OPED: On Climate Change and Environment, Cuomo has Failed to Lead

The following OPED was published on March 12, 2018 in Crain's New York Business. It was written by Peter Iwanowicz, executive director of Environmental Advocates of New York.

On Climate Change and Environment, Cuomo has Failed to Lead

Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s rhetoric as a progressive reformer has not matched the reality of his environmental record during the past several years. He has been slow with policies to protect communities against climate change and strengthen our environment.

Remember how antifrackers had to chase Cuomo around for years before he banned the fracking of natural gas? We’re seeing the same lack of leadership from him in budget negotiations, but with the Trump administration rolling back major environmental protections, the stakes are much higher.

Cuomo’s proposed budget largely maintains the status quo and misses what this moment in history demands of the state. It’s a timid document lacking robust and aggressive investments to resist Trump’s assault on our environment and to put New York on a sustainable path.

Cuomo must do more to raise standards to safeguard our land, air and water. Until he does, it’s up to state legislators to amend the budget so New York can become a progressive beacon on climate policy. Although rarely given credit, the Legislature stepped up in 2015 with funding for clean water and in 2016 for electric-vehicle rebates.

Cuomo has been particularly weak on the following climate issues this year.

• The Climate and Community Protection Act. The governor excluded this far-reaching and bold legislation from his executive budget. It would eliminate human-caused climate pollution from all sectors by 2050 and mandate a complete shift to renewable energy while directing resources to disadvantaged communities and workers on the front lines of climate change.

• Carbon pricing. Making carbon polluters pay for the environmental harm they cause is an idea with growing support across the political spectrum and within the business community. Cuomo’s budget omits carbon pricing that could raise billions of dollars a year from the largest corporate polluters and reinvest it in clean energy.

• Environmental Protection Fund. Cuomo proposed a $300 million authorization for this major source of funding for large-scale environmental projects. But the state’s financial plan is at least $50 million short of the cash to back it. Cuomo should ensure it is fully funded through additional revenue raisers such as …

• A fee on plastic bags. Last year the governor—after signing a bill to nullify the city’s program to charge a 5-cent fee on disposable bags—convened a statewide task force to address the harmful impact of plastic bags. Cuomo has failed to live up to his promise of a statewide solution. His budget ignores the issue, even though a statewide fee could be a major source of revenue for the Environmental Protection Fund and climate policies.

• Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative. New York is one of nine northeastern states in this large-scale effort to cap carbon emissions from electric power facilities and save ratepayers money. But for the fourth straight year, the governor has proposed to raid the program’s funds—$23 million this time, after $147 million was taken during the past three years. Meanwhile, the program is running deep deficits.

Government budgets are about more than dollars and cents. They are moral statements of the values, commitments and ideals of the elected officials who create them.

Cuomo’s budget shows that he is not living up to his promises on the climate and environmental issues that affect the lives and health of New Yorkers every day. Our communities deserve better.

Peter Iwanowicz is executive director of Environmental Advocates of New York.