Gov. Kathy Hochul unveiled four major climate initiatives over the past few days in honor of Climate Week, a moment when the international community focuses on accelerating climate action. New York and other cities across the globe are trying to raise awareness of the climate crisis ahead of the 26th United Nations Climate Change Conference (COP26), which kicks off in Glasgow, Scotland on Nov. 1.
The governor also expressed a desire to add another $1 billion to the current $3 billion Environmental Bond Act that will go before voters in November 2022, something she will have to negotiate with the state Legislature.
Capital Tonight spoke with the Basil Seggos, commissioner of the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation, about these initiatives, as well as his decision to continue his state service under a new governor.
“The governor has asked me to stay on and I’m proud to do so,” Seggos told Capital Tonight. “It’s been really exciting these last four weeks.”
According to Seggos, Hochul’s focus on climate issues goes far beyond the announcements she’s making this week. It’s part of her worldview.
“I have had a chance to spend quite a bit of time with her over the past few years on energy and environmental issues,” Seggos said. “She made it clear right when she took office that she was going to make this a top-three priority.”
The message that leaders want to send to the public during Climate Week is that climate action is urgent. The U.S. just faced record-breaking heat as well as devastating flooding from multiple hurricanes. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) hammered home the same message in its recently issued report which found the world has an excruciatingly narrow path in which to act to limit the worst effects of climate devastation.
Many in the environmental community are hoping to inspire a deeper commitment to climate action through a constitutional amendment on this year’s New York state ballot.
Capital Tonight asked Seggos to comment on Ballot Question #2, which, if approved, would grant New Yorkers a right to clean air, clean water and a healthful environment. Some business groups are concerned that if the measure passes, some industries — including the newly burgeoning crypto-currency mining industry — could be affected.
“It remains to be seen what that will mean out in the field when it comes to permitting decisions or investments the state makes, what rights that may give to individuals to challenge those decisions,” Seggos said.
Seggos spoke specifically about Greenidge Generation’s permit application.
“We are reviewing that permit. We have some major concerns about its consistency with the state’s climate law. So, we’re going to review it and make sure we scrutinize that permit,” he explained. “Anything that comes in front of us that is demanding a huge draw on the state’s clean energy resources, or is going to pollute we have laws designed to protect us right now, because of the state’s climate work.”