There are several proposals on environmental wish lists this legislative session, including the NY HEAT Act, which advocates say will save New Yorkers money and move them off fossil fuels, as well as the Climate Change Superfund Act, which would make polluters pay for the cost of the climate transition.

“This is a very important budget for lawmakers and the governor to get right when it comes to environmental protections and addressing climate change,” Liz Moran, a policy advocate for Earthjustice, told Capital Tonight.

Not only was 2023 the hottest year ever recorded, but the state also saw extreme flooding which shut down rail travel and dangerous air quality due to Canadian wildfires.

“And to top it all off, utility bills are going up for gas, the same reason we’re experiencing the climate crisis. So, we really need this budget to get these things right,” Moran said.

One of those things is the NY HEAT Act (S.2016B Krueger/A.4592B Fahy). While it’s been “nodded to” in all three budget proposals this year, the governor, state Assembly and Senate have different views regarding how to get elements of the bill over the finish line.

While the governor’s executive budget proposal doesn’t include the NY HEAT Act by name, it does include the “Affordable Gas Transition Act," which is a policy that serves a similar purpose: to align the public service law with climate law mandates.  

But Moran said there are a couple of critical elements missing from the governor’s bill.

“The governor did not include any provisions that would actually address affordability for New Yorkers,” she said.

These include capping home energy bills at 6% of a household’s income, as well as tools to ensure the Public Service Commission implements the proposal in a timely fashion.

“That’s where the NY HEAT Act is much stronger (than the Affordable Gas Transition Act)," Moran explained.

The Senate’s one-house budget includes all the major provisions of the NY HEAT Act, but the Assembly’s does not, which Moran says is a problem considering the support the bill has in that house.

“There are 76 Assemblymembers who are co-sponsors of the NY HEAT Act,” she said. “To the Assembly’s credit, the one-house budget does have a nod to energy affordability.”

Specifically, the Assembly has signaled support for the elimination of the 100-foot rule in their summary of budget changes. This rule requires utilities to supply gas to any customer who wants it with the cost falling on ratepayers if they are within 100 feet of an existing line. It is an element of the NY HEAT Act.

Moran estimates that the 100-foot rule costs New Yorkers about $200 million a year.

“Gas is really expensive; maintaining gas infrastructure, which we know we need to move away from is unsafe, often failing. It’s not going to continue being a smart investment. So, this bill gives New York the tools to start moving away from that so we can save households money,” Moran said. “What this bill does is it says, you can still get hooked up to gas, but everyday New Yorkers aren’t going to be the ones to foot that bill anymore.”

To make sure we don’t continue to see increased energy costs, Moran said that utilities need to start giving New Yorkers options, including geo-thermal and heat pumps. 

According to reporting by New York Focus, the NY HEAT Act has been opposed by various interests including some utilities and the AFL-CIO, which is concerned the bill would phase out union jobs.

In an emailed statement to Capital Tonight, Mario Cilento, president of the New York State AFL-CIO wrote:

"As we have said from the beginning, it is premature to consider this measure until clean energy development meets the needs of all New Yorkers. This includes ensuring workers in the fossil fuel industry, manufacturing, and other energy-intensive sectors are protected.

"Additionally, NY Heat and climate change legislation must include robust labor standards, including prevailing rate, labor peace, and Buy America requirements. This is the only way to ensure that our clean energy future creates the family-sustaining jobs workers need."

Other priorities for Earthjustice include the Climate Change Superfund Act (S.2129A – Krueger/A.3351 – Dinowitz), which would require companies that have contributed significantly to the build-up of greenhouse gases to bear a share of the costs of the climate transition.

The Superfund Act is included in the Senate’s one-house budget, but neither the governor’s executive budget nor the Assembly’s one-house budget includes the legislation. That said, according to an analysis by Earthjustice, “the Assembly’s one-house summary of changes signaled support for funding climate change adaptation via a cost recovery program."

The governor’s executive budget cuts 50% of the funding for the Clean Water Infrastructure Act. The Assembly’s budget restores funding to $500 million per year; the Senate’s budget increases funding to $600 million. 

Of the three budgets, only the Assembly includes $100 million for lead service line replacement.

While the governor’s one-house budget includes $400 million for the Environmental Protection Fund (EPF), it also “off loads” $25 million to support agency staffing. The Assembly includes $400 million for EPF and rejects the governor’s $25 million off load. The Senate, which funds EPF at $425 million also rejects the $25 million off load.