In State of State address, Gov. calls for increasing solar arrays; stimulating local residential development
By Gwendolyn Craig
Gov. Kathy Hochul promoted more renewable energy projects, a cap-and-invest program for large-scale greenhouse gas emitters and other environmental protections in her State of the State address on Tuesday in Albany.
Addressing a crowd in the state Assembly chamber, Hochul made climate and the environment a focus for about three minutes of her hour-long speech, instead focusing on mental health services, crime and housing. Many of her legislative priorities are intended to address the state’s population loss. It was the Democratic governor’s first State of the State speech before a packed audience. Last year’s attendance was limited due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
The closest Hochul came to mentioning the Adirondacks in her speech was at the start: “When we are united, there is no stopping us. And when it comes to the mountains yet to be climbed we are ready to scale them this year because of the peaks we already submitted in the past,” she said. “In 2022, we made historic investments to strengthen and upgrade our infrastructure; build a world-class public transit system; create strong public education; confront climate change; fortify our healthcare system; help our small businesses recover from COVID; and spur economic development across the State.”
But, Hochul said, “we cannot say we are done yet,” before delving into highlights of her 277-page “Achieving the New York Dream,” on which her speech was based. In it, she laid out several environmental initiatives.
Adirondack Park lawmakers had tepid reactions, but mostly to her remarks as opposed to the chapters of her speech book. State Sen. Dan Stec, R-Queensbury, called Hochul’s speech “good politics,” adding that it “lacked a pragmatism or a realism” in some of the proposals’ feasibility. Some organizations had similar concerns.
Hochul’s outline “don’t meet the magnitude of New York’s population decline,” said Justin Wilcox, executive director of Upstate United, a nonpartisan, pro-economic and education advocacy organization. “New York’s sky-high tax burden and harsh business climate have played a role in driving out roughly 300,000 residents to other states over the last year alone. The absence of transformative tax relief and pro-growth reforms that would reverse the Empire State exodus is deeply disappointing.”
Climate and the environment
More details on her environmental goals were contained in 25 pages of the book, and there was no mention of the Adirondack or Catskill parks. State lawmakers, however, are bracing for more legislation to address the mandates in the 2019 Climate Leadership and Community Protection Act. It requires New York to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 40% by 2030 and at least 85% below 1990 levels by 2050.
“In 2019, this Legislature instituted aggressive mandates and deadlines for reducing emissions,” Hochul said. “And now, we are executing on that plan. Of course, we must do so thoughtfully, in a way that prioritizes affordability, protects those who are already struggling to get by, and corrects the environmental injustices of the past.”
The state Department of Environmental Conservation and New York State Energy Research and Development Authority are charged with developing a “Cap-and-Invest Program that establishes a gradually declining cap on greenhouse gas emissions,” according to the State of the State policy book. The program will require those businesses to purchase emission “allowances” in state auctions. The cap will be reduced each year, forcing businesses that produce large-scale emissions to eventually transition to lower-carbon energy sources.
The money the state collects from this program “will support the state’s critical investments in climate mitigation, energy efficiency, clean transportation” and more. That flow of money will need to be created through legislation, which Hochul is calling a Climate Action Rebate. It is meant to help New Yorkers afford switches to things like electric vehicles and cleaner energy systems.
NY Renews, a coalition of 340 environmental organizations focused on climate policy, said the Cap-and-Invest Program “could set a national standard for climate action” but also cautioned that it must avoid “the mistakes made by other states, such as deepening pollution hotspots in ways that exacerbate environmental racism and injustice.”
The governor is also proposing “EmPower Plus” to help low-income people pay for energy efficiency projects. The state will also create a pilot program for low-income New Yorkers so they “will never pay more than 6% of their income in electricity.” Hochul received some applause from Assembly members and senators during her climate announcements.
In the State of the State book, Hochul pushes for more solar energy development., Already, the Adirondack Park Agency has approved several large-scale solar permits and the governor’s initiative could inspire additional applicants.
Renewable energy projects are getting more attention as the state cuts carbon emissions from its buildings. Hochul announced a zero-emission policy for new construction, phasing out fossil fuel use by building size with no new fossil fuel heating equipment for all buildings by 2035. The Champlain Hudson Power Express, a 339-mile transmission line delivering hydropower electricity from Quebec, Canada to New York City, was highlighted in the book. Hochul broke ceremonial ground on the project in December in rural Washington County.
A large part of Hochul’s speech focused on the state’s new goal of building 800,000 new homes through the New York Housing Compact. The compact encourages local governments to change their zoning laws to foster housing construction. It provides financial assistance for water and sewer infrastructure and planning. The plan also sets growth goals — upstate communities would be charged with increase housing stock by 1% every three years. So far, according to the State of the State book, the North Country has been on track to meet that percentage.
Stec said he thought increasing the housing stock would be difficult in the Adirondacks, considering the pushback to development from environmental groups. He could also see resistance from local governments if the state tried to step in and encourage changes to zoning laws.
It’s unclear, too, how the governor’s proposal would be compatible with regulatory role of the Adirondack Park Agency, the state agency charged with overseeing public and private development in the approximately 6-million-acre park.
State Assemblyman Matthew Simpson, R-Horicon, felt the housing initiative focused too much on New York City.
“(H)ow about we do something meaningful to make it more affordable for all New Yorkers to own what they have now?” Simpson said in a news release. He called on Democrats in the majority in the Legislature to “deliver.”
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