Environmental policy experts referred to it as a turning point when New York regulators refused a permit for the controversial Williams Pipeline in 2020. This was partly because it violated state climate laws.
Climate campaigners stated that developers no longer have the right to pitch major fossil fuel projects in the State without facing serious regulatory scrutiny or legal challenges.
In October, this prediction was reinforced. State regulators denied permits to two natural gas power stations. They again cited the landmark climate legislation, which requires New York’s power sector to be net-zero by 2040 and reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 85 percent by 2050.
New Yorkers approved an amendment to their state constitution to give all residents access to clean air, clean water, and a healthy environment. According to some experts, the amendment passed with nearly 70% of the vote. It could strengthen lawsuits against polluters as well as discourage future developers from proposing projects using fossil fuels in the state.
The states climate law, paired with the new constitutional right to a clean and healthy environment, could set the stage for citizens to sue the government or other entities more easily for things like polluting a river or hindering the states legally binding clean energy targets, said Michael Gerrard, director of Columbia University’s Sabin Center for Climate Change Law.
Global warming can be caused by fossil fuel combustion. However, it can also release harmful chemicals and particles into the atmosphere. This has been proven to lead to serious health risks and premature deaths.One recent studyIt was found that the soot from the burning of fossil fuels causes more than 50,000 premature deaths in the United States each year.
Gerrard stated that it sends the message that new large, fossil fuel facilities will cause major problems in New York. These decisions are not a death sentence, but they do signal that there is a way forward.
Gerrard said that New York’s new constitutional rights are still not clear in terms of how much weight they carry. The courts may take several more years to define the provision in concrete terms. Only a few states have similar environmental protection provisions in the constitutions of their states, and even fewer have had state courts decide that those provisions are legal.
Out of the six states that have such constitutional provisionsPennsylvania, Montana, Hawaii, Massachusetts, Illinois and Rhode Islandonly courts in Pennsylvania, Montana and Hawaii have acted upon enforcing them, Gerrard said.
For example, the Pennsylvania Supreme Court used their constitutional right to a clean and safe environment to overturn local government bans on fracking on certain areas.
New York’s climate law already plays a significant role in what is being done.A very public fightBetween a powerful natural gas sector and lawmakers who have been under increasing pressure to take global warming seriously from their constituents. The popularity of the clean environmental amendment is only increasing the confidence of climate advocates who want to see stronger legislative action to transition the state toward clean energy.
Since years, major utilities have tried to expand New York’s gas infrastructure, seeing it as an opportunity for growth.
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According to its 2018 annual reports, National Grid, a London-based utility company, planned to spend approximately $2.5 billion over three year on new natural gas projects upstate New York. The utility had heavily supported the Williams Pipeline and argued that it was necessary to meet New York’s rapidly increasing energy demand. The pipeline would have brought additional natural gasoline from Pennsylvania into New York City, and Long Island.
However, the industry has been sent a clear message by the rejection of permits and the popularity of the clean environment amendment. Conor Bambrick is the director of climate policy at Environmental Advocates NY, which promotes green policies.
State lawmakers Introduced legislationThis year, the city council voted to ban natural gas hookups in new buildings. New York City is currently considering a similar measure to protect its buildings.A public hearingThis week, the deadline was earlier in the week. Both proposals will likely be met with strong opposition from the gas industry.
The state will release its first draft of its plan detailing how it plans to achieve the ambitious climate law targets later this year. Public input will be allowed for another year. To meet these targets, lawmakers will likely need to adopt aggressive measures, such as a ban of natural gas.
Preliminary results of a state-funded analysis conducted in July showed that New York is far from meeting the emission reductions required by its climate law. Even if every proposal was implemented,
Bambrick said this was a very eye-opening finding. However, the overwhelming support that he received from New Yorkers for the clean environment amendment helped him feel more confident that the state can rein in its emissions.
He said that the state appears to be coming up with an aggressive plan. It is a good sign for the future.
Reporter, New York City
Kristoffer Tieg is a New York City-based reporter with Inside Climate News. He covers environmental justice and manages ICNs Social Media. His work has been published by Reuters, Scientific American and Public Radio International. Tigue has a Masters of Journalism from the Missouri School of Journalism. His feature writing won many Missouri Press Association awards.