A new era for New York’s environment

Hands down, the biggest winner from this year’s legislative session was the environment. From start to finish, we saw the beginning of a new era for our environment. From the most aggressive climate law in the nation to congestion pricing to banning offshore drilling, 2019 was a banner year. The legislature passed bills to conserve New York’s waterways and biodiversity, permit new low-emission transportation options, encourage the use of renewable energy, reduce waste and protect children’s health. 

The legislative session started off quickly with the Senate and Assembly passing a ban on offshore drilling and a measure to prevent overfishing of bunker fish, proving that while the federal government is repealing protections for marine life, New York state is stepping up. Notably, these bills died in a fit of partisan squabbling last year.

The budget included the country’s first congestion pricing policy, which will decrease traffic congestion and air pollution while raising revenue for mass transit. The budget also began to tackle our growing waste crisis by enacting a food waste reduction and recycling law, and a plastic bag ban to finally end the scourge of these single-use bags. Again, these proposals had been debated for years but languished without the political courage necessary to move them forward. On top of the policy wins, the budget added another $500 million to fix leaky pipes and water systems. 

For Earth Day, the Child Safe Products Act (also known as the Toxic Toys bills) finally passed both houses. The legislation bans chemicals that are harmful to children’s health and requires manufacturers to publicly report potentially hazardous chemicals in products. Later, the legislature took action to enact a paint stewardship program that will responsibly collect, recycle and dispose of leftover paint products, reducing waste and saving taxpayers money. In case you haven’t noticed the pattern yet, these bills, too, were mired in circular debate for years.

Most significantly, the legislative session ended with the passage of the nation’s strongest climate law, the Climate Leadership and Community Protection Act. It requires New York to green the way we power and heat our homes, get around town, farm, and transport and manufacture goods. The CLCPA will make our economy carbon neutral by 2050, including a requirement to reduce total greenhouse gas emissions by 85%, as well as obtain 70% of our electricity from renewable sources by 2030 moving to 100% clean power by 2040.

To achieve economy-wide carbon neutrality, the transportation sector — the state’s number-one greenhouse gas contributor — must be addressed. Fortunately, a bill passed to legalize e-bikes and e-scooters. We need low-emission transportation options like these to reduce traffic congestion, improve air quality and make our streets more livable. Plus, their legalization removes antiquated restrictions on the way delivery workers, primarily immigrants, do their jobs. Working hand-in-hand with congestion pricing, the new climate bill and legalizing e-bikes and e-scooters will go a long way toward making New York City more livable for everyone. 

All this progress in just one year. So three cheers for our environmental champions in Albany, and here’s to an even greener 2020 session.

Julie Tighe is president of the New York League of Conservation Voters, based in Albany.