Original story on WAMC Northeast Public Radio by Pat Bradley

Feb. 20, 2015

On Thursday, the new speaker of the New York state Assembly created a working group to review the state's response to climate change. Environmental groups are encouraged by the move and hope the legislators propose several initiatives that will help reduce New York’s greenhouse gas emissions.

Saying the existence of climate change is no longer in doubt and the state must take action now to limit its risk, New York’s new Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie has formed a Climate Change Work Group. It consists of 10 lawmakers including 103rd District Assemblyman Democrat Kevin Cahill. Cahill says the speaker has assembled a diverse group with varied strengths.  “Chairman Englebright is a person who is meticulous and scientific, by profession a geologist. A scientist who really understands the nature of this Earth that we’re on. That insight and that framework will be very valuable. Some of the other members of the committee  for example my colleague Barbara Lifton led the charge against fracking. Some other members like James Skoufis who has made part of his representation to be sure to consider all environmental issues in everything that we do. My main role is in the area of insurance.”

Cahill explains that the committee is charged with reviewing state and federal regulations, rules, laws and means by which the state will and has addressed climate change.   “To look for those areas where there’s need to make changes in the law. Maybe make changes in our practices. One of the things that we know that the executive is doing is trying to coordinate better how we address things when traumatic weather events occur. There’s also longer term issues like the protection of our shoreline and communities that have grown up in those areas.  How do we assure that they can be safer from something as significant as a rising tide? So there’s a lot of issues that we have to address. And congratulations to the Speaker for taking the initiative and pulling people together to start to look at that very question.”

Audubon New York Executive Director Erin Crotty calls the speaker’s move important and bold, illustrating he is leading on climate change.  “Climate change is one of the biggest environmental challenges of our generation. It’s going to take the not-for-profit community, the business community and government all working together in order to create innovative solutions. I think any effort to put resources and minds and hopefully develop innovative programs and policy initiatives and laws to do those things is an important step forward.”

Crotty hopes the group assesses opportunities to broaden greenhouse gas emission reduction initiatives cost-effectively and explores incentives to attract private investments in environmental mitigation.

Environmental Advocates of New York Air and Energy Director Conor Bambrick says the working group needs to create a comprehensive climate action plan for the state.  “We don’t have one currently. That would be our top priority,  to have a plan that guides all state agencies, authorities and essentially the economy of New York State towards a climate pollution goal of an 80 percent reduction by the year 2050.”

You only have to look at where the Assembly speaker is from, according to Adirondack Mountain Club Executive Director Neil Woodworth, to understand why the group was formed.  “No area in the state would suffer as much as New York City would from climate change. The New York City Council just did its own study of the impacts of climate change on New York City including a potential by the year 2100 of a six foot increase in the sea level. I think that the new Speaker was making it clear that there is no question that man’s activities are contributing to climate change. He’s put together a blue ribbon group and put some very strong people  on that committee.”

The working group is chaired by Assemblyman Steve Englebright, who leads the Assembly's Environmental Conservation Committee. Heastie recently replaced fellow Democrat Sheldon Silver as speaker; Silver is facing federal corruption charges.

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