The movement for climate justice is growing. For the first time in years, Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo and the State Senate seem ready to move on an aggressive climate bill. With just days left in this legislative session, and 11 years to limit the worst impacts of climate change, we’re glad elected officials are acting to fight the climate crisis.
They still have to get it right. That’s why lawmakers need to pass the strongest version of the Climate and Community Protection Act.
Advocates of weaker climate legislation would have us believe that there’s no difference between a carbon-neutrality standard versus a carbon-free standard. But the debate over the details of the bill aren’t about technicalities; it’s about justice for our communities.
Going carbon neutral, as Cuomo’s office has proposed, opens the door to carbon offsets. Offsets allow companies and individuals to compensate for pollution they produce by preventing a similar amount of pollution from happening elsewhere, or by pulling a similar amount of carbon from the atmosphere. We can’t “offset” childhood asthma or lung disease. We have to get rid of pollution.
Pollution can’t be allowed to continue to poison the state’s most vulnerable neighborhoods. Some have argued that it’s enough to make sure we don’t allow offsets for power plants, but that alone won’t solve the pollution public health crisis. Much of our state’s pollution comes from vehicles, and urban planning has ensured that highways criss-cross low-income neighborhoods. Carbon offsets won’t get rid of the toxins from cars and trucks. Reducing the amount of pollution they spew will.
Long Island has some of the worst air quality in the state. Suffolk County has received a horrifying grade of F from the American Lung Association for its high levels of air pollution. We believe Nassau County would have as well, except that it doesn’t have enough air quality monitors to receive a grade.
Cuomo has failed to embrace the legislation’s standard of investing 40 percent of state energy funds in low-income communities, with his administration saying it’s about “results” rather than a set percentage. For the best results, set standards to invest in front-line communities — those threatened by flooding and sea level rise as well as those suffering from pollution-related asthma.
Forty-two percent of New Yorkers are people of color. Forty-four percent of New York households earn an annual income of less than $50,000. Forty percent funding is the minimum moral investment we can make in New York’s environmentally vulnerable communities.
The argument over carbon offsets and a 40 percent investment in front-line communities is not about wonky policy language or slight technical changes. The lives of low-income New Yorkers and New Yorkers of color aren’t “details” — and our climate policy needs to reflect that.
Lisa Tyson and Ryan Madden are, respectively, director and sustainability organizer of the Long Island Progressive Coalition advocacy group.