Democratic New York Gov. Kathy Hochul

Democratic New York Gov. Kathy Hochul speaks to the media at Niagara Falls State Park on April 8, 2024.

(Photo: Angela Weiss/AFP via Getty Images)

NY Gov. Hochul 'Must Sign' Climate Change Superfund Act

"Gov. Hochul, fresh off a spineless congestion pricing reversal that scandalized New Yorkers, needs to get back to work and make this landmark legislation the law of the land," said one campaigner.

After what New Yorkers and environmental campaigners called a "betrayal" by Gov. Kathy Hochul earlier this week, the Democrat is now under pressure to sign the Climate Change Superfund Act, which state legislators finally passed early Saturday morning.

Noting that the 95-46 New York State Assembly vote happened after 3:00am and followed the Senate passing the bill, Empire State Indivisible declared Saturday that "there can be no further delay! Gov. Kathy Hochul must sign the climate superfund into law IMMEDIATELY so NYS' worst and wealthiest polluters pay for the harm they've caused our communities!"

New York Public Interest Research Group (NYPIRG) similarly celebrated the passage of the bill, which—if signed by the governor—will force establish a 25-year fund financed by fossil fuel companies, with a third of the $3 billion in annual funding reserved for disadvantaged communities disproportionately affected by the climate emergency.

"The historic legislative approval of the Climate Change Superfund Act," NYPIRG said, "is a huge step toward ensuring that Big Oil contributes to the mounting costs of climate catastrophe. Of course, the bill cannot become law without Gov. Hochul's approval, but the act helps protect taxpayers and allows revenues to be made available to contribute toward necessary—but expensive—resiliency projects."

"The sponsors and the supportive lawmakers in both the Senate and Assembly deserve credit for making sure that Big Oil adheres to the lesson that we all learned as kids, 'you make a mess, you clean it up,'" the group added.

"It's time to make polluters pay, and it's time Gov. Hochul acted as the climate leader she promised the Pope she would be."

Food & Water Watch senior New York organizer Eric Weltman also welcomed the vote, saying that "the Climate Change Superfund Act is the legislation New Yorkers need right now. We applaud the Assembly for coming to their senses in the final hours of the legislative session and passing this critical bill. Now, Gov. Hochul, fresh off a spineless congestion pricing reversal that scandalized New Yorkers, needs to get back to work and make this landmark legislation the law of the land."

As Common Dreamsreported Thursday, Hochul faced intense criticism this week for reversing her support for a first-in-the-nation congestion pricing plan and halting its implementation in New York City, jeopardizing not only expected emissions cuts but also much-needed funding for the Metropolitan Transportation Authority.

Weltman asserted that "it's time to make polluters pay, and it's time Gov. Hochul acted as the climate leader she promised the Pope she would be. Hochul desperately needs to look good—signing this legislation is the perfect opportunity to do something right for a change."

Other campaigners and New Yorkers also noted the governor's recent move. After highlighting some "huge victories for workers," ALIGN executive director Theodore A. Moore said that "at the eleventh hour, the Assembly also passed the Climate Superfund Act, joining the ever-growing chorus of New Yorkers saying enough is enough, and placing the burden of rising climate costs on Big Oil and corporate polluters, not just working families."

"But one 'environmental thing' a year won't meet the climate crisis at the speed it's racing past us, especially when long-fought wins like congestion pricing can be demolished in an instant," Moore stressed. "Without aggressively transitioning New York off of fossil fuels and creating the green jobs of the future, the Legislature calls it quits on our state's survival."

After the congestion pricing decision, author and activist Bill McKibben, who founded Third Act, wrote that "if any possible good could come from Hochul's cold-blooded betrayal, it's that she, and Albany Democrats in general, might feel the need to give environmentalists some kind of win."

The New York Home Energy Affordable Transition (NY HEAT) Act, "and the climate superfund bill, are both up for action in this final week of the legislative session," McKibben noted earlier this week. "It would be scant comfort to see them passed in the wake of this shocking schism, but it would be something."

While supporters of the Climate Change Superfund Act are now hopeful that Hochul will sign it—and make her state the second, after Vermont, to enact such legislation—they also expressed disappointment that other bills weren't passed this session, particularly Senate-approved NY HEAT Act, which aims to limit reliance on gas.

"With Gov. Hochul dropping a major bomb on climate action by delaying congestion pricing, the Assembly failed to rise to the occasion to pass the key climate policy New Yorkers need to cut energy bills and ensure the state is on track to meet our climate goal—the NY HEAT Act," said Liz Moran, New York policy advocate for Earthjustice.

"With utilities already proposing to raise already high bills rising due to our reliance upon gas infrastructure, and one year after we saw orange skies, the Assembly has turned their backs on the policy solution," she continued. "The same body that once championed our nation-leading climate law has now earned a reputation as the body holding back the policies New York needs to meet what is laid out in this law."

The Renewable Heat Now also decried the Assembly's "astonishing failure" to pass the bill. Jessica Azulay, executive director of Alliance for a Green Economy, which is part of the campaign, emphasized that "the NY HEAT Act would have been a lifeline for New Yorkers struggling with high energy costs and facing the devastating impacts of the climate emergency."

"Our leaders in Albany—the state Assembly first and foremost—have once again shown where they stand by refusing to implement the state's landmark climate law and enable a strategic and cost-effective transition away from fossil fuels in buildings," Azulay said. "Their blockage of this bill for three years in a row is a shameful abdication of their duty to serve the people they represent. We will not forget this failure as we struggle with utility shutoffs, high temperatures, and bad air this summer."

Along with also expressing support for the NY HEAT Act, which "would help save ratepayer dollars and curtail the expansion of the state's reliance on fossil fuels," NYPIRG noted that "the state's worsening solid waste disposal problem was not addressed and both the Packaging Reduction and Recycling Infrastructure Act and the Bigger, Better, Bottle Bill are two important components toward reducing trash that is filling up the state's landfills."

"We urge action on those issues," the group said, "and we urge Gov. Hochul to approve the Climate Change Superfund Act."

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