The COVID-19 pandemic has ripped through New York with startling speed, taking thousands of loved ones from us and sickening many others. It has also already devastated New York’s economy.
Millions of New Yorkers are out of work or furloughed. Savings are drying up and debts are mounting.
And the long-term prognosis is worse, partly because the coronavirus crisis is happening in the midst of another existential threat: climate change. And any survivor of Superstorm Sandy will tell you that the environmental catastrophe unfolding globally was already costing us dearly here in New York.
The good news is that the solution to one crisis could be the solution to another. It will take an historic, courageous effort from government, however, to get it done.
Washington is printing money to go toward needed relief for small businesses, homeowners and those most affected by the COVID-19 crisis. But, while necessary, those are short-term measures to stave off imminent disaster, not long-term solutions to a broken economy.
Now we must start thinking about how to avoid a deep depression. Investing in the massive potential of a green economy should be at the top of the list.
Eighty years ago, New Yorker Franklin Delano Roosevelt created the Works Progress Administration to put millions of unemployed Americans to work during the Great Depression. The roads, dams, sanitation systems and other infrastructure the WPA built literally laid the foundation for our modern economy.
If we make the right investments again, this time in green jobs and infrastructure, we can put thousands back to work in New York while protecting our state and country from an environmental nightmare. We can also make our air and water cleaner, and New Yokers healthier, as a result.
Here’s how we can get to work in New York.
First, we have to expedite construction of dozens of green, private shovel-ready projects worth billions of dollars in economic activity and thousands of jobs — many of which can be done outside, with less risk of virus transmission.
Earlier this year, we worked with Gov. Cuomo to pass the Accelerated Renewable Energy Growth and Community Benefit Act, a proposal I supported to do just that. But there are still rules to draft, studies to finish, hearings to hold and a new agency to be set up. All that must happen as soon as possible.
Next, we have to create opportunities to leverage new private investment in our green economy.
For instance, the New York State Energy Research and Development Authority — which has been doing excellent work — controls a private market for the purchase of Renewable Energy Credits and Zero Emission Credits, allowing utilities to invest in clean energy to comply with environmental laws. We should allow private property owners to purchase them as well. We should also create statewide carbon trading permitting energy producers, businesses and building owners to swap credits that add value to emissions reduction efforts.
Finally, it is critical that government continue investing in our green economy by prioritizing taxpayer dollars for projects that create new jobs and environmental sustainability, such as energy transmission and clean water. In addition to the economic activity created now, these investments will save us billions in emergency costs later.
We started doing this in earnest in this year’s budget in order to meet the goals of the Climate Leadership and Community Protection Act, which I authored, and which sets the most ambitious greenhouse gas reduction goals in the nation.
Governments must also create and expand incentive programs for businesses and building owners to upgrade their own infrastructure with energy efficiency retrofits. That means a significant expansion of subsidy programs and, yes, property tax breaks.
Bluer skies are waiting. By prioritizing investment in the green economy, New York can clear a way out of multiple crises to a more prosperous, more sustainable future.
Kaminsky represents Long Island’s South Shore in the state Senate, chairing the Environmental Conservation Committee.