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April 6, 2022

BUDGET DEAL WILL INCLUDE WETLANDS PROTECTIONS — POLITICO's Marie J. French: The final budget deal is set to include long-sought expansions of protections for freshwater wetlands across the state, according to two people familiar with the discussions.  Environmental groups have been pushing to end the state's reliance on outdated maps of wetlands and instead use a more robust program to protect an additional million acres of the essential ecosystem that supports unique plant and animal life and serves as a natural flood barrier and carbon sink.

CLIMATE HEARINGS KICK OFF: The first opportunity for in-person input on the state’s sweeping plan to reshape how New York residents get to work, heat their homes and dispose of their trash was held in front of members of the Climate Action Council in the Bronx on Tuesday evening. The speakers almost seemed to alternate between environmental advocates calling for a strict focus on electrification and union members supporting a role for natural gas and a slower pace of electrifying buildings. “This city has been poisoning the children of the Bronx for decades,” said Victor Davila, with the Point CDC. He and several other environmental advocates called for the council to back a scenario that largely excludes the use of biofuels and hydrogen, instead focusing on electrification.

Members of Plumbers Local 1, which represents 6,000 workers in New York City that work on gas pipelines in a variety of construction projects, were particularly well represented. They warned of blackouts if the state transitions too quickly to renewables, higher costs and less reliability with electric heating, touting the perceived benefits of natural gas and the potential to continue using the system for renewable natural gas or hydrogen.

The state’s climate law enables the Public Service Commission to hit pause on the zero-emissions electricity goal if reliability is threatened. The mandate to reduce emissions by 85 percent from 1990 levels requires electrification of most sectors, according to the state’s analysis. Even burning gas from biomass or cow manure emits carbon dioxide and health-harming co-pollutants. Most policymakers are focused on non-combustion applications for green hydrogen produced from renewables. There remains no analysis of the estimated costs to a household or utility customer of all the new appliances, grid upgrades and other investments that will be required to achieve the state’s draft climate plan. Administration officials have instead indicated that each regulation to implement the plan would be evaluated for cost impacts.

The opposition from unions with concerns about the current direction of the state’s climate plan is further highlighted by the formation of the Clean Energy Jobs Coalition . The group launched last week and members include Teamsters Joint Council 16, New York State Pipe Trades, Laborers International Union of North America, Utility Workers Local 1-2, various local Plumbers & Steamfitters unions including the New York City local and many more. All told, they represent about 225,000 workers. The coalition is calling for a “reality check” on the state’s climate plan and supports new nuclear, hydrogen and geothermal; maintaining the gas system for hydrogen or renewable natural gas; upgrades to existing gas power plants; and more cost analysis. — Marie

ENVIROS STILL BATTLING ON EPR:A divided environmental community continues to clash over an extended producer responsibility measure backed by Gov. Kathy Hochul and Senate Democrats as part of the budget. Supporters of getting some form of the program over the finish line include Citizens Campaign for the Environment, New York League of Conservation Voters, Natural Resources Defense Council, Sierra Club and Environmental Advocates NY. Opposition has come from many local environmental groups across the state, some redemption centers, New York Public Interest Research Group, the League of Women Voters and New York Communities for Change. Perhaps the most vocal opponent of the EPR measure currently under discussion has been Judith Enck, a former regional EPA Administrator who founded Beyond Plastics.

She’s been adamant that the current proposal gives too much power to industry and will not reduce the amount of plastic and other waste produced. A provision that adds beverage containers not currently covered by the bottle deposit law is also of concern. “This EPR bill will close so many doors,” said Ana Martinez de Luco, a Catholic nun who helped set up a bottle redemption center in New York City, who visited lawmakers with Enck to oppose the proposal and support an expansion of the bottle bill. Enck said last week that Assemblymember Steve Englebright would soon introduce legislation that would be a better model for EPR, which she conceptually supports. Thebasic premise of EPRis to shift the costs of recycling and disposing of waste from local governments to the companies that produce it, incentivizing reduced packaging and more recyclable materials.

The EPR constructalso has local government and industry support that the biggest legislative proponent, Sen. Todd Kaminsky (D-Nassau), has highlighted as a positive. He’s been critical of environmentalists opposing efforts to finalize EPR in the budget. NYLCV’s Julie Tighe said environmental groups have asked for amendments to increase accountability and set recycled content requirements, among other improvements. “The program we have now is not really working to get a lot of recycling done,” she said. A deal on this complex topic area appeared unlikely as negotiations entered the final stretch and rumors of a final deal swirled Tuesday evening.— Marie

UNIONS AND OCEAN WIND —Reps.Bill PascrellandDonald Norcross(both D-N.J.) are among the backers of theOffshore Wind American Manufacturing Act, which will create a 30 percent investment tax credit for qualified facilities that manufacture offshore wind components and would “prioritize American workers by enhancing the credits where prevailing wages are paid for laborers involved in the construction and expansion of manufacturing facilities or where there is a unionized workforce in the manufacture of offshore wind products.”— Ry Rivard

WATER SECURITY WORRIES —At a House committee hearing on Tuesday, Rep.Tom Malinowski(D-N.J.) said, “I am very particularly concerned about securing water utilities in my state of New Jersey. In my district, one water company helps to service more than thirty municipalities across five counties — towns in my district like Millburn, Westfield, Raritan, and Roxbury. Many such water companies don't have the resources of a large hospital network or investment bank.”— Ry Rivard

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