The nation might be in a tailspin when it comes to saving the environment, but New York looks to be a silver lining in those deep, dark clouds.
The New York League of Conservation Voters awarded perfect scores to 65 state representatives this past session — the highest number since the scorecard was introduced three years ago. And both Assemblyman Jeffrey Dinowitz and state Sen. Alessandra Biaggi are among those top achievers.
The organization backed 16 bills — 12 of which passed both chambers — that addressed transportation, child safety, water quality, emission reduction and renewable energy, league president Julie Tighe said, in a release. The highlight of the legislative session was a sweeping bill requiring the state to switch to 100 percent clean power by 2040, reach carbon neutrality and 85 percent reduction in greenhouse gas emissions.
“The (legislation) is the most ambitious climate bill in the nation and reflects years of hard work from legislators,” Tighe said.
Other bills tackled important but often-overlooked issues. One created a paint stewardship program that requires manufacturers to accept and safely dispose of unused paint. Another bans harmful chemicals from children’s products.
Bills created water performance standards for household products, banned offshore drilling, and prohibited the mass harvest of Atlantic bunker fish that’s important to the ocean’s ecosystem.
The legislature passed a bill requiring the state transportation department to seek lawmakers’ suggestions for making transportation greener. It granted cities the power to allow and regulate e-bikes and e-scooters. It extended the statute of limitations for suing water polluters and higher protections for streams.
The state also passed bills to subsidize renewable energy, lower the carbon fuel standards, and give a larger number of people credits for using renewable energy.
One of the bigger bills for the city was congestion pricing to reduce the number of cars on Manhattan streets while raising revenue for mass transit. Dinowitz supported the bill after he successfully negotiated free passage on the Henry Hudson Bridge for Bronx residents beginning next year.
A lot of new environmental legislation passed both chambers this session because of the newfound Democratic majority in the senate, Dinowitz said. In the past, with Republicans in control, there was opposition in the upper chamber claiming the market — not the government — should regulate such issues.
“If you let the market regulate itself, we’re going to continue to cause environmental disaster,” the Assemblyman said. “I understand that businesses want to protect their own interest, but when business opposes things like this, they may be protecting their short-term interest, but in fact they’re hurting everybody’s long-term interest — including their own.”
New York has experienced some of the real impacts of climate change over the last decade, Dinowitz said. Hurricane Sandy was “probably the most important and damaging wake-up call” to city leaders because it demonstrated just how vulnerable the city was to increasingly violent weather.
As the polar ice caps melt and the ocean level rises, a low-elevation island could see its land mass shrink and its center prone to regular flooding. The northwest Bronx — which Dinowitz and Biaggi represent in Albany — is probably the safest, considering it sits on top of a rocky hill.
“If we want in the future for New York City to be five boroughs and not just one borough, namely the Bronx, we have to address these issues,” Dinowitz said. “At some point, we’re going to reach the point of no return.”
Climate change is the most pressing issue facing the country, and leaders’ actions now determine if the Earth that future generations inherit is one of beauty and bounty, or one where life struggles to thrive, Biaggi said, in a statement.
“In my very gerrymandered district, from north to south, the air is different,” she said. “There is a significant decrease in air quality the further south you travel, such that the south Bronx is left with some of the highest asthma rates in the country.”
Many people think of climate change as a global issue, but real change can begin at home, the senator said. It starts with people asking how they can ensure the damage done to our planet isn’t permanent.
“I look forward to continuing on this path next session,” Biaggi said, because my constituents and all New Yorkers deserve clean air, clean water, and an environment that enables them to live a healthy life.”