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Supporters of NY HEAT Act ask Hochul to make the measure part of her budget

In this photo taken from video, a man drives a scooter through flood waters, Friday, Sept. 29, 2023, in the Brooklyn borough of New York. A potent rush-hour rainstorm swamped the New York metropolitan area. The deluge Friday shut down swaths of the subway system, flooded some streets and highways, and cut off access to at least one terminal at LaGuardia Airport.
Jake Offenhartz
/
The Associated Press
In this photo taken from video, a man drives a scooter through flood waters, Friday, Sept. 29, 2023, in the Brooklyn borough of New York. A potent rush-hour rainstorm swamped the New York metropolitan area. The deluge Friday shut down swaths of the subway system, flooded some streets and highways, and cut off access to at least one terminal at LaGuardia Airport.

Supporters of a bill that would move New York more quickly to clean energy sources say the torrential rain that flooded parts of New York City last week is one more example of climate change causing more severe weather.

The measure is known as the New York Home Energy Affordable Transition, or HEAT, Act. It would end over $200 million in subsidies for the state’s oil and gas industry by eliminating the so-called 100-foot rule.

That requires utilities to install new gas lines for free to hook up customers who live within 100 feet of an existing gas main. But rate-paying customers — not the utility — shoulder the cost. Critics argue the rule unfairly advantages choosing gas, which often comes from fracked sources, over cleaner forms of energy.

The bill would also cap energy bills at 6% of income for low- and middle-income families, saving those households an estimated $75 per month.

Advocates, including Sonal Jessel with the group We Act for Environmental Justice, said Friday’s record rainfall came after floods from Hurricane Ida two years ago, damaging rainfall in the Hudson Valley over the summer, and smoky air from Canadian wildfires. She said the incidents can’t just be accepted as “the new normal.”

“These events are only getting more frequent and more severe. We have to get off fossil fuels now,” Jessel said. 

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She added said the measure would start to “get New York off the polluting, outdated fracked gas pipeline system that supercharges storms like the one we just had.”

Justin Henning, a resident of the Gowanus section of Brooklyn, said when he picked up his young daughter from school Friday, the bus they were riding home encountered a pond of water in the road that was two-and-a-half feet deep. After the water started seeping into the bus, he said he picked up his daughter and jumped up on the seat.

“My daughter was scared, she didn't know what was going on,” Henning said. “It's really tough to go through that.”

The bill passed the state Senate but stalled in the Assembly. The oil and gas industry opposes the measure.

Senate sponsor Liz Krueger, whose Manhattan district was affected by Friday’s flooding, is among those asking Gov. Kathy Hochul not to wait for the Assembly to act, but to instead incorporate the provisions of the NY HEAT Act into her next state budget.

“Friday's experience of crisis wasn't even a big storm. It's just what they're calling heavy rain in the new normal,” Krueger said. “Heavy rain can do that much damage, because frankly, our infrastructure is not there to meet our needs.”

She said costs for upgrading the city’s sewer systems to withstand the more intense rainfall could be $100 billion.

Krueger and the advocates say the legislation would also help New York carry out the goals of its 2019 Climate Leadership and Community Protection Act.

Avi Small, a spokesman for Hochul, did not comment directly on the request. He said only that the governor “looks forward to releasing the details of her Executive Budget next year, as required by law.”

Karen DeWitt is Capitol Bureau chief for the New York Public News Network, composed of a dozen newsrooms across the state. She has covered state government and politics for the network since 1990.