. But installing this new equipment will be expensive and this is where the state budget comes into play.

In addition to subsidies, including those passed on by the federal government, advocates are also hoping for tax breaks to spur electrification.

This could include sales tax exemptions for upgrades such as heat pumps and battery storage systems, which would store electricity generated by solar and wind arrays on sunny and windy days.

“I hope those things are there,” said Anne Reynolds, executive director of the Clean Energy Alliance, which represents alternative energy companies.

Her group also reiterates the call, which is several years old at this point, to allow more direct sales of electric vehicles like Tesla and Rivian, which do not go through traditional car dealer networks.

They see it as a way to boost sales of EVs, another tactic to reduce greenhouse emissions.

Hack and invest

A key component of carbon reduction will rest on a cap-and-trade plan. It is essentially a carbon tax levied on companies based on emissions and emission reduction targets. The money from that cap goes to emission reduction programs.

Rules for this program are being created this year.

While it’s unlikely to generate funds in the coming year, Ottney Mahar said the budget could include language about how this program is developed going forward.

All of these requests come amid an uncertain economy, which Hochul may have to consider in setting a budget. They are also being made at a time when a broad coalition of environmental activists is calling on the state to spend $10 billion on combating climate change.

The current year’s total budget stands at about $220 billion.


(c) 2023 the Times Union (Albany, NY)

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