Cars and trucks move along the Cross Bronx Expressway

Cars and trucks move along the Cross Bronx Expressway.

(Photo: Spencer Platt/Getty Images)

A Bronx Doctor’s Prescription: The NY State Assembly Must Act on Climate

The assembly and Gov. Kathy Hochul must include the NY HEAT and Climate Change Superfund Acts, two bills that would help wean our state off polluting fossil fuels, in the upcoming budget.

When I was a pediatric intern at what is now the Morgan Stanley Children’s Hospital in Washington Heights, I took care of children desperately wheezing from asthma attacks almost every night that I was on call. While their anxious parents stood by wringing their hands, we treated these children with inhalants and intravenous medications until they broke asthma’s grip on their ability to breathe. I kept wondering why so many children had asthma.

Now, as a Bronx resident, I know that our county has the highest asthma rates in New York City and among the highest in the United States. I also now know that the scientific literature makes clear that a major cause of asthma in children is air pollution caused by burning fossil fuels. Traffic on the Cross Bronx Expressway, the Major Deegan Expressway, and other major arteries that flow through the Bronx are causing children to develop asthma, forcing them to gasp for air when they have attacks.

This is why the New York State Assembly and Gov. Kathy Hochul must include critical climate change legislation in the upcoming budget. Those are the NY HEAT and Climate Change Superfund Acts, two bills that would help wean our state off polluting fossil fuels. The State Senate has included both bills in their one house budget. But now, with budget negotiations entering the 11th hour, the assembly and governor must act to include them in the final budget.

It is time for our leaders to respond to the demands of their communities.

Asthma is not the only health condition caused by greenhouse gasses released into the air we breathe. Studies show that air pollution from burning fossil fuels is a risk factor for adult respiratory disease, cardiovascular disease, dementia, and several more illnesses. We know about the devastating storms, wildfires, and heatwaves that are ever more common thanks to the climate crisis; we also now know that climate change is affecting our lungs, hearts, and brains.

New York State is committed under the 2019 Climate Leadership and Community Protection Act (CLCPA) to transition away from fossil fuels and toward sustainable energy. But the HEAT and Superfund Acts are designed to help our communities get through the climate crisis and reduce the burden of air pollution with which we in the Bronx contend every day.

The HEAT Act caps utility costs at 6% for low- and middle-income families, helping limit costs as we transition away from dirty fuels. This is a chance for us to pursue environmental justice, to support those communities who have been impacted by the climate crisis first and worse. As a doctor, I have witnessed firsthand how Black and Brown communities here in the Bronx have suffered from this pollution. This bill is a small step to limit the costs for working families as we move forward to a greener future.

The Superfund Act, meanwhile, requires large corporate polluters across the state to pay for the harm they’ve caused. This means paying to equip towns and cities statewide with their climate resilience and adaptation projects. It has the potential to raise up to $3 billion for our state annually, money that will go directly to supporting a quick transition to the livable future we need. After a year of climate crises across our state, with deaths in Western New York from an extreme blizzard, record-breaking heat, and wildfire pollution this summer, and fast, furious rainfall in NYC, we can’t afford our elected officials to sit idly on this bill.

As mentioned, the State Senate has already passed the Superfund and HEAT acts. Governor Hochul has put some aspects of the HEAT Act in her budget proposal. The State Assembly, however, has thus far failed to act on either piece of legislation. It is unconscionable that Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie, whose home district is here in the Bronx, is not willing to follow the leadership of the Senate and pass legislation that will support the health of his own constituents. Governor Hochul must also take a more active role in pushing for the climate justice legislation our communities so desperately need.

The Bronx is overburdened with polluting highways, warehouses, and power plants. Climate change is bringing us devastating storms like Hurricane Ida and making it harder for us to breathe. It is time for our leaders to respond to the demands of their communities. We must move both the NY HEAT Act and the Climate Change Superfund Act into law.

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