The tangible impacts of climate are undeniable, whether it’s the unseasonably warm winter we’ve been having or the sewage and stormwater backups that regularly cause flooding on the Major Deegan Expressway, and in our own buildings and homes.
And the damage is real, costing the state an estimated $100 billion over the next decade in expected repairs. Last month alone, Gov. Kathy Hochul announced nearly $750 million for storm repairs and climate-related infrastructure upgrades throughout the state. That’s money coming out of the pockets of taxpaying New Yorkers that is not being invested in housing, education, transit, or our parks.
What if, instead of charging working New Yorkers to clean up this mess, we made the polluters pay?
That’s what the Climate Change Superfund Act would do, a bill I introduced together with state Sen. Liz Krueger, to establish a $75 billion fund that would be filled over 25 years by charging the biggest climate polluters — namely oil companies — in New York. It was, after all, these same oil companies that caused this chaos to begin with.
It’s well established that as far back as the 1970s, scientists working for “Big Oil” knew that burning fossil fuels would wreak havoc on the planet. But the companies put profits first. Today, Exxon — the largest oil producer in the world — is projecting $58 billion in profits for 2022. That’s more than double their 2021 earnings in spite of turmoil in Ukraine that was blamed for a nearly 100 percent increase in gas prices last year.
Meanwhile, Bronxites get stuck with the bill every time there is a climate disaster. When the power goes out, it’s us who must throw out hundreds of dollars of food and medication due to spoilage. When trees are knocked down and roads are flooded, it’s our city and state that must pay to clean that up.
When the Deegan floods, when our subways get flooded, when buses get rerouted — it’s working-class New Yorkers that are footing the bill to pay for extra child care or takeout because their commutes were lengthened.
Damage to the electrical grid from storms, which are 10 percent stronger than past years due to climate change, has left essential services more vulnerable than ever. I’m concerned about the large number of assisted-living facilities, residential homes, and hospitals in our community, which all have back-up generators but need to be able to rely on consistent power. That includes cooling centers for people seeking shelter from hotter and more deadly heat waves in the summer.
New York’s economy is built largely around a system of hundreds of miles of underground subway tunnels and stations — which, as we saw during Hurricane Sandy, are extremely vulnerable to water intrusion.
The Climate Superfund would help pay for HVAC updates in senior centers and schools, large-scale and life-saving infrastructure improvements, as well as upgrades to stormwater drainage and sewage treatment systems. It would also prepare the power grid for severe weather and help support emergency services in response to environmental and public health threats.
Making polluters pay to clean up their mess isn’t a new concept. My bill is modeled on the existing toxics superfund law, which deals with land and drinking water contamination that makes polluters financially responsible for the environmental damages that they’ve caused.
The legislation assesses the largest greenhouse gas emitters to pay to offset the expected tens of billions of dollars in expected climate damages that will have to be paid by the state. And these costs wouldn’t fall back on consumers, according to an analysis from the Institute for Policy Integrity at NYU Law.
The federal government already tried and failed to pass a version of the superfund. U.S. Reps. Jerry Nadler and Jamaal Bowman introduced something similar last year with support from over 40 members of the House of Representatives. But, with science-denying Republicans in control of the House, hope is slim.
That’s why it’s up to New York state to deliver, and why I’m fighting hard to make sure the final budget — due April 1 — includes the essential Climate Change Superfund Act.
The author is the Assemblyman representing the greater Riverdale area in the Northwest Bronx