New York, NY – As if Gov. Andrew Cuomo doesn’t have enough problems with sexual harassment allegations and the nursing home scandal, environmental activists are now calling out the scandal-plagued executive for providing a loophole to the Real Estate Board of New York (REBNY) that would not only curb the progress made to reduce greenhouse gas emissions in the Big Apple, but could also gut an estimated 100,000 green union jobs.
“We have to keep it moving, like we kept it moving under the Trump Administration,” said Elizabeth Yeampierre, a co-founder of the Climate Justice Alliance and the multicultural community organization UPROSE. “The lives of our people are at stake regardless of who is in a position of power.”
During a videoconference call on Thursday, Yeampierre and other activists took Cuomo to task for creating a proposal in the state budget that would allow REBNY to buy renewable energy from Upstate companies to avoid city fines for not upgrading their buildings to be more energy efficient, which goes against the purpose of the Climate Mobilization Act enacted in 2019.
With the city expecting a more than $3 billion surplus in its budget and $6 billion in Covid-19 relief, environmental activists are hoping Mayor Bill de Blasio will be “bold” with the city budget, buttress climate laws, while making a $200 million green investment that would bolster the local economy with jobs.
“Now is not the time for austerity, now is the time to put people back to work and to think about the kind of economy that we want for our city moving forward,” said Maritza Silva-Farrell, executive director of ALIGN, an advocacy organization that co-founded the Climate Works for All coalition. “The city budget must prioritize investments and job creation for the communities that have been hit the hardest by both climate change and Covid-19.”
Climate Works for All would like the mayor to invest $200 million to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and create jobs for struggling New Yorkers by retrofitting and conducting energy efficient improvements to public schools ($80 million); installing solar energy in public schools ($100 million); expanding organic waste recycling and implementing a Commercial Waste Zone program ($17 million); and creating electric school buses ($3 million).
“Our elected officials who have the power to do that must remember that to address racial inequalities and inequities,” said Silva-Farrell. “It will create good union jobs and fight climate change in this years budget. It will create a model for not only the city, but for the state and the country.”
Members of the City Council who support the bill include Council Members Carlina Rivera, Antonior Reynoso, Ben Kallos, Justin Brannon and Costa Constantinides, the lead sponsor of the Climate Mobilization Act, which called for clean energy upgrades to city buildings.
“We need to have a just transition and investment in our communities,” said Constantinides. “We need to prioritize getting people back to work and doing it in a real way. The stimulus just passed this past week. With billions of dollars coming into our city, there is no excuse for us not to make these investments now. If we are going to make the Climate Mobilization Act we need to staff up.”
The Climate Mobilization is a mandate and that includes solarizing half the city’s buildings by 2030.
“Climate change did not wait for us in 2020,” said Constantinides. “We saw storms that were more intense; that were affecting people’s lives. Now is the time to act. The clock is ticking.”
Environmental researchers say we can see large cities like the Rockaways, Coney Island and large parts of Staten Island disappearing from the map by the end of the century, added Constantinides.
“Climate change is telling us that transition is inevitable, but justice is not,” said Yeampierre. “This year, the multiple crises called upon New York City to invest in frontline solutions. It also demanded a different approach to decision-making and governance that is grounded in justice and led by communities at the forefront of the Covid-climate crisis.”
The city’s budget has to reflect its core values, which includes environmental justice priorities, according to Yeampierre.
Nella Pineda-Matron, the chair of the Climate Disaster Relief committee for the New York State Nurses Association has seen the horrors of Covid-19, and has seen the impact particularly on low-income communities of color.
“We know [Covid-19] is just a preview of what lays ahead if we do not take climate change seriously,” said Pineda-Matron. “It is critical that we heed the warning. In fact, we have already seen the destruction of climate change and the environmental degradation that has had on the health on our patients.”
High blood pressure, chronic asthma, contaminated water supply and tainted soil are just some of the health and environmental problems that hurt low-income communities of color.
Shiv Soin of Treeage, a youth climate organization, represented more than 150 city public school and college students on the call.
“New York City is still in a time of crisis, with the brunt of the impact being felt by our Black, Indigenous and other BIPOC communities,” said Soin. “As young people we need these investments in our schools more than ever.”
Any person that has walked into a public school building in one zip code and then another could see the disparities in investment, according to Soin.
“No child should have to go to a poor school building, with poor infrastructure because of their zip code,” said Soin. “We are meeting the moment and making sure the school buildings are retrofitted for generations to come.”
New York City has a checkered past in how it prioritizes students and it’s up to City Hall to act, added Soin.
“Our community is here and we demand that our schools are better than they are, we demand that they be green and we demand green renewable energy and new infrastructure and we also demand good union paying jobs for as many New Yorkers as we possibly can,” said Soin. “We set a proposal for 100,000 jobs to lift us out of our economic crisis and this is just the start. This is not the end.”