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Climate change activists urge Cuomo to go further

Environmental groups are pushing Gov. Andrew Cuomo to codify into law some of the steps he’s taken to protect the environment and cut down on pollution related to climate change. At a budget hearing Monday, lawmakers were focused on a more immediate concern — clean drinking water.

Legislative budget hearings were interrupted once again, this time by anti-climate change activists shouting that they want “climate justice in the budget.”

Travis Proulx is the spokesman for a coalition of 104 groups who back what they are calling the Climate and Community Protection Act. Some of their members were among the demonstrators.

The groups say the governor has issued a number of good executive orders, and they praise his plans to get half of the state’s energy from renewable sources by 2030 as a “great start.” But Proulx said, as they are learning with the transition from the Obama administration to the Trump administration, that there needs to be a law.

“If there’s one thing we’ve seen out of the federal government recently, it’s that executive orders and executive actions just don’t cut it,” said Proulx. “The next executive can come in, as we’ve seen with President Trump, and simply undo the good that’s been done.”

The measure goes further than what Cuomo has done. It would eliminate all climate-changing pollution by 2050, including from power plants and cars, build more mass transit and do more to encourage electric cars. It also would require fair labor standards be followed when creating new green energy jobs.

Proulx said the groups are disappointed that the governor, so far, has not been willing to take additional steps.

“The governor’s failed to include any meaningful climate action within his state budget proposal,” he said.

Proulx said with the Trump administration poised to dismantle many federal environmental regulations, it’s more important than ever that New York act now.

“Because of threats we see coming out of the federal government and because of the ignorance and anti-science views that we see coming out of President Trump’s mouth,” he said.

Proulx said New York has a chance to take the lead and set a high bar.

“To show the rest of the country and the world that the United States can make these things happen,” Proulx said.

He said there is support for the measure in the state Legislature. The Assembly, led by Democrats, already approved the bills. In the Senate, many Democrats as well as members of the Independent Democratic Conference are backers, and several Republicans also are in favor. It has not come to the floor for a vote in that chamber.

Lawmakers holding the budget hearing waited politely until the demonstrators finished, then continued to listen to testimony from Cuomo’s environmental conservation commissioner, Basil Seggos. They did not directly discuss climate change, though lawmakers said they want to spend money on a more immediate concern — ensuring clean drinking water for residents in the state.

Senate Finance Committee Chair Cathy Young, a Republican from Olean, said lawmakers are likely to propose spending more than Cuomo’s proposed $2 billion to repair and maintain water sources.

“We’re an old state, we were settled hundreds and hundreds of years ago,” Young said. “As a result, our communities across the state struggle with infrastructure problems.”

Meanwhile, a report by State Comptroller Tom DiNapoli, a Democrat, said the costs to keep water safe are far higher.

The report finds the federal Environmental Protection Agency put the costs of just maintaining the existing infrastructure at $22 billion between now and 2030, and the State Department of Health said $39 billion will be needed.

Karen DeWitt is Capitol Bureau Chief for New York State Public Radio, a network of 10 public radio stations in New York State. WBFO listeners are accustomed to hearing DeWitt’s insightful coverage throughout the day, including expanded reports on Morning Edition.