Environmental advocates praise Hochul’s State of the State plan, point out areas to improve

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New York Gov. Kathy Hochul delivered her State of the State address in the State Capitol Wednesday. (Vaughn Golden/WSKG)

VESTAL, NY (WSKG) — New York Gov. Kathy Hochul delivered her first State of the State address Wednesday, using the opportunity to highlight some of her policy proposals for the year ahead.

Hochul’s environment and climate policy initiatives for 2022 include additional funding for offshore wind projects, additional resources and emphasis on green hydrogen development, and a plan to require all new buildings to have zero emissions by the year 2027.

Elizabeth Moran, New York Policy Advocate for EarthJustice, and Peter Iwanowicz Executive Director of Environmental Advocates NY and member of the state’s Climate Action Council discussed their thoughts on the Governor’s address with WSKG’s Vaughn Golden.

Vaughn Golden (WSKG): I’m here with Elizabeth Moran, New York Policy Advocate for EarthJustice, a public interest non-profit. And Peter Iwanowicz, Executive Director of Environmental Advocates NY and member of the state’s Climate Action Council. Thanks to both of you for coming on.

Elizabeth Moran: Thank you for having us. 

Peter Iwanowicz: Yeah, it’s great to be here.

Golden: I want to start with a part of the Governor’s State of the State address, a little clip here.

Gov. Kathy Hochul: “This is a threat to our way of life here. And now. That’s why we must, and we will implement an ambitious agenda to meet this moment.”

Golden: So, Governor Hochul there referring to climate change in the climate agenda that she posed in her State of the State address today. We’re speaking on Wednesday, the day the address. So we often hear this word “ambitious” thrown around with climate proposals, it seems. I want to ask you, if you agree, were the things that the Governor outlined in the State of the State, truly, truly ambitious. Peter, we’ll start with you.

Iwanowicz: Yeah, I hate to quibble with the governor’s words, but I just want to do a little small one. You know, it’s no longer a threat. I mean, the impacts are here, people are getting sick, communities are getting significantly impacted by climate change. She was right. It’s here. It’s now it’s no longer a distant threat. It’s right here and we have to have the bold policy response to address it. You know, I think, the speech was really forthright in that assessment, and honest and that assessment. And the book that she held up when she talked about her speech has a lot of really nation-leading policies that are that are part of it to back it up. There’s a lot in there.

Golden: Liz, and your thoughts?

Moran: Yeah, I think many people were very excited and impressed by what she laid out in her speech today. And in her State of the State book. In particular, we were excited to hear that she’s announced plans to electrify homes and vehicles. We know that a key step in fighting the climate crisis and shifting us away from fossil fuels, is going to be by electrifying everything. So we were super excited to hear her list those things as priorities. We are going to be urging in some cases that things go a little bit stronger and faster. But this is a really exciting start. And I think people are excited about this change in direction.

Golden: I actually have a cut here of the governor discussing those, or excuse me, the electrification items.

Hochul: “New construction in the state of zero-emission by 2027. And will be climate friendly electric homes and promote electric cars, trucks and buses.”

Golden: So I want to dig into that a little bit. And Liz, you brought you brought it up, do you you mentioned the timeframe. The year that she set is 2027 to have all new homes be zero emission when they’re constructed and to electrify 1 million homes? Do you agree with that timeline? Do you think that’s ambitious enough?

Moran: We think 2027 is a little bit slow. So New York City recently adopted a law that will prohibit fossil fuels from new construction starting in 2024, for smaller buildings and 2027 for larger buildings. But really, there’s no reason for the entire state to not have a faster timeline. We know that the technology is there and available. So we’re joining a number of partners in urging a ban for new construction for fossil fuels from new construction by the next year. But we’re really excited that this is on her docket.

Golden: And Peter, so you currently serve on the Climate Action Council. And that group has developed a plan to get the state to meet its goals under the Climate Leadership and Community Protection Act. That’s a very thick 800-plus page plan that was released last week. And we could certainly spend plenty of time going going through the intricacies of that, but how much in the governor’s address Do you think overlapped with with that plan?

Iwanowicz: Well gratifyingly, a lot. I mean, if you read the book, and I’m on my third read of the 800-page document, myself as a Climate Action Council member, and a lot of the plan is showing up in her speech and our vision for what her 2022 agenda is going to be.

Golden: Which one do you think is one molding the other? Is the governor kind of molding the Climate Action Council or the administration?

Iwanowicz: Oh, gosh, no, mean, I think the council’s plans and the proposals that have been out there since before she was governor, have been well known to a lot of organizations, including Liz’s organization, mine and others have been working on this, you know, for more than a year so what’s really gratifying to me is seeing some of these bold initiatives that came forward and are part of the draft plan make it into her State of the State book. And as I said earlier, she advances legislation as the book promises to achieve these these results. That’s gonna you know, supercharge if you will, the Climate Action Plan because we won’t be waiting for it to go final, we’ll be starting to act now. And that really underscores the urgency of the climate moment. And I totally agree with Liz on buildings, we can probably go faster. She left herself wiggle room by saying by 2027. But there’s no reason why we shouldn’t at least achieve the climate, the draft climate plan goal of 100% electrified new residential home, residential structures, by 2024. So a faster timelines in that plan.

Golden: Okay. And Peter will stick with you what additional item or items would you liked, would have liked to see the governor include in the State of the State that that weren’t, weren’t mentioned both in the address and the the book that the governor’s office put out?

Iwanowicz: Well, I would have loved to see a doubling down on the commitment of water infrastructure. It’s something where Liz’s worked a lot of her career on and I know she reasonably but it would have been nice to see like the governor commit to like a billion dollars in water infrastructure, it’s necessary. Clearly there’s a need out there. It’s great for the environment, it grows jobs, it fits within the plan. Maybe we’ll see that when she releases her budget, but I was kind of surprised that there was no lean-in doubling down on that very successful, overly subscribed grant program to help communities fix their pipes.

Golden: And Liz, one thing that you would have liked to see the governor include that. That was not included.

Moran: I’m going to do a ‘yes and’ to what Peter has outlined, water infrastructure needs in New York State are absolutely tremendous. I live in the upstate city of Troy, New York. And there was a water main that broke that was over 100-years-old just a week ago. So upstate cities know firsthand just how dire the need is. But to build upon this I would have loved to have heard something from Governor Hochul regarding proof-of-work cryptocurrency mining. This is rapidly becoming a statewide issue. There’s a test case out in the Finger Lakes right now the Greenidge generating station that has been utilizing natural gas to power their cryptocurrency mining operations. And we’re concerned because this technology utilizes so much energy that we are concerned it’ll jeopardize the state’s very important climate mandates. So we hope to hear something from her about this in the near future.

Golden: Alright. We’re just about out of time. So I think we’ll have to end it there and there but Liz Moran from EarthJustice and Peter Iwanowicz from Environmental Advocates NY thank you very much.

Moran: Thank you.

Iwanowicz: Thanks.