Update: On Wednesday, Hochul’s office walked back its plan to weaken the state’s climate law, saying it was no longer a priority.
New York Gov. Kathy Hochul (D) is pushing to gut the state’s signature climate law after raking in nearly half a million dollars from the corporations and lobbyists pushing the move, according to a Lever review of campaign finance records.
The governor’s office wants to place a provision into the state’s $230 billion budget that would change how the state counts methane emissions, allowing energy companies to include more natural gas in their energy mix while still complying with the state’s climate law.
“The governor and her administration’s track record of decisive action to move away from fossil fuels toward a zero-emission economy speaks for itself,” two Hochul administration officials wrote in an op-ed supporting the proposed change on Monday. “We’re confident that the final budget will shape up to include historic climate commitments — including an economy-wide cap-and-invest program, ways to accelerate our development of renewable energy and our transition to all-electric buildings — so we can ultimately reach our climate goals while ensuring affordability for New York families.”
In 2019, New York passed the Climate Leadership and Community Protection Act (CLCPA), which stipulated the most ambitious requirements in the country for how quickly the state should decarbonize its economy. The CLCPA requires the state to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 40 percent by 2030, and achieve net-zero emissions by 2050.
But Hochul is now backing a provision — first introduced by state Senate Energy Committee Chair Kevin Parker (D) — that would use an accounting trick to allow the state to continue burning natural gas for decades longer. Under the CLCPA, the state calculates the impact of climate emissions over a 20-year period — one of only two states that does so. Hochul’s proposed change would revise that to a 100-year period.
The provision would benefit natural gas producers and utilities, because it would impact how methane, the primary component of natural gas, is treated by the law. While methane lingers in the atmosphere for a much shorter time period than carbon dioxide, the gas has 80 times the warming power of carbon dioxide in the first 20 years after it is released.
Under the current accounting, the state’s climate law requires a rapid transition from gas to renewable sources, especially in buildings, which are the state’s primary source of emissions and largely heated by gas. Changing the accounting window from 20 to 100 years would mean projecting methane to contribute less to warming than it currently is — allowing more natural gas to be burned while still complying with the law’s emissions requirements.
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“[Hochul’s] proposal is indistinguishable from something a Governor Lee Zeldin would have tried to get away with,” said Pete Sikora, climate and inequality campaigns director at New York Communities for Change. Zeldin was Hochul’s Republican opponent in the 2022 election. “This isn’t really that complicated: Instead of trying to gut the law on behalf of the gas lobby, she should implement it.”
Hochul’s office told Politico that the accounting changes are necessary to keep costs low for utility customers. Her office also said that the cost of the CLCPA hadn’t been fully analyzed.
During her 2022 campaign, the governor received more than $480,000 in donations from utility and fossil fuel executives and lobbyists who could benefit if Hochul’s proposed changes end up in the budget, according to a Lever review.
John Hess, CEO of the oil and gas giant Hess Corp, and his wife gave Hochul a combined $117,000 last election cycle. John Catsimatidis, the CEO of United Metro Energy, which provides gas to New York City and Long Island, donated $94,000. The CEO of National Fuel, New York’s largest gas-only utility, donated $5,000. The CEO of Consolidated Edison, a gas and electricity utility, donated $10,000, and the CEO of National Grid, also a gas and electric utility, donated $1,000.
National Grid’s state and federal employee political action committees (PACs) donated a combined $13,500 to Hochul. National Grid and National Fuel have previously supported changes to the accounting framework under the climate law.
The energy company Avangrid, which owns the utility New York State Electric and Gas, donated $160,000 to Hochul through its employee PAC, while individual executives at the firm donated $4,500.
Daniel Ortega, the executive director of New Yorkers for Affordable Energy, told The Lever his group didn’t yet have a stance on Hochul’s proposal. But, he said, “We’re very happy that Sen. Parker is thinking about this issue and making sure that the voice of New Yorkers is heard when it comes to affordability and making sure that these ideas are moving forward at the right pace.”
Lobbying firms representing utility companies and fossil fuel companies additionally donated tens of thousands of dollars to Hochul’s campaign.