New York State Budget Boasts Landmark Environmental Victories

This budget session has achieved powerful gains for New York’s environment—from a comprehensive congestion pricing plan to the landmark food waste recycling bill to banning plastic bags once and for all.

This budget session has achieved powerful gains for New York’s environment—from a comprehensive congestion pricing plan to the landmark food waste recycling bill to banning plastic bags once and for all.

Congestion Pricing

Perhaps most notably—and with the backing of strong leadership in Albany, coupled with successful campaigning by a broad range of environmental, transit, labor, business and civic advocates—the budget includes the creation of the nation’s first comprehensive congestion pricing system.  The plan will help New York move beyond the decaying public transit systems of the past and tackle New York City’s traffic woes, along with the harmful emissions that come with it.

While London, Stockholm and Singapore have similar programs, the United States has historically lagged behind—until now. Each of these cities has experienced substantial reductions in traffic congestion and chronic air pollution, and successfully raised significant resources to revive overburdened local transit. Stockholm, in particular, has also accomplished dramatic public health improvements—with pollution decreasing nearly 15% in the inner city and emergency hospital visits of children suffering asthma attacks down a stunning 50%.

Congestion Pricing casts this session, only half over, in an historic light but there are other, critically important and long-awaited environmental victories.

Food Waste

A landmark food waste recycling bill is finally poised to become law. If global food waste were a country, it would be the third largest emitter of greenhouse gases after the U.S. and China. In New York, food makes up close to 30% of the municipal solid waste stream.

The new law requires large generators of food waste to separate out wholesome food for donation to food recovery organizations. In a state where 1 out of 8 citizens lacks consistent access to sufficient food, this is a major policy achievement.

In addition, the law requires that the remaining, inedible food scraps not be dumped in landfills where they release methane, a potent and dangerous greenhouse gas. Instead food scraps will be recycled at compost facilities and anaerobic digesters, which produce energy and a nutrient rich soil amendment from the scraps. It’s a win win—good for getting food on the table of those who need it and good for the environment.

Plastic Bags

Together, Governor Cuomo and the Legislature have passed a ban on the use of single-use plastic bags in grocery stores, convenience stores and retail outlets. While certain items like lettuce, meat and deli items will still be wrapped in plastic, there will be a reduction of billions of plastic bags that litter streets, highways and pollute lakes and waterways, resulting in tragic consequences for birds and aquatic life.

The law will allow counties and cities to enact a nickel fee on paper bags—paper bags pose their own set of adverse environmental impacts.  The funds collected will be split between localities, which must use them to purchase reusable bags for their residents, and the State, which is required to deposit the monies it receives into the Environmental Protection Fund.  Suffolk County imposed a 5-cent fee on paper and plastic bags last year—in the first 6 months of the law, the county saw an 80% drop in the use of these bags at the checkout counter.  We’ll be hard at work over the next year, advocating that cities and counties adopt bag fees under the new law.

Clean Energy

Thanks to the Budget, the New York Power Authority (NYPA) is now permitted to build and own (alone or in some combination with other parties) offshore wind transmission for the purpose of providing that wind power to New York residents. NYPA can issue bonds to fund these transmission facilities and is required to report back to the State Legislature on these activities.

Under the new law, NYPA will also be able to install and operate electric vehicle (EV) charging stations, as long as these facilities are used by the public—a huge opportunity to further propel clean transportation.

NYPA can now supply power procured from competitive market sources to any existing customer, any public entity, like a city or public school, or an existing community aggregate designated utility customer (one who prefers to purchase renewable energy). There is a hard cap of 400 Megawatts (MW) on these transactions—importantly, however, there is no cap if the power is generated from a renewable source.

Engaging NYPA—a powerful economic engine created by Franklin Roosevelt when he was New York Governor in the late 1920s, in the expansion of renewable energy in all these phases—is vital for the state to hit necessary targets over the next 30 years on the road to eliminating as much greenhouse gas emissions as possible.

There is much for New Yorkers to be proud of—a potent combination of unrelenting advocacy and true leadership in Albany is helping to charter a better future for our children and grandchildren.