Key Senate Democrats cast doubt on accelerated ban on new fossil fuel construction

MARIE J. FRENCH for Politico

Originally published in Politico

Two key Senate Democrats expressed some hesitation about a push from fellow lawmakers to ban fossil fuel combustion in new construction by 2024, highlighting concerns about potential costs.

Why it matters: Gov. Kathy Hochul has proposed a measure that would direct the state’s codes council to craft more efficient new building standards that would eventually bar on-site burning of gas and other fossil fuels by 2027.

Some Democratic lawmakers and activists are advocating for a swifter timeline, pushing for a ban by 2024 to begin reducing emissions. The exact date will have substantial implications for the construction industry and real estate developers. Opponents have raised concerns about added costs for new homes and buildings.

The state’s climate law targets steep emissions reductions by 2030 and a net-zero target by 2050. All the modeling done by the state’s consultants indicates that fossil fuel burning to heat buildings will need to be effectively eliminated to achieve those goals.

What they said: Sen. Todd Kaminsky, a Long Island Democrat who chairs the Environmental Conservation Committee, said the longer timeline of 2027 sounds feasible but that he’s open to hearing more evidence about timing.

Kaminsky said he thinks a gas ban in buildings is inevitable. “The question is the timing and the feasibility,” he said. “And I think that's a great conversation to have, and we're going to make progress on this year.”

Regulations to implement the state’s climate law can’t “be dropping a bomb on the public,” as happened with pushback around a proposed carbon fee dubbed the Climate and Community Investment Act, Kaminsky said.

“I don’t want it to be done a day later than it has to be, but I think shoving something down someone's throat of this magnitude is a mistake,” he said.

Sen. Kevin Parker, a New York City Democrat who chairs the Energy Committee, said he continues to see natural gas as a bridge fuel and more attention should instead be paid to accelerating construction of new renewables, including by staffing up the state’s permitting office.

“It’s a goal, and it’s cute but I think it’s less helpful,” he said of the proposed ban on fossil fuels in new construction.

“People who want to stop gas right now don't care anything about moderate- and low-income New Yorkers who have exorbitant energy bills already and are pushing to create dynamics in which costs for those communities will be higher,” Parker added.

Other steps: The governor’s executive budget proposed allowing the state’s Public Service Commission to stop requiring gas utilities to have other ratepayers subsidize the costs of hooking up new customers.

Current law spreads the costs of 100 feet of gas pipe to all ratepayers, incentivizing new hookups. This change has long been sought by environmental groups and others to align all state laws with the climate law.

“We are excited to see Governor Hochul taking the lead on stopping the 100 foot rule, which is a subsidy for fossil fuels that will leave ratepayers shelling out for obsolete infrastructure for decades to come,” said Bill Nowak, executive director at NY-GEO, a group representing the geothermal energy industry.

Hochul’s budget proposal would also require large building owners to report on their energy usage to NYSERDA, which would issue an annual report starting in 2023. She included appliance efficiency standards for items not covered by federal regulations.

All of these proposals are contemplated in the draft plan to achieve New York’s climate goals put forward by the state’s Climate Action Council.

What’s next: Advocates for an earlier phaseout will push to get their proposal included in the one-house budgets from the Assembly and Senate, which will lay out markers for negotiations with Hochul for the fiscal year that starts April 1.