The New York State Senate has passed the HEAT Act, which now goes to the Assembly.
The legislation aims to phase out gas-line extension allowances, which would reduce the use of natural gas in the state. It would also allow the Public Service Commission the authority to keep utility companies in line with the state’s climate laws.
Robin Wilt, a town council member in Brighton, said the equity component in the bill is needed. It would protect low- to moderate-income customers from bearing energy burdens greater than a certain percentage of their income.
She thinks it would also help communities disproportionately affected by climate change.
“I think it’s important, as we move forward, that we always keep that equity piece in mind, and that we’re reparative,” Wilt asserted. “Those communities that bear the brunt of our past climate policy should be the first beneficiaries of any future policy.”
A 2021 state report noted there are barriers to helping certain disadvantaged communities, including places lacking access to “climate smart” programs, like distributed energy efficiency and low-emission transportation. The HEAT Act is under review by the Assembly’s Corporations, Authorities and Commissions Committee.
The biggest challenge to passing this bill is time, since the New York Legislature adjourns at the end of the week.
John Polimeni, a city council member in Schenectady, predicts another challenge lies ahead to implement some of the provisions.
“I think there’s a concern by some that the infrastructure’s not there yet in New York State for a completely electric grid,” Polimeni acknowledged. “I think there’s some merit to that, but I think also that it’s the old saying, ‘If you don’t just go in, it’ll never happen.'”
He added opposition from fossil-fuel companies has also been a challenge.
Federal initiatives are already underway to reduce methane waste. A Methane Emissions Reduction Action Plan aims to accelerate the process through solutions like plugging leaks from abandoned gas wells.
Edwin is a reporter and producer in North Tonawanda, New York. He’s previously reported for the Niagara Gazette and the Ithaca Times. Edwin got an early start in radio interning for WBFO-88.7FM, NPR’s Buffalo affiliate. In 2018, he graduated from SUNY Buffalo State College with a B.A. in Journalism, and in 2022, graduated from Syracuse University with an M.S. in Communications.