Hochul signs greenhouse gas reduction bills, updating building codes and allowing thermal energy development

hurricane Sandy aftermath
Coney Islanders deal with the aftermath of devastation left by Superstorm Sandy in October, 2012.
File photo by Paul Martinka

Governor Kathy Hochul on Tuesday signed several bills into law designed to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and support the development of clean energy networks.

The bills — which call for updates to existing building and appliance codes specifically to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, allow for utilities to pilot local geothermal energy networks, and subject the solar energy industry to prevailing wage standards — were passed before the US Supreme Court last week gutted the EPA’s ability to regulate carbon emissions, in a wide-ranging ruling that could imperil the federal government’s entire regulatory apparatus.

But Hochul took the opportunity to specifically position New York as a bulwark against an increasingly brazen right-wing court, which in the past two weeks has also overturned the constitutional right to abortion and struck down New York’s strict regulations against concealed carry of firearms.

Governor Kathy Hochul signs climate change bills at the Brooklyn Navy Yard on July 5, 2022, flanked by legislators and advocates.Office of Governor Kathy Hochul

“We’re going to continue working to ensure we don’t stand on the sidelines. I think we kinda send our message out today to the Supreme Court: this is New York,” Hochul said at the bill signing Tuesday at the Brooklyn Navy Yard. “Do what you want, but we’re going to do everything we can to protect our lives, our families, our bodies, as well as our planet’s future.”

The building code update would require that any updates to the code should be made with consideration to their impacts on carbon emissions, and specifically that updates be made to align with the state’s greenhouse gas reduction goals. Under the 2019 Climate Leadership and Community Protection Act, New York is statutorily bound to reduce its carbon emissions from energy production at least 70% by 2030, and reduce its total greenhouse gas output 85% by 2050.

Hochul also said that with greater energy efficiency required of buildings and appliances, New Yorkers could expect to see billions of dollars in savings on energy costs.

Any updates could be years away though, similar to New York City’s Local Law 97 that requires all large buildings to meet strict energy efficiency standards over the next several years.

Prospect Park Lake overflowed from excessive rainfall during Hurricane Ida.Photo by Ben Brachfeld

But another law Hochul signed will take immediate effect: one allowing utilities to own and operate local networks provisioning geothermal energy, which generates electricity using the heat within the Earth. Officials have looked to geothermal energy in recent years as the state and city scramble to meet their climate goals, but while it allows access to generous grants and tax abatements, uptake has been relatively slow.

New York is doing more than most states to reduce its carbon footprint: regulators this year approved a Hochul-backed initiative to build transmission lines along the Hudson River to bring clean energy to the city, sourced from hydroelectric generating stations in Quebec and solar and wind farms upstate.

“We are the first generation to really feel the effects of climate change. We’re also the last ones that can do anything about it,” Hochul said. “That’s the weight that’s on our shoulders, and that’s why New York will continue leading our nation into the clean energy future.”

But other measures did not make it through the legislature, such as the Build Public Renewables Act which would enable the New York Power Authority to build clean energy infrastructure and compete with both fossil fuel producers and privately-owned clean energy producers. On Tuesday, the governor said she remains “open-minded” about the legislation but would not call a special session to pass it.

The governor also addressed the mass shooting in Highland Park, Illinois, where a gunman killed six people and injured dozens at a Fourth of July parade in the Chicago suburb. Hochul lambasted national inaction and malaise on enacting gun control, calling it a “national embarrassment.”

“How many more tears have to be shed because the insanity of gun violence and its captivation and its stranglehold on so many individuals and organizations in this country,” Hochul said. “It’s appalling, and it’s a national embarrassment for us, as we think about the rest of the world.”