Assembly pushes Senate on climate change bill as session end approaches
As the end of the legislative session approaches, the Assembly is targeting climate change. The state Senate has several clean energy bills on the docket, too, but the Republican conference also hopes to address gas line safety and broadband and cable franchise agreements.
The Assembly’s biggest environmental priority is passage of the New York State Climate and Community Protection Act.
The bill includes mandates for ramping up the use of clean, renewable energy and reducing climate pollution while empowering the state Department of Envionmental Conservation to take such steps as establishing demonstration sites within urban, suburban or rural settings for heat pumps powered by rooftop solar panels.
Assemblyman Steve Englebright, chairman of the Assembly Committee on Environmental Conservation, said the goal of the legislation was to codify the governor’s renewable energy goals, adding that he has been in talks with members of the state Senate to increase support in the upper house.
“It’s probably the one thing that is paramount among very important issues because climate change is dramatically affecting New York in adverse ways,” Englebright said. “Many of the things we do are replicated in subsequent states. So, it’s not like by ourselves we are going to have dramatic impact on the world climate, but I think we will be copied.”
The state Public Service Commission in January approved Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s 10-year, $5 billion Clean Energy Fund, which aims to grow New York’s renewable energy production enough to meet 50 percent of the state’s electricity needs by 2030.
Englebright said he is also concerned that climate change is damaging the state’s shellfish industry, which he said generates more than $5 billion in sales annually for the state.
“You can’t have shellfish if the ocean is too acidic for them to form shells,” he said. “This is a problem, and the issue is one that we believe that we have no choice but to act. So, we’ll be putting forth a bill to explore how to responsibly within the scope of our state address the ocean acidification issues.”
State Sen. Joseph Griffo, chairman of the state Senate Committee on Energy and Telecommunications, said he would like to establish solar installation permit standards to cut down on wait times for solar installation projects. Griffo said he also will be passing legislation to facilitate the use of electric cars.
“The issues that the Senate Energy and Telecommunications Committee deal with are incredibly diverse, from broadband and cable franchise agreements to gas line safety, clean energy generation and solar installation permit standardization,” Griffo said in a statement. “We are simultaneously following the myriad PSC proceedings, FERC rulings and state and federal court decisions relative to emerging energy issues in this dynamic and rapidly changing energy world.”
The state Senate will also continue to follow up on the implementation of the transfer of the Canal Corporation to the New York State Power Authority in order to maintain the “fiscal integrity” of NYPA.
Additionally, the state Senate will introduce legislation to ensure that the “nuclear bridge” and Tier 3 of the Clean Energy Standard is completed by this summer to prevent premature closure of nuclear facilities in the state. Some experts argue that nuclear power can be used as a “bridge” until renewable sources are more widely available.
Both the Assembly and state Senate have introduced or plan to introduce legislation addressing gas pipelines in New York, but the two houses have diverging interests.
The state Senate aims to expedite the repair of old and damaged natural gas pipes and establish a reporting and classification system, while the Assembly is exploring legislation to address environmental and siting concerns about gas pipelines.
There are currently two natural gas pipelines proposed in New York – the Algonquin pipeline and the Constitution Pipeline. The Cuomo administration rejected a required permit for the Constitution Pipeline, but the developers are appealing that decision. In December 2014, Cuomo banned high-volume hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, a controversial method of extracting natural gas.
“We’re very aware of the need to address concerns about the gas pipelines proposed in the state and they’re exploring that,” Englebright said. “I think there’s a very good chance you’ll see an initiative being put forward. We’re not entirely without some road hazards to craft such legislation, since there’s federal preemption involved. We have to make sure we don’t trip over it. There are roles for the state and that’s what we’re looking at.”