Heavy rains led to flooding in Freeport in December 2022.

Heavy rains led to flooding in Freeport in December 2022. Credit: Howard Schnapp

It’s become clear that Long Island faces serious environmental problems from global warming. The question for Albany is: Who should pick up the tab?

With 2023 expected to be the hottest year recorded in human history, rising heat is impacting Long Island now. In September, for example, biblical rains devastated the tristate area, fresh evidence that the costs of adapting infrastructure to the world climate’s "new abnormal" will be staggering. Nowhere got more rain than southwestern Nassau County. More than nine inches of rain reportedly fell in Valley Stream.

This is on top of the devastating Canadian wildfires, which poisoned the air in downstate New York.

Less well-known are the future financial costs resulting from a rapidly heating planet.

Urban infrastructure was designed for the world pre-climate change, according to experts at the Columbia Climate School at Columbia University. New York City’s aging sewer system, for example, was largely designed over a century ago to handle no more than 1.75 inches of rain in a one-hour rainstorm. Brooklyn got 2.5 inches in one hour in September.

Upgrading that system to handle an increasingly hotter and wetter climate will cost as much as $100 billion. That's on top of the $52 billion the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers has estimated it will cost to protect New York Harbor from rising sea levels and storms.

Long Island also faces up to $100 billion in climate costs — costs that you will have to pay. A study from State Comptroller Tom DiNapoli found that from 2017 to 2026, 55% of New York municipal spending outside of NYC was or will be related to climate change. New Yorkers are already paying. Since August 2022, Gov. Kathy Hochul has unveiled some $2.7 billion in state money for climate-related projects — either responding to disasters or spending to help protect from future ones.

Those costs — like the temperature of the planet — are expected to keep increasing. New Yorkers could see costs rise to as much as $10 billion annually by midcentury.

These costs are real and are impacting New Yorkers’ taxes right now.

Where can overwhelmed taxpayers look for help? Climate meetings now taking place in Dubai are expected to produce little financial relief. Congress is gridlocked. Thus, Long Islanders will have to look to Albany for some help.

What should Hochul do? Her budget plan for New York is currently being developed. Given the staggering and growing climate costs paid by taxpayers now and ballooning costs in years to come, the governor should make those responsible — namely the biggest oil companies — pick up their fair share. These corporations have known for decades that burning fossil fuels warms the planet, yet they waged a campaign to block climate protection while continuing to be fabulously profitable. It’s time for them to pony up — big time.

Hochul and the Assembly should embrace State Senate legislation to make the oil companies — not taxpayers — pay for the problems they have caused and do it in a manner that will stop them from passing the costs on to consumers. Otherwise, she will have made the decision that Long Islanders and taxpayers across the state will pay. Let’s hope she will follow the rule we all learned as children: “You made the mess; you clean it up.” 

Public policy should protect the public, not Big Oil. Make Big Oil pay.

This guest essay reflects the views of Blair Horner, executive director of the New York Public Interest Research Group.

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