This summer, as heat waves engulf the U.S. and New Yorkers are forced to breathe polluted, smoky air from the devastating wildfires in Canada, New York's state Legislature has finally begun the process of assessing how to fund and implement our state's landmark climate law. The Climate Leadership and Community Protection Act was passed back in 2019. With climate change demanding urgent action, environmental justice advocates are already centering their efforts on solutions that combat climate change while benefiting underserved communities. El Puente, a prominent human rights organization based in North Brooklyn, has been at the forefront of addressing environmental injustices and empowering those most impacted by climate change across New York.
To raise funds and address the climate crisis, state regulators are developing an emissions cap program. An equitable cap-and-invest system could mean transformative benefits for communities throughout New York City. If designed to significantly reduce pollution, such a system would lower the rates of asthma, heart disease, and stroke, improving public health. Additionally, the revenue generated could be directed towards community climate mitigation and adaptation measures, fostering resilience in the face of climate catastrophe.
An equitable emissions cap system would also create good union jobs, providing sustainable economic opportunities for the local workforce. Funneling money into Black, Latinx, and working-class communities would ensure that the climate action taken supports those most impacted by environmental injustices. The program could lower energy costs, easing the financial burden on residents and contributing to a more equitable society.
Without guardrails to protect frontline communities, an inequitable emissions cap system – such as the cap-and-trade model proposed by the governor could have severe negative repercussions for various marginalized communities, including those in North Brooklyn. By allowing polluting corporations to trade their pollution permits for profit, the risk of pollution dumping becomes a harsh reality, exacerbating health inequalities in these communities. Historical examples from New York’s past have shown that emissions have concentrated in Black, Latinx, and working-class neighborhoods, such as Los Sures, compared to their wealthy, predominantly white counterparts, perpetuating environmental injustice.
A robust, just cap-and-invest program, championed by climate justice advocates like the NY Renews coalition, as opposed to the governor’s proposed cap-and-trade model, is essential to ensuring that corporate polluters, including oil and gas industries, pay for climate action, not the average person. The state’s program must not grant exemptions to the worst corporate actors or permit them to dump toxic pollution in disadvantaged communities. It is time to stop allowing these corporations to profit by selling permits to pollute without taking genuine steps to reduce emissions. The same entities that contributed to the climate crisis should not be entrusted with designing our climate program.
An equitable emissions cap system will serve as a driving force for meaningful climate action while safeguarding frontline communities throughout New York. By demanding accountability from corporate polluters and directing revenue towards community empowerment, the state can lead the nation in fostering climate resilience and environmental justice.
El Puente has advocated for over 40 years to ensure that in North Brooklyn and other marginalized neighborhoods, such a system could bring significant savings for the average family or household, easing the burden of energy costs and ensuring that climate action truly benefits the people. We must continue to support and uplift the efforts of the BIPOC communities in combating climate change and protecting the most vulnerable among us.
Let us rally behind an emissions cap program that prioritizes justice and equity. By centering and empowering all our communities, we pave the way for a brighter, cleaner, and fairer future for all New Yorkers. The time to act is now. Together, we can build a sustainable world that leaves no one behind.
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