We need to talk honestly about climate law costs

April 4, 2023

Daniel Ortega | April 3, 2023

True debate no longer exists in the halls of government, whether it be in Washington or Albany. Most issues today are presented as black or white, right or left. But some policy issues are more nuanced, especially when it comes to the operation of our complex energy grid. Our elected leaders need to give careful consideration to how their decisions will impact the lives of their constituents.

That is certainly the case when it comes to New York’s headfirst charge into implementing its aggressive climate laws. New polling shows most New Yorkers want Gov. Kathy Hochul and legislative leaders to carefully consider how much it’s all going to cost them, even as they generally support efforts to fight climate change. Albany needs to listen to them.

New Yorkers for Affordable Energy recently released statewide polling conducted by the Siena College Research Institute. The results were not ambiguous. They showed pretty clearly that New Yorkers generally want to combat climate change, but had serious concerns about the cost of doing so. The survey also found that a sizable majority of New Yorkers both use — and want to continue using — natural gas.

For many questions, this wasn’t a 51-49 majority within the margin of error. For example, more than 3 out of 4 New Yorkers said that climate change was a serious problem, 74% supported efforts to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, and another 74% said they would be willing to personally change aspects of their life to reduce those emissions.

But New Yorkers also showed they are deeply concerned about their own pocketbooks, with 96% of respondents saying the cost of living was a serious concern — about as close to unanimous as you get in polling. It didn’t stop there, with 87% of residents saying they are concerned about the cost of moving away from natural gas, propane or oil for home heating, and another 79% saying that heat pumps are too costly. 

While Gov. Hochul and Albany lawmakers are quickly moving to ban new natural gas appliances — like stoves — and the use of fossil fuels in new construction, New Yorkers consistently responded that they think natural gas should play a role in the state’s climate efforts. More than 80% of poll respondents said they use natural gas to heat their homes, 80% said a mix of energy efficiency and natural gas can be used to lower building emissions, and another 80% agreed that switching buildings to all-electric will result in power outages.

Unfortunately, Albany isn’t listening to this huge majority of New Yorkers and the nuanced position they’re taking. Instead, lawmakers seem willing to appease a very small and noisy movement of environmental advocacy groups pushing for public policies that will be prohibitively expensive but have no meaningful impact on the climate. And those groups are desperate to avoid talking about cost, because they know how expensive all of this will be.

So what does this all mean? As Association for a Better Long Island executive director Kyle Strober said, “While the aspirational goal of a carbon free energy future is an admirable objective, ignoring the realities of how people heat their homes, prepare their food, and leverage natural gas to drive the economy has the potential to put our state at risk.”

I agree, and hope Albany listens to the majority of constituents who want to help the environment but also want a reliable and resilient grid without skyrocketing costs.

This guest essay reflects the views of Daniel Ortega, executive director of New Yorkers for Affordable Energy.