Gotham Gazette

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Prop 1, the Environmental Bond Act, is a Once-in-a-Generation Investment Opportunity

On the waterfront (photo: Darren McGee/Governor's Office)

As New Yorkers head to the polls in this general election, which ends on Tuesday, November 8, there’s more than just candidates on the ballot. Voters across the state will decide on one ballot proposal, with three more for New York City voters only.

These ballot measures, or propositions, are yes/no questions on proposals to enact laws or constitutional amendments. Placed on the ballot for approval or rejection by the electorate, these major questions give enormous power to New York voters.

Question one is a statewide environmental proposal that, if approved, would have a monumental impact and ensure the state invests in equitable, long-term solutions to make communities healthier, safer, and more climate-resilient. The Clean Air, Clean Water, and Green Jobs Bond Act is the most significant environmental and climate opportunity in New York State in the last 30 years. It will enable us to access $4.2 billion worth of investments to protect clean drinking water, reduce flooding, restore natural resources, and reduce air pollution across the state.

The last environmental bond act in New York, all the way back in 1996, allocated $1.75 billion across the state. Then-Governor Pataki proposed the bond act and shepherded it through the Legislature by forming a bipartisan coalition that outweighed historical opposition. Notably, that funding led to forest preserve purchases in the Catskills and Adirondacks, conserved land and water across the state, and established New York’s first brownfield remediation program.

In March 2020, then-Governor Cuomo launched a campaign to pass legislation allowing voters to approve a $3 billion environmental bond act. In September 2021, Governor Kathy Hochul asked legislative leaders to amend the bond issue to include an additional $1 billion. Renamed the Clean Water, Clean Air, and Green Jobs Environmental Bond Act, it was increased to $4.2 billion when the Legislature gave it passage in April to advance the proposal to the voters this fall.

All New York voters should make sure to find the proposal(s) on their ballot and approve question 1, the environmental bond act.

“By putting forth bold plans to move New York into a safer, healthier, and more just future for all its residents, Governor Hochul has shown what can be done when a public official takes the existential crisis of climate change seriously,” said Peter Linderoth, Director of Water Quality, Save the Sound, in one of many supportive statements from long-time environmentalists and climate advocates across the state. The proposal is also supported by many leaders focused on environmental justice and in organized labor.

I’m a first-generation New Yorker, and I’ve lived in the East Bronx my entire life. Earlier this year, I ran for State Senate in New York’s 34th District, which unifies the coastal communities of Soundview, Throggs Neck, Pelham Bay, Country Club, and City Island in the Bronx with New Rochelle and The Pelhams in Westchester County. During my campaign, I was fortunate to connect with thousands of residents living in these shore communities of the East Bronx and Southeastern Westchester.

Across these neighborhoods, each with its own identity and unique characteristics, one thing was familiar — the impacts of climate change were evident. The flooding threats after a sudden and heavy storm continue to be a burden, especially in areas with sewage overflow problems. One rain shower could lead to severe aftereffects; damage to a home, a vehicle, and disrupted infrastructure is expected, in addition to the financial and health-related burdens residents are forced to endure. 

When a summer storm would arrive, neighbors would rush to attempt to protect as much of their property as possible. Moving a car to higher ground and clearing basements of valuables were the first steps in preparing for the worst. As the rain comes down, our local infrastructure gets impacted as well; significant roadways and local streets would flood, as would driveways, building lobbies, and basements.

One Pelham resident shared with me that she had seen three of her cars get destroyed due to the power of these surging storms and flash floods. I often heard a popular refrain, “The streets turn into rivers,” as I would speak to voters door to door. A Bronx resident complained that flood insurance had become astronomical at their City Island home due to the regular and destructive flooding they continued to endure. Our sewage overflow systems are over one hundred years old, and rising sea levels exacerbate these concerns for coastal homeowners. Climate change impacts are felt regularly in the East Bronx and Southeastern Westchester.

In other areas of the state, the effects of the climate crisis had far more fatal results, such as when 11 died in Queens during the aftermath of Hurricane Ida due to the flooding of several basement apartments. 

In July, Congressman Jamaal Bowman toured several towns affected by Hurricane Ida in Westchester County with the Army Corps of Engineers. The Congressman assessed the issues our Sound shore communities face, and in September, he shared that he had secured millions in federal funding for flood mitigation and flood prevention resources. Thanks to the Inflation Reduction Act, hundreds of billions of dollars will be invested in making our communities resilient and kickstarting the clean energy revolution. 

Earlier this year, I believed legislation was the fastest way to address the climate crisis. In the New York State Legislature, the passage of bills like the Climate and Community Investment Act (CCIA), the Build Public Renewables Act, and the Living Shorelines Act are some of the most transformational policy proposals that could significantly impact our state. However, partisan politics and influence from special interests have made passing these bills difficult. The Clean Air, Clean Water, Green Jobs Bond Act uses capital to address critical climate initiatives while creating meaningful union jobs, and our citizenry has the final say! We need to invest in our safety and resiliency, and The Clean Air, Clean Water, Green Jobs Bond Act can help us do that. 

Climate change is exposing long-term vulnerabilities in our region. Regardless of socioeconomic status, the many impacts of the climate crisis are projected to worsen — from drastic temperature and sea level changes to more common extreme weather events and shifting storm patterns. A child born today faces multiple and life-long health harms from climate change, growing up in a warmer world with risks of food shortages, infectious diseases, floods, and extreme heat. Climate change is already harming people’s health by increasing the number of extreme weather events and exacerbating air pollution. The air we breathe and the water we drink come at a price, and in communities with marginalized populations, our neighbors are likely to bear the brunt of this crisis.

We face some of the state’s most significant infrastructure and climate challenges. Storms like Hurricanes Sandy, Henri, Ida, and others have revealed flood risks across all five boroughs and lower Westchester. Flooding is affecting coastal communities more than ever, and it’s also become more of an inland problem given our challenges dealing with the most intense rainfalls.

Funding from the restoration, flood risk reduction, water quality improvement, and resilient infrastructure programs of the environmental bond act could jumpstart more coastal rehabilitation, shoreline restoration, green infrastructure, and sewer upgrade projects in flood-vulnerable communities, including environmental justice communities.

As New York faces a long and uncertain path toward economic recovery from the COVID-19 pandemic, the estimated economic impact of the proposed bond act includes support for $8.7 billion in project spending and over 84,000 jobs. These types of investments, working in conjunction with major federal funding initiatives, create good-paying local jobs and provide economic returns to local economies.

One of the most critical components of the bond act is the focus on ensuring that benefits reach environmental justice communities. The measure requires that New York spend 35% of the $4.2 billion on projects benefiting disadvantaged communities.

The bond act would enable multi-year investments across four major categories.

1. $650 million for water quality improvement and resilient infrastructure, focused on projects that protect clean water, such as stormwater infrastructure, drinking water, and wastewater infrastructure projects, pollution control, and lead service line replacements.

2. $1.5 billion for climate change mitigation, including investments in urban heat reduction, energy efficiency in buildings, renewable energy, and reducing air and water pollution.

3. $1.1 billion for environmental restoration and flood risk reduction. This funding will support voluntary buyouts in flood-prone areas; waterfront, wetland, and stream restoration; and dam removal and transportation infrastructure upgrades for flood reduction.

4. $650 million for open space land conservation and recreation. This funding will conserve forests, open space, and family farms and support upgrades to parks and other recreational infrastructure providing new and enhanced access to the outdoors.

Cities, towns, and communities across New York State will reap benefits from the Clean Air, Clean Water, and Green Jobs Bond Act. Every county in New York has declared disaster declarations due to flooding in the last ten years alone, and flooding continues to be the most common climate hazard in the state.

In each decade from the 1960s through the 1990s, New Yorkers approved bond acts to support environmental programs. The 2022 Clean Air, Clean Water, Green Jobs Bond Act is a once-in-a-generation opportunity to access $4.2 billion worth of investments to protect clean drinking water, reduce flooding, restore natural resources, and reduce air pollution across the state, while leveraging billions more coming from the federal government.

When you vote, vote yes on ballot question 1, the Clean Air, Clean Water, and Green Jobs Bond Act.

Christian Amato is an organizer, activist, and political strategist, from the Bronx, New York. He is the founder of Consense Strategies. On Twitter @AmatoForNY.

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