The Environmental Bond Act Is A Critical Next Step In Fighting Climate Change

By Jessica Ottney Mahar | March 25, 2020

We’ve all heard it hundreds of times at this point: climate change is real, and it’s already happening. Many New Yorkers are already experiencing flood event after flood event. Seas are rising and so is our groundwater. We face a future with a lot more water, and we need to prepare.

The first step is moving to a cleaner, greener future, and New York has taken historic action on this issue. The passage of the Climate Leadership and Community Protection Act last year made us a national leader in commitments to clean energy and set our state on a course to confront the monumental challenge of a changing climate. Governor Cuomo and the State Legislature have another chance to make history this legislative session with a once-in-a-generation opportunity to conserve New York’s clean water and natural resources, while helping communities prepare for flooding, rising seas, and dangerous extreme heat.

Governor Cuomo’s Executive Budget included a critical proposal: a $3 billion Environmental Bond Act, designed to fund projects that will rebuild natural areas that act as barriers, reducing the risk of flooding and protecting local communities. This funding would be used in concert with local, federal, and private partners to address longstanding problems with both hard infrastructure and weakened natural areas that when healthy, reduce the force of storms and protect people, roads, and buildings from flooding. From rightsizing the more than one million culverts that run under our roads, helping divert stormwater, to bolstering wetlands that slow down floodwaters, this investment is a critical next step in the fight against climate change.

Based on our work throughout the country, we know that voters strongly support these measures, including in the 2018 election, when California voters passed $4 billion for parks and watershed conservation, and in the 2014 election when voters in New Jersey approved $2.8 billion, voters in California approved $7.5 billion, and voters in Florida approved $18 billion. New Yorkers support it too – according to a January 2019 Siena Poll, more than 70 percent of New Yorkers would vote in favor of an environmental bond act, if lawmakers take this opportunity to pass the bill and put it on the ballot in November.

We cannot afford to delay, and consider this fight over simply because of the landmark legislation passed last year. While looking ahead to the future is important, and lessening our carbon footprint is a key part of this fight, we also need to act right now to blunt the worsening conditions that New Yorkers face. Literally every moment that we wait, we risk another disaster that threatens not just homes and businesses, but New Yorkers’ lives. Ninety percent of all New Yorkers live in communities vulnerable to flooding, and in New York City alone, 400,000 residents and a quarter million buildings rest in a floodplain.

That is why 2020 is such an important moment. Investing now can save lives and help prevent costly recovery and cleanup after storms by reducing risk, making this a cost-effective and fiscally sound proposal. Our children and grandchildren are depending on us to protect their future. This Bond Act is a once-in-a-generation opportunity to build on our stature as national leaders in the fight against climate change, simultaneously protecting our neighbors from flooding and severe weather while also ensuring access to clean water and restoring wildlife habitats. After working so hard to pass the Climate Leadership and Community Protection Act last year, we need our lawmakers to continue to demonstrate the leadership that will strengthen New York’s communities against the challenges we face, and authorize the Environmental Bond Act.

Jessica Ottney Mahar is the New York Policy & Strategy Director at The Nature Conservancy.