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Public Power NY Calls on Speaker Carl Heastie to Convene Special Climate Session August 3 to Pass Build Public Renewables Act


August 1, 2022

Contact: info@publicpowerny.org
Aaron Eisenberg, (914)980-9117

Last Thursday, July 28, the New York State Assembly conducted a marathon public hearing on the Build Public Renewables Act (BPRA). The testimony overwhelmingly supported the bill. On the first two panels, seven of the eight speakers, including a member of the Nobel Prize-winning International Panel on Climate Change, testified to the urgent need for the Build Public Renewables Act and to charge the New York Power Authority with building clean, renewable, affordable power generation if and when it is clear that private developers are unable to meet the demand. 

By contrast, the third panel, comprising heads of relevant NYS government agencies, epitomized the state’s refusal to engage with appropriate urgency with the existential threat posed by the climate emergency. While Governor Hochul claims New York is leading the way on climate, her appointees evaded taking responsibility for climate action, arguing that profit-driven private companies will meet the need for renewable energy.  Assemblymembers pressed the state agencies with data showing the failure of the market to  meet not not only the mandates of NY’s climate law and the  CLCPA mandates, but the climate crisis more broadly. 

Most embarrassing for the Governor was Justin Driscoll, whom she nominated last week to be CEO of the New York Power Authority (NYPA). Driscoll’s confirmation is now in the hands of the State Senate, which passed the Build Public Renewables Act in June. Driscoll, a fossil fuel and utility industry shill, is a remarkably inappropriate choice to lead the authority in the era of climate crisis. From 2008-2014, Driscoll was a partner at the law firm Brown & Weinraub, which represented climate-destroying corporations including the American Petroleum Institute and Kinder Morgan. No one  who has directly profited from the oil and gas industry should be leading NYPA during the transition to a GHG emissions-free economy. 

If Driscoll’s past were not disqualifying enough, his answers yesterday showcased that ideology and a peculiar apathy drive his resistance to the bill. In response to Assemblymember Amanda Septimo,  who highlighted the climate emergency, its disproportionate harm to low-income communities of color, and the need for NYPA  to serve as  a failsafe to ensure we reduce greenhouse gas emissions, all Driscoll could muster was “I take your point.” Driscoll claimed that “the bill’s mandate,  like those directing NYPA to develop renewable energy projects and provide energy services and imposing limits on what NYPA may charge for that power, are simply unworkable.” NYPA is a massive, $3 billion entity that generates a quarter of New York’s electricity, most of it renewable: it is expected to fulfill the responsibilities with which it is charged by  the Governor and legislature. If Driscoll can’t lead the Authority to build enough renewable power plants to fill gaps left by private companies and provide renewable electricity to the state’s schools, public housing, and state and municipal buildings, he is simply unqualified for the job.  Senator Julia Salazar has committed to voting no on Driscoll when he comes for confirmation; other Senators should as well. 

During the labor panel, Pat Guidice, business manager of IBEW Local 1049 and the president of the state’s Utility Labor Council, praised the bill’s labor language, saying “I found that the labor language in the latest version of the bill was exceptional … I have never seen anything like it in any legislation that’s ever been put forward.” He went on to worry, however, that because the labor and Just Transition language are so good, “the best I’ve ever seen,” the legislature might not actually pass it as is. 

The hearing was cluttered with testimony about irrelevant issues on which the BPRA is silent, like nuclear power, or that simply misrepresented the bill, such as falsely claiming that it would create a government monopoly on power generation and distribution. On the contrary, the bill simply resolves an unnecessary barrier to NYPA’s development of renewable electricity. It does not affect investor-owned utilities, except in that by generating more renewable power, which is cheaper than fossil fuel electricity, it will lower the wholesale cost of electricity purchased by the utilities and passed on to customers in their monthly bills.

The onus is again on Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie. After hearing all the testimony in support yesterday, with the only real opposition coming from the Republican conference in the hearing, and emphatic support from his own Democratic conference, he must prove to IBEW’s Pat Guidice that the NY State Assembly is ready to commit to the strongest labor standards in the country for renewables and pass the bill next week in a special session.

Mr. Speaker, prove that New York can lead. You have the votes to pass it. Now you have had the hearing outlining it is not only possible, but urgently needed. As we have said before, failure to act is nothing short of climate arson, at a time when heat waves across the state are demonstrating more than ever the need to act. Speaker Heastie, it’s Build or Burn.

For more information please contact us at: info@publicpowerny.org 

See our Website: https://publicpowerny.org/