It’s the end of June. Legislative session is heating up as fast as the temperature. And New York residents deserve a break in the normal weather pattern.
According to the American Lung Association’s State of the Air: 2007 Report, too many New Yorkers are breathing unhealthy air. The state fairs poorly in particle pollution. And warmer temperatures this summer will boost the number of high ozone days.
Smog, the result of ground-level ozone, irritates the eyes and the respiratory tract, and induces coughing, chest pain and shortness of breath.
It poses a special danger to people with asthma, bronchitis and other respiratory illnesses. Children in East Harlem and the South Bronx, areas that I represent in the State Senate, are hospitalized for asthma at four times the national average.
While there has been little movement at the national level when it comes to climate change, at the state level there are several measures that we can take now to combat the threats of global warming.
One way is to reduce the pollution that contributes to global warming. Researchers at Carnegie Mellon University have found that measures to reduce climate-altering pollution from power plants could cut smog and soot levels in the New York metro area by at least 10 percent. Over a 20-year period, cleaner air in the metro area could prevent up to 8,500 deaths.
In recent years, New York State has led the way in developing the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative (RGGI), an effort by ten states to stabilize and cut carbon dioxide emissions from power plants. Set to begin in 2009, this market-based cap and trade program will keep greenhouse gas emissions roughly at current levels until 2015, and then mandate a 10-percent reduction by 2018.
A key piece of this climate pact involves smart utilization of the funds that it generates. New York plans to auction all of what are known as pollution “allowances," rather than give them away to power plants. This makes sense, as power plant owners should have to pay for the cost of the pollution they produce.
Investing in energy conservation will result in real reductions in consumer energy bills. The RGGI State Working Group’s analysis has shown that aggressive investment in energy-efficiency programs, when distributed across households, will reduce average electricity bills in the RGGI region by approximately $66 per year in 2015, and by up to $109 by 2021. These are significant savings that will be particularly helpful for low-income New Yorkers.
The Climate Change Solutions Act and Solutions Fund (State Senate bills 5347 and 5371) would make sure that any of the monies raised from the auction of allowances under the RGGI go back into energy-efficiency programs and clean-energy development. These bills have passed the Assembly, but are currently stuck in committee in the New York State Senate.
I urge my Senate colleagues to pass these bills before the end of this year's legislative session. The last thing we need is more hot air.
Senator José M. Serrano represents the 28th District, which includes parts of the South Bronx, Highbridge, University Heights, East Harlem, Yorkville, and Roosevelt Island.