“As our planet hurtles toward climate tipping points, beyond which climate chaos is irreversible, every dollar we spend on fossil fuels today takes us backwards.”

Brynn Fuller-Becker

Climate activists staged a “hike against rate hikes,” last week, urging lawmakers to include the NY Heat Act in a state budget deal.

Last week, I took a hike. If you commute across the Williamsburg Bridge, you may have seen our hardy group of grassroots activists wearing hiking boots, backpacks, and, critically, giant utility bills.

We walked from Brooklyn to Gov. Kathy Hochul’s office in Midtown, singing songs and leading chants for the better part of two hours. At the end of the march, over 50 New Yorkers rallied to demand cleaner heat and lower energy bills. Our demand was simple: pass the full NY HEAT Act in the budget.

Our hike against rate hikes comes as Con Edison and National Grid customers face cost increases of nearly $50 every month, and as legislators debate a final state budget, expected any day now. On the table in these negotiations is the NY HEAT Act, popular legislation that would stop the consumer subsidization of New York’s fracked gas system, moving off fossil fuels and limiting household energy bills to 6 percent of a family’s income. The urgent need for this legislation could not be more obvious.

New York is embracing the move off fossil fuels, from our city and state gas bans to Local Law 97. But the job is not done without NY HEAT. Substantial federal and state funds exist to aid landlords and homeowners with electrification, but we need to ensure that the clean energy transition doesn’t leave low- and middle-income families hanging. The move off fossil fuels must be an equitable one that ensures affordability for everyone—that’s where this bill comes in.

The NY HEAT Act would end the “100 foot rule” and change the obligation to serve, which force consumers to subsidize the expansion of the gas system and therefore undermine electrification. Just as crucially, the bill would cap energy bills for everyone. The Senate is on board, putting the full NY HEAT Act in their “one house” budget the last two years. The Assembly and governor have also included versions of the bill in their budget proposals, but neither have embraced the affordability provisions central to the bill’s popularity with New Yorkers.

New Yorkers are mad about our rising utility bills—and we should be. Every year, ratepayers spend at least $200 million on new fracked gas infrastructure. As our planet hurtles toward climate tipping points, beyond which climate chaos is irreversible, every dollar we spend on fossil fuels today takes us backwards.

The status quo is hurting New Yorkers. Households that pay more than 6 percent of their income on energy are considered as highly energy burdened, meaning they pay an unsustainable amount relative to their income and other costs. According to a new report from WIN Climate and NY Renews, nearly 1 in 4 New York City households fit this description. These households are more likely to stay stuck in cycles of poverty than those who pay proportionally less for their energy, forced to choose between paying for energy and other necessities like food or medicine.

The NY HEAT Act would make New Yorkers’ energy burden a thing of the past. By capping energy bills at 6 percent of income, the 24 percent of New York City households currently struggling with high energy bills would save an average of $142 each month, essentially cutting bills in half.

As Gov. Hochul negotiates a final state budget with Senate Majority Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins and Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie, she must heed the calls of those rallying outside her office this week: New Yorkers need the full NY HEAT Act, and we need it now.

Alex Beauchamp is northeast region director at the national environmental advocacy group Food & Water Watch. He is based in Brooklyn.