Gov. Hochul talks climate (photo: Governor's Office)
New York is poised to ban fossil fuels in new buildings statewide. A politically popular priority of New York’s grassroots climate movement, the law would be the first of its kind in the country. With the Governor, Senate, and Assembly on board, they can make it happen in the state budget that will be finalized any day now.
The key question that remains: how fast will they move to ban fossil fuels in new construction?
It is imperative that New York ban fossil fuels in new buildings starting in 2025, with no delays and no loopholes. New York City, Ithaca, and Beacon already have bold gas bans on the books that go into effect in 2024. The more lawmakers delay, the more fossil fuel profiteers lock their dirty fuels into New York’s energy mix, harming public health, deepening environmental injustice, and worsening the climate crisis.
Cleaning up building pollution also means stopping the projects meant to deliver more gas. One major fracked gas pipeline expansion will be decided this month — it must be stopped. The Iroquois Pipeline Company has a proposal before the state to substantially increase the amount of fracked gas moved through the 37-year-old pipeline that runs from the Canadian border to New York City and Long Island. To make it happen, the company has proposed doubling the size of four toxic compressor stations in the Hudson Valley and Connecticut
In addition to increasing climate pollution, the Iroquois gas expansion threatens public health. Compressor stations are toxic, noisy equipment linked to serious health risks. A Food & Water Watch analysis found that compressor stations emit ozone and smog-forming particulate matter linked to asthma, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, low birth weights, and certain cancers. What’s more, homes near compressor stations report noise levels far exceeding guidelines from the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), with negative implications for quality of life and health, including sleep deprivation.
Iroquois’ gas expansion proposal is environmentally unjust. The compressor stations proposed for expansion are located in Athens and Dover, communities that already shoulder more than their fair share of fossil fuel infrastructure. Dover residents already live in the shadow of the massive Cricket Valley fracked gas power plant; next door, the Athens Generating Plant, which also runs on fracked gas, looms over homes and schools. It’s a sadly common story, where the same communities are required over and over again to bear an ever increasing burden of pollution. At a time when we need to be moving off fossil fuels as quickly as possible, we can’t keep dumping more pollution on these communities.
The Iroquois gas expansion would also undermine our state’s climate goals. By 2030, New York must reduce economy-wide greenhouse gas emissions 40% – 85% by 2050. These targets are ambitious, but they are also achievable – unless we continue to allow new fossil fuel infrastructure in New York. To date, Governor Hochul has rejected several fracked gas power plants, but greatly expanding an existing pipeline’s capacity, with all the attendant increases in greenhouse gas emissions, is just as destructive to a livable future as building one from scratch.
Last but not least, Iroquois’ gas expansion proposal is profoundly unnecessary. New York City is making bold strides off fossil fuels, from Local Law 97 to the new construction gas ban. As of next year, buildings — our largest polluters — will be getting off gas. Iroquois’ proposal flies in the face of our local laws. Even the EPA has weighed in, writing that the Iroquois pipeline expansion proposal is unnecessary and out of alignment with state and federal climate policies.
The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) report released last month was clear: fossil fuels have got to go. It’s up to states like New York to lead the way in ending our reliance on destructive fuels like fracked gas. Governor Hochul and the Legislature must enact a prompt ban on fossil fuels in new buildings starting in 2025 in the state budget and reject the Iroquois Pipeline expansion.
Laura Shindell is a Senior New York Organizer with the national advocacy organization Food & Water Watch. She is based in Queens. On Twitter @LShindell & @foodandwater.