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Hochul Climate Officials Walk Back Last-Minute Budget Change

Governor Kathy Hochul and officials within her administration have hit a snag as they move to finalize and pass the executive budget.  Last week, Hochul’s top climate officials announced a handful of changes to the state’s climate portion of the budget that could have major impacts.  Namely, a change in the accounting of methane gas which would lower the number of emissions businesses would have to take into account going forward.  

State Department of Environmental Conservation commissioner Basil Seggos and NYSERDA president and CEO Doreen Harris went so far as to engage in a media blitz to assure the general public of the viability of the change in accounting to manage the budget better.  Now, those same officials are pulling back and de-prioritizing the move.  

The accounting change in question is one that makes New York and Maryland unique in their accounting of methane gas.  Methane has a large impact on warming than even Carbon Dioxide; however, it leaves the atmosphere within the span of decades instead of centuries.  Maryland and New York, under the advice of numerous climate experts, chose to measure methane’s impact over a 20-year period rather than a 100-year period like the majority of the states.  

The budget change would’ve seen New York State joining the rest of the union in its 100-year measurement.  

Multiple agencies, businesses, and activists voiced their opinions on the last-minute budget change.  Many large energy-dependent companies praised the idea, hoping to take advantage of the wiggle room a 100-year measure would give them in meeting the demands New York state has, including slashing emissions by 40% in 2030. 

Meanwhile, climate experts and officials voiced their concern for this last-minute adaptation to the bill, which seemed out of line with the aggressive idealism previously set for New York State’s fight against climate change.  Cornell University biochemist Robert Howarth, whose expertise in methane was used to help craft the state’s current accounting, stated, “It would be a huge setback for us — at least a couple of years.”  While Liz Moran, a northeast policy advocate at Earthjustice, had this to say: “What this change would do is it would make gas companies look like they’ve been reducing their emissions overnight when they actually wouldn’t have to have done anything differently.”Since the backlash, climate officials have vowed to put the idea of accounting changes on the back burner; and, instead, focus on the Cap and Invest program, which would push gas companies to buy allowances for carbon emissions, which would fund clean energy projects and rebates to ease the cost on consumers at the gas pump. 

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