Why New York Must Pass the Climate and Community Investment Act (CCIA)
By Abraham ReissPublished January 14, 2022
New York State is facing an ongoing climate crisis. Warming temperatures, rising sea levels, and increases in precipitation have increased the risk of disastrous extreme weather events. In September 2021, the toll that Hurricane Ida took on the state––and New York City in particular––became a shocking example of the dangers of climate change. In the city, the storm overwhelmed vulnerable infrastructure and caused extreme flooding, leading to extensive damage and costing the lives of 13 people.
However, the impacts of the climate crisis disproportionately harm low-income communities of color, creating striking disparities in health risks and living conditions. Adverse impacts of climate change are often intensified along the lines of existing inequality, which puts the most disadvantaged areas and populations on the frontlines. In these vulnerable areas, often termed “environmental justice” communities, socioeconomic and environmental factors combine to create disproportionately higher health and safety risks from extreme weather and pollution exposure.
There have been widespread calls from environmental activists and organizations to both confront the dangerous impacts of climate change and to launch an equitable transition to renewables. In response, New York has taken ambitious steps to curb the climate crisis and to address the struggles of frontline communities. In 2019, Albany bowed to the pressure of NY Renews, a coalition of over 200 state advocacy organizations, and passed the Climate Leadership and Community Protection Act (CLCPA), which establishes a commitment to reach net-zero carbon emissions by 2050. The Act also includes a mandate that 40% of state climate and energy funding be directed towards environmental justice communities. However, the CLCPA alone is not enough; without adequate sources of funding, the Act’s goals will not be possible.
By making polluters pay for emissions, and by steering funds towards frontline communities and investments in green jobs and infrastructure, the Climate and Community Investment Act (CCIA) offers New York State a crucial opportunity to ensure what NY Renews calls a “just transition” into a renewable future.
By placing a surcharge of $55 on every ton of carbon dioxide emissions––an amount equivalent to the pollution created from burning around 100 barrels of gasoline––the CCIA would discourage polluters. However, the legislation would do more than disincentivize harmful emissions; it would also raise around $15 billion in annual revenues. This money would be directed towards investments in a renewable future, including in programs that would boost green infrastructure, create green jobs, and aid vulnerable environmental justice communities. Under the bill, 30% of the revenues would be devoted to grants for community organizations; 30% would be directed towards renewable energy; 33% would fund rebates to low and middle income earners, small businesses, and nonprofits; and the final 7% would assist workers who have lost their jobs in non-renewable industries.
Because the CCIA currently has vocal supporters in the State Legislature, many Republican skeptics have contended that the costs of the bill would fall on consumers. These policymakers have grounded their public opposition in the argument that the CCIA would bring up prices at the gas pump. Some Democrats were also fearful of a price hike that could reportedly reach up to 55 cents per gallon. One Republican State Senator, Dan Stec of Queensbury, reported that “the people that are going to be hit the hardest by [the costs of the bill] are the working class, the families that are struggling.”
However, there are many reasons to doubt or push back against Stec’s view. First, the bill includes a provision that directs $1,100 in rebate annually to families in upstate New York who earn less than $77,000 in income. Combined with the bill’s support for frontline communities and those losing jobs in fossil fuel-related industries, the benefits for low-income New Yorkers outweigh potential price jumps at the pump––which, some argue, may not even happen.
The CCIA presents a critical opportunity for New York State. In order to reach the State’s ambitious goals, legislators need to pass policies that will raise revenue. They must also discourage emissions that endanger their constituents by making polluters pay. Further, the CCIA offers a chance to address decades of environmental injustice. In particular, climate change has damaged the health and quality of life of residents of marginalized frontline communities, and the escalating crisis threatens to increase this harm. New York State policymakers are at a critical juncture, and passing the CCIA would be a strong step towards a renewable and equitable future for the state.