State lawmakers closed their legislative session in Albany last week, pushing into overtime as advocates made last minute efforts to pass several bills related to confronting climate change and improving renewable energy generation.
Ultimately, the Assembly did not bring to a floor vote two measures with a large number of sponsors: a major act that would allow the state to build its own renewable energy plants, and one that would require electric appliances in all new residential buildings.
“It’s a mixed bag,” Jeremy Cherson, a senior manager of government affairs at Riverkeeper, an environmental nonprofit, said of the legislative session.
Here is a rundown of the major climate and energy bills that did and did not pass the legislature at the end of the session.
Passed: Pause on crypto mining, flood disclosure and thermal energy
State lawmakers spent months discussing a proposed moratorium on mining for cryptocurrency, citing concerns about its environmental impact. One mining operation, in a retired power plant in Dresden, N.Y., where stacks of computer servers run 24/7 to generate bitcoin, uses enough natural gas to power 35,000 homes.
Last week, the legislature passed a two-year ban on the kind of energy-intensive form of cryptocurrency mining done in Dresden: re-starting mothballed fossil fuel energy plants and using their electricity solely to generate the digital tokens. This approach has become a popular venture in New York, where there are many shuttered power plants. The measure excludes operations that buy electricity from the grid, instead of generating their own.
The legislature also passed a bill that would require all residential leases to include information about a property’s flood risk and history of flooding incidents. An earlier version of the bill would have required such disclosure for all property sales, removing a loophole that has for decades allowed home sellers to pay a $500 waiver fee to avoid telling buyers about flood risk.
After that version of the bill got stuck in the Assembly’s judiciary committee, the bill’s sponsors refocused it on rental transparency, a victory that advocates called “half a loaf.” The bill’s supporters said they planned to push for flood transparency in sales in the next legislative session.
The legislature also passed an energy bill that saw wide agreement from climate advocates and private utility firms: The bill would have the state’s energy regulator push utilities to begin creating thermal energy networks, which use a system of insulated pipes to store and move the heat from routine electricity generation, dramatically lower emissions for heating homes, offices and commercial spaces.
All three bills are now going to Gov. Kathy Hochul’s desk to be signed. A spokesperson for Hochul said she is reviewing the legislation.
Not passed: Public renewable energy, all-electric buildings and ‘living shorelines’
Perhaps the marquee climate measure of the latter half of the state legislative session was the Build Public Renewables Act, a major bill that could have a dramatic change on energy supply and costs in the state.
The BPRA would allow the state to dramatically upscale its ability to build and operate renewable energy generation sites, such as wind farms and solar projects. Modeled on pre-New Deal era legislation in New York that created the state’s Power Authority, the bill would require the authority to generate all of its power from renewables by 2030.
Supporters of the BPRA said the bill would help the state meet its ambitious emissions goals and reduce utility costs across the state, especially for low-income households.
Utility companies and renewable energy firms opposed the bill, suggesting that it would put them in competition with the state.
“Setting NYPA and private clean energy developers on an unfair playing field is just simply not going to help us reach our clean energy goals,” Anne Reynolds, the executive director of the Alliance for Clean Energy, an industry group that represents renewable energy firms, told POLITICO.
The bill passed the Senate, but failed to pass the Assembly after Speaker Carl Heastie did not bring it to the floor for a vote, despite the Democratic Socialists of America, which made the bill the centerpiece of its legislative efforts, saying that it had sufficient support to pass.
“We feel that it's an abdication of duty,” Aaron Eisenberg, an organizer with DSA, said in an interview. “It’s going a third year saying that New York is a climate leader without the facts to back it up.”
The legislature also did not pass a bill that would eventually require all newly constructed buildings to use only electricity for heating and appliances, effectively outlawing fossil fuels. The bill had previously been included in the state budget, but was then excised during negotiations. New York City passed a similar measure in December.
Cherson said that the all-electric buildings bill, which Heastie did not bring to a vote, not passing the legislature was “unconscionable.”
“That's pretty irresponsible on his part,” Cherson said of Heastie.
A bill that would mandate the use of nature-based design in most shoreline construction also failed to pass the legislature. The Living Shorelines Act would require what the state’s environmental conservation agency already encourages: Construction along shorelines in most cases would need to incorporate designs that use natural elements to create wildlife habitat, mitigate flooding and reduce erosion.
That would entail eliminating beach construction mainstays like concrete bulkheads, which can increase erosion, and requiring protection and expansion of salt marshes and oyster reefs, which can lessen the intensity of storm surges and increase biodiversity.
The bill passed the senate, but, like BPRA, did not come for a vote in the Assembly, despite having sufficient supporters, according to Cherson.
In a statement on the BPRA, Heastie suggested that the bill did not have enough support to pass. He said that he supported the goals of the bill, and that the Assembly would get more public input on the bill at a newly scheduled July 28 hearing.
“There are several aspects of the legislation that these hearings will examine, including among others: capacity needed to meet goals, potential costs of needed infrastructure, impacts on consumers and taxpayers, acquisition costs, and siting and eminent domain criteria,” Heastie said.
Heastie also defended the session’s climate record, pointing to earlier legislation that passed a $4.2 billion bond act to fund climate resiliency projects, protected large swaths of state land and heightened energy efficiency standards for household appliances.
“These bills and many others build on the Assembly's long and proud tradition of working to protect our environment and recognizing the challenges to our climate,” Heastie said.
Eisenberg said that DSA plans to make the legislative shortfalls around climate a major focus of its political efforts going into the state Democratic primaries and the general election.
Cherson said that environmental advocates are planning to reintroduce bills that failed to pass this year in the next session.
“Endless pressure, endlessly applied,” Cherson said. “That's the only way to make change in a democratic society, to build enough support to overcome well-financed opposition.”