Last week, Gov. David Paterson unveiled a bruising budget deficit reduction plan that included grabbing $90 million generated by auctions under the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative (RGGI) - the nation's first-ever plan to reduce global warming pollution - and shoving it down the exploding black hole otherwise known as the New York State budget. He also swiped $10 million he had already promised to the Environmental Protection Fund (EPF), the state's central artery for environmental programs and initiatives.
The Governor blames the economy for his actions - yet neither of these moves makes either environmental or economic sense.
RGGI is a landmark program established between 10-states that is designed to reduce global warming pollution in the Northeast. It is the world's first mandatory program for reducing global warming pollution, and has just begun generating money by auctioning CO2 pollution permits.
RGGI revenues were specifically designed to move New York toward a clean energy economy - encouraging new industries to settle here, creating more jobs in our state, and cutting costs for consumers. And ironically, just two days before his cuts, Paterson signed a bill that will put RGGI funds to work as intended - by creating thousands of new, green jobs and getting money into the hands of consumers to invest in energy efficiency upgrades, with a target of weatherizing 1 million homes in five years.
By taking money from RGGI, Governor Paterson halts New York's progress toward creating thousands of green jobs that can help us pull out of the economic downturn. This short-sighted raid robs consumers' pockets, sets the state's progress back several years, and clears the path for other states to beat us to it.
In the best-case scenario, the state projects RGGI will generate a total of $200 million in auction proceeds, yet Paterson is already robbing the RGGI pot of half its best-possible worth. That means fewer homes upgraded with energy efficiency, New York consumers won't save as much on their energy bills, and more global warming pollution. Not to mention this desperate move flies against a legal agreement the state made under RGGI, which requires all revenues to go to conservation and clean energy investments. This action violates that agreement and the very of spirit of the program. And it imperils RGGI further by confusing consumers with a stop-and-go approach and delaying its progress.
ENVIRONMENTAL PROTECTION FUND
The EPF is the state's annual pool of money designated for environmental initiatives, and the legislature already promised this year's funds to a wide array of programs across New York. Paterson's attack on the EPF adds to a long-standing pattern of assault on this funding. This spring, the Governor and Legislature approved a $222 million EPF. But the Governor unilaterally decided to only allocate $180 million to agencies to plan and pay their bills with - that's $42 million short of what was promised this spring. Tapping $10 million more means Paterson will have taken a total of $52 million from the EPF - nearly 25 percent of the state's promised funds.
Land preservation programs around the state, zoos in the Bronx and Brooklyn, ocean conservation projects and critical clean water protections will all suffer a severe hit. Scientists, not-for-profit partners, and local governments aren't getting paid, despite delivering the work the state approved and promised to fund.
This just the latest in a long line of EPF pilfering from the Governor's office over the past seven years, resulting in nearly a half billion dollars lost that were dedicated to restoring and protecting the New York state's environment. This money has been taken by gubernatorial fiat once again for non-environmental use.
As always, budget battles are fought out at the legislative level, where all final budget allocations are ratified. New York environmentalists have fought back aggressive attacks on green budgets with real success over the last two sessions. Round 3 will begin when the next legislative session kicks off in January - I'll be there in Albany urging our state representatives to vote the right way for New York's environment, economy and consumers.