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Making polluters pay for climate resiliency is a priority for these New Yorkers

Susan Watts/Office of the Governor Kathy Hochul

A coalition of environmentalists urge Gov. Kathy Hochul to require in her upcoming state budget a measure that would make polluters pay for New York’s climate adaptation projects.

By 2030, climate change is expected to cost New York an estimated $55 billion.

The Climate Change Superfund Act could shift the responsibility of paying for shoreline restoration and other climate resilient infrastructure projects to the fossil fuel industry and other corporate polluters.

“Climate change is devastating,” said Margaret Maher, a Long Island volunteer with Food & Water Watch.

Maher joined environmental protests planned for Mineola, as well as Buffalo and Albany on Friday, to urge the governor to support the measure. Hochul’s office did not respond to requests for comment.

The governor is supposed to submit an executive budget by mid-January. However, recent heavy rains that flooded parts of New York City, the Hudson Valley and Nassau County have fueled environmentalists to warn their elected officials of the intensifying impacts of climate change.

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“As a grandmother, I worry about my grandson and future grandchildren,” Maher said. “How can these innocence be burdened with devastation of climate change brought on by Big Oil? And nothing is really being done.”

The bill passed the state Senate last session, but stalled in the House.

The fossil fuel industry opposes the measure, which would make them pay a combined $3 billion per year. The industry is the largest producer of greenhouse gas emissions, and continues to make record-breaking profits.

Similar legislation in the federal government failed to pass in 2021.

“New York — the nation, the world — is facing huge costs due to climate change,” said Blair Horner, executive director of NYPIRG, a nonpartisan and nonprofit research organization. “The rapidly heating planet is rising sea levels. It's making our world hotter. It's contributing to air pollution due to forest fires.”

“The list goes on and on and on. And the cost to New Yorkers is going to be staggering,” he added.

On Long Island alone, the region has seen this year “prolonged heat waves, increased air pollution, floods and chemical exposures from collapsing infrastructure,” said Patricia Wood, founder and executive director of Grassroots Environmental Education.

She points to ongoing negotiations between the state Department of Environmental Conservation and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to address intense coastal erosion of Fire Island beaches.

A long-planned beach restoration project is scheduled to begin next month on the barrier island’s west end — from Kismet to Seaview. In 2019, Suffolk County made an emergency request to the Army Corps after a series of storms pounded Fire Island. The project will be entirely paid by the federal government.

There are at least three more requests to address the impacts from extreme weather in recent years.

“Long Island is on the front line of climate change from coastal erosion,” said Ryan Madden, a sustainability organizer with the Long Island Progressive Coalition. “Rising sea levels, and air pollution are sickening our community members. We know that something needs to be done.”

A native Long Islander, J.D. is WSHU's managing editor. He also hosts the climate podcast Higher Ground. J.D. reports for public radio stations across the Northeast, is a journalism educator and proud SPJ member.