- New York Democratic lawmakers on Wednesday advanced multiple pieces of legislation tackling issues of energy and environmental justice, including a bill that would ensure energy efficiency and the benefits of the clean energy economy reach low-income communities and communities of color (S.3126A).
- The state Senate also passed a bill that requires fossil-fuel peaker plants located in or near environmental justice communities to develop plans to convert to renewable energy facilities (S.4378A). Other bills tackled environmental impact statements, bioheating fuel oil, toxic air pollutants and lead standards.
- Because low-income communities and communities of color are disproportionately impacted by climate change, it is "critical that any measures taken by the state to address the climate crisis, such as the energy efficiency measures outlined in [S.3126A], put the needs of these communities front and center," Yuwa Vosper environmental policy and advocacy coordinator at WE ACT for Environmental Justice, said in a statement.
The efficiency legislation has a companion bill in the Assembly, and though a vote has not yet been set, advocates say the timing is right to pass it.
WE ACT advocated for the efficiency legislation along with the New York Energy Democracy Alliance (EDA), and both groups say they will now work to ensure the companion bill passes the Assembly. Observers say, however, it is unclear when that vote may come due to work being done on the state budget.
"This bill is a welcome step toward correcting years of injustice in New York’s energy efficiency arena," Amber Johnson, EDA organizing director, said in a statement. "Low income communities and communities of color should benefit most from the state’s energy efficiency funding, but instead we have seen a statewide failure to connect these communities with the energy efficiency funding and jobs that they deserve."
The bill requires utilities to ensure that environmental justice communities receive energy efficiency funding "at a minimum proportional to these areas' share of the state housing and small commercial building stock." And the bill allows energy efficiency funds to be allocated toward "non-energy related interventions" such as the removal of lead, mold, and asbestos, as part of an efficiency retrofit.
The bill also requires that job training program funding for energy efficiency implementation "serve individuals from priority populations or trainees living in environmental justice communities."
Bill sponsor Sen. Kevin Parker, D, said the bills "will begin the process of addressing both the ecological responsibilities and economic opportunities" associated with the clean energy transition. "My bill in particular will provide equity and open employment options for Black and Brown communities most likely to be affected by this State's increased climate-related initiatives," he said in a statement.
While the efficiency measure already has a companion bill in the Senate, the Pollution Justice Act does not. The measure concludes that replacement of fossil fuel peaker plants with renewable energy systems "is in the public interest, will save millions of dollars in environmental and human health-related damages, will promote environmental justice and will assist in meeting the greenhouse gas emission reduction and energy storage goals of the Climate Leadership and Community Protection Act (CLCPA)."
CLCPA sets clean energy targets for the state, including requiring development of at least 6,000 MW of distributed solar resources by 2025 and 3,000 MW of storage by 2030.
New York City's peaker plants tend to be "scattered throughout disadvantaged communities," according to bill sponsor Sen. Jabari Brisport, D. "Converting these peaker plants to clean, renewable energy and battery systems is an important step towards a healthier, more equitable future for all of us," he said in a statement.
According to Liz Moran, environmental policy director for New York Public Interest Research Group, the lack of an Assembly companion does not necessarily reflect on the bill's potential for approval.
"Some of the bills have assembly pairings, and some do not. This is a strong package of legislation," Moran said. CLCPA does mandate New York expand renewable energy and battery storage, she said, and the requirements of the pollution justice bill "would go a long way" toward meeting those goals.
The efficiency measure may have a smoother time in the Assembly because it has a pairing, said Moran. She said the bill is "particularly timely, given the pandemic and tremendous loss of jobs. This is a great way to restore justice to these communities and meet New York climate goals."
Moran said New York's legislature is now in "budget season" and the timeline for future action on the bills is unclear. She suggested Earth Day, on April 22, could be an appropriate day for the Assembly to act.