Opinion: New York’s Climate Policy Needs to Lift All Boats

More
getting water after sandy

Neil de Mause

A resident of Coney Island deals with the aftermath of Superstorm Sandy in 2012.

Nine counties in New York State have an F rating in air quality from the American Lung Association, and it’s no surprise that these counties are among those with the highest populations of people of color. Climate change creates a vicious cycle in my community, and in other low-income communities and communities of color in New York State. Polluting power plants and smoggy highways run straight through poor neighborhoods, triggering asthma attacks and lung disease among New York’s most vulnerable communities.

Climate change impacts all of us, but not equally. All together, low-income communities and communities of color are being squeezed from both ends by the climate crisis. Through air pollution, brownfields sites (lots containing toxic waste or pollution), waste facilities and highways, the extractive fossil fuel economy takes an enormous toll on our homes, health, jobs, and communities, leaving us less prepared to deal with the impacts of climate change, including storms, floods, and heat.

In Brownsville, the neighborhood I represent, children are nearly twice as likely to be hospitalized for asthma attacks than in the rest of Brooklyn, a direct result of pollution caused by burning fossil fuels. These fossil fuels, in turn, are warming our planet, causing hotter summers and heavier storms.

During these hot summers, Brownsville residents are more likely to become ill or even die from heat stroke. Tall buildings and concrete sidewalks trap heat, increasing the temperature in our neighborhoods to unsafe levels. At the same time, low-income residents can’t afford air conditioning to keep them safe and cool. This is particularly true for folks living in NYCHA, which charges multiple fees for installing and running your own window unit.

New York needs comprehensive climate legislation that takes into account racial and economic justice. That’s why I’m a sponsor of the Climate and Community Protection Act (CCPA), which is supported by a coalition of over 170 environmental, community, labor, and justice organizations.  The New York legislature must pass, and the governor must sign the CCPA this year.

The CCPA is not just an environmental bill. It’s about climate, jobs, and justice. Under the CCPA, 40 percent of state funds used in the renewable energy transition must go to low-income communities and communities of color–the people most impacted by both the fossil fuel economy and the results of climate change. What’s more, a group made up of representatives from frontline, low-income, and communities of color will make sure that the policy is fair to all.  In addition, the CCPA makes sure that green jobs are good jobs by attaching training, apprenticeship, and livable wage standards to state-subsidized green jobs.

There are other climate policies on the table, but they don’t address equity and justice. Some people think carbon offsets (for example, by making polluting companies “offset” their carbon emissions by buying credits to plant trees) are part of the solution. But we can’t let our communities in Brooklyn continue to breathe in polluted air in exchange for a company planting trees in the Adirondacks.

We can’t address the climate crisis without also addressing environmental racism, classism, and inequality. By passing the CCPA with all its equity provisions intact, NY State can both address the climate crisis and build a more equitable economy. The Climate and Community Protection Act is the kind of bold, just climate policy our state needs.

Latrice Walker is a Democratic Assemblymember representing Brownsville.