Taking stock of 2020 isn’t easy—most of it shrouded by a sense of collective grief. And yet, as if in an act of defiance against the maelstrom, the world continued to rotate, activists marched in the streets for justice, Americans voted in historic numbers for President-Elect Joe Biden, and hope persisted in New York in the form of mighty climate and environmental victories.
After years of unrelenting advocacy, climate activists stopped the dangerous Williams gas pipeline in its tracks. The state legislature codified Governor Cuomo’s singular 2014 ban on fracking, and the state banned the use of toxic “forever chemicals” known as PFAS in food containers. Another success was reforming New York’s siting regulations, which had stymied renewable projects across the state for years. The new procedures will allow careful review of all environmental, habitat and land impacts without hampering vital wind and solar projects.
On top of those victories, Comptroller Tom DiNapoli announced a landmark plan to divest New York’s Common Retirement Fund from fossil fuel companies in the next four years, achieving a full decarbonization of its investment portfolio by 2040. This comes as a result of a half-decade campaign by the Divest-NY coalition and state legislators Sen. Liz Krueger and Assemblyman Felix Ortiz leading the charge for this fundamental shift in how pension managers will confront the systemic threat of the climate crisis.
Our lawmakers must, however, resist any temptation to rest on their laurels. Now is the time for the legislature and Governor to ramp up the fight for a cleaner, healthier and more equitable future for all.
What’s on Deck for 2021:
The Williams Pipeline might be sidelined, two proposed fossil fuel projects are gearing up to threaten our region: a liquified natural gas terminal (LNG) in Gibbstown, New Jersey, on the banks of the Delaware River near Philadelphia, and the PennEast pipeline, which would carry fracked shale gas from northeastern Pennsylvania across the Delaware River. NRDC is working with allies in New York and New Jersey to stop these dangerous fossil fuel projects that threaten to pollute our air and water, stymie climate action and are altogether on the wrong side of history.
NRDC is also working in a coalition that includes the NY Climate Youth Leaders and NYPIRG to pass legislation that will end subsidies, including tax breaks, tax credits or other state funding to the worst polluting fossil fuels, like the shipping industry’s bunker fuel and aviation fuel. In one of the toughest budget years in recent memory ($15 billion budget gap and counting) and with the climate crisis raging more every day, cutting the state’s financial cord with polluters should be a no-brainer.
As the leading contributor to climate pollution in New York and across the nation, the transportation sector is in urgent need of transformation. There are several promising proposals, including a bipartisan regional effort known as the “Transportation and Climate Initiative” that seeks to cut pollution from cars and trucks and invest in cleaner, healthier and more equitable transportation solutions. While New York has yet to commit to the program, it remains engaged in discussions with other states.
Another key transportation campaign is the effort to pass the Clean Fuel Standard, a program based on California’s highly successful plan, which includes a credit structure that benefits transportation fuels that produce the least greenhouse gas emissions, measured over the lifecycle of the product – a process that has put real world financial strain on the oil industry.
In addition, a bill that’s slated for introduction this year will free carbon-free vehicle manufacturers like Tesla, Rivian and Lucid from the prison house of sales limited to a handful of showrooms. The bill will expand that universe by allowing more showcases—it has been opposed historically by the powerful special interest auto dealers, never strong supporters of the electric vehicle industry.
Finally, a broad coalition is coming together in support of a green transit bill that will mandate that all public transportation systems in New York create procurement policies for zero emissions buses by 2029.
As it relates to protecting children’s health from toxic chemicals, NRDC will return to the battlefield to pass legislation that bans the unnecessary use of toxic flame-retardant chemicals in furniture and mattress foam, and following the lead of the European Union, would phase out the most persistent flame retardants in the plastics surrounding electronic devices. In addition, we continue to support efforts to require disclosure of chemicals of concern in consumer products. We will also fight to pass legislation that provides stronger standards and safeguards to protect students from lead in their school’s drinking water.
Across New York, like everywhere else on the globe, “neonic” pesticides have caused birds, bees and other wildlife populations to plummet. These neonics are also contaminating large portions of soil and water, including Long Island groundwater. Neonics are now so ubiquitous in the environment and our food and water that the CDC reports half the U.S. population is exposed on a regular basis. This is concerning given the research that indicates neonic exposures may increase the risk of human neurological and developmental harm, including malformations of the developing heart and brain, memory loss, and tremors. NRDC is part of a broad coalition working to establish laws and regulations to eliminate the use of neonic-coated seeds—one pellet of which can be fatal to a bird that eats it.
These issues offer a snapshot of NRDC’s priorities for the 2021-2022 legislative session. But make no mistake—there are many more priority areas that we’ll be fighting for. From pushing the state to adopt the Advanced Clean Trucks Rule, which requires manufacturers to produce an increasing percentage of zero emission trucks each year, to cutting energy waste from buildings through greater efficiency and electrifying our homes and workplaces, to expanding the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) for disadvantaged New Yorkers, there is a lot of progress on the horizon.
Even in this year of unprecedented adversity, victories big and small persisted. Albany has been on a roll over the past two sessions, but the crises are mounting. Now is the time to keep going, to keep pressing forward, to keep fighting for a more hopeful future for us, our children and people everywhere. We’re in the fight of our lives, and our success is up to us all—activists, business leaders, and lawmakers alike. We can do it. We will do it, together.