Top New York State Environmental Priorities for 2020

This past year was a sobering wakeup call to the unfolding climate crisis, whose harmful effects have tangibly known no bounds—from the devastating wildfires that tore through California to the destructive cyclones that pummeled southern Africa to the bushfires currently engulfing Australia.

Amidst such difficult times, New York State emerged this past year as a vanguard of bold climate action: the state passed a landmark, first-in-the nation climate law that mandates 100% clean energy by 2040. On top of this hard-won victory, New York also led the way with the nation’s first congestion pricing system, established an innovative food waste recycling law, banished plastic bags and banned offshore oil and gas drilling, among other key successes. Needless to say, the 2020 session has pretty big boots to fill.

Top 2020 NRDC Priorities for New York

Our key goals in Albany this year encompass engaging in the shaping of climate policies to fast track our clean energy future while also pushing bold legislation that fiercely protects New York’s pristine coastline, drinking water and the air we breathe.

1. Build on Sweeping Climate Progress

First things first, we have to pick up from where we left off. That means working hand in glove with our partners to meet the ambitious targets mandated by the new climate law, which requires that we dramatically increase renewable energy while rapidly decreasing the amount of fossil fuels used in our buildings and vehicles.

Accomplishing this at scale will require many key next steps, including reforming the siting process, known as Article 10, which has created a bottleneck of pending wind and solar projects. We need to build a strong legislative commitment to efficient appliances, enshrine New York’s fracking ban into law, and support a bill that will finally divest the state’s pension funds from fossil fuel companies. We also need to advance new legislation that promotes farming practices that can both slash climate emissions, as well as capture carbon in the soil—after all, agriculture is responsible for as much as 25% or more of global greenhouse gas emissions. And, critically, we need to keep up the fight against the dangerous fracked gas Williams Pipeline and help ensure Governor Cuomo tables it once and for all. Now that National Grid’s dubious natural gas moratorium has been lifted, New York has to move to aggressively to halt new fossil fuel infrastructure altogether.

At the same time, we’ll be fighting to advance legislation that will cut back on the ever-growing amount of single-use plastics—starting with polystyrene foam food and beverage containers, and plastic packaging that are polluting our oceans and helping to line the pockets of the fossil-fuel industry.

2. Tackle Biggest Source of Climate Pollution—Transportation

We have to recognize the critical moment we’re in—every action we take and every action we forgo will have resounding consequences. Implementing New York’s climate law will require that we take a comprehensive approach to tackling the number one source of climate pollution in the state—our decaying, failing transportation system and the harmful emissions that come with it. We’ll be closely tracking and working to best implement New York City’s nation-leading congestion pricing system. But we have to go even further—New York needs to join its neighboring eastern states and help spearhead a regional policy to combat carbon pollution from the transportation sector. While not a silver bullet, the state can pair its participation with the adoption of a clean fuels standard bill, remove barriers for electric vehicles and prioritize charging station market integration.

3. Protect New Yorkers’ Health

Finally, in the coming year, we’ll be pursuing a number of bills focused on protecting the health of New Yorkers from toxic chemicals, including legislation that would require reporting on the use of chemicals of concern in consumer products that we are all exposed to everyday. Another crucial bill would ban the unnecessary use of toxic flame-retardant chemicals in furniture and mattress foam, and following the European Union’s lead, would also phase out some of the most harmful and persistent flame retardants in the plastic surrounding electronics and require safer replacements. It is also incumbent on the state to better protect our children from lead in drinking water in schools and adopt more stringent safeguards.

We also need to stop the scourge of toxic “neonic” pesticides that are causing birds, bees and other wildlife populations to plummet across the globe. New York is no exception—across the state, neonics are contaminating large portions of soil and water, including Long Island groundwater—exposing millions of New Yorkers to known and unknown health harms. That’s why we’re fighting for the Birds and Bees Protection Act, a five-year moratorium on outdoor neonic uses that provides a crucial pause on these toxic pesticides while DEC further studies their impacts.

We accomplished so much in Albany in 2019—yet so much still remains to be done this year. Indeed, with every new dire report, scientists admonish that we have reached a “tipping point” on climate change. While this reality has yet to sink in for most world leaders, our children are marching in every corner of the world, insisting that the adults take action to ensure a livable future and resist becoming numb to the crisis before them. Our Albany lawmakers must not lose sight of their vital leadership role heading into 2020.

About the Authors

Rich Schrader

New York Political Director, NY Regional, Healthy People & Thriving Communities Program

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