Fossil Fuel Front-Group Seeks to Halt New York’s Climate Progress

Fossil Fuel Front-Group Seeks to Halt New York’s Climate Progress

Solar on the roof (photo: Governor’s Office)

It is indisputable that the fossil fuel industry has conducted a multi-decade disinformation campaign that has led some policymakers, the media, and much of the public down a rabbit hole of climate denial. Now they’ve looked at New York State’s climate legislation and initiatives.

The first group cynically named “New Yorkers for Affordable Energy” has paid for attack ads against several key bills moving through the State Legislature, including the all-electric heating in new construction bill, which would mandate electric heating in new buildings starting later this decade, and the Gas and Gas Transition bill Affordable Energy, which would end consumer subsidies for gas expansion industry and create cost protections for low- and moderate-income families.

The New Yorkers for Affordable Energy website describes the group as “committed to supporting access to cleaner, more reliable and affordable energy sources for residential and business consumers.” However, in a filing with the Internal Revenue Service, the group describes its goal as “to expand natural gas service [and] keep energy prices lower for consumers.”

In the past six months, New Yorkers for Affordable Energy has released disinformation ads telling homeowners that it would cost more than $20,000 to renovate their homes and that electric heating would cost 40% more than gas. The Electricity Bill creates a mandate only for new construction, not for existing buildings. Recent studies, such as one of Win Climate, show that electric heat is cheaper than heat produced by propane, gas furnaces, or gas boilers in new homes. New Yorkers’ messaging about affordable energy instills fear among consumers about higher energy bills, which is especially effective due to inflation and rising energy prices.

A recent investigation by Little sis found that ten fossil fuel companies and lobbying groups have spent more than $15.5 million on lobbying since 2016 and more than $1.4 million in campaign donations opposing climate action in New York. The American Petroleum Institute, an architect of climate denial, is on New York’s steering committee for Affordable Energy. Other members of New York for Affordable Energy include utilities such as National Grid, National Fuel Gas and Central Hudson, as well as power plant lobbyist Independent Power Producers of New York.

In addition to opposing bills mentioned earlier this legislative session, New Yorkers for Affordable Energy and its partners have also worked to thwart New York’s efforts to advance its vision of a clean energy future, in line with Climate Leadership and Community Protection Act (CLCPA). New York’s nation-leading climate law passed in 2019. That law requires, among other mandates, that New York reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 40% by 2030 and 85% by 2050; and have a zero-carbon energy sector by 2040.

The ads released by New Yorkers for Affordable Energy are part of a larger misinformation campaign targeting New Yorkers. For example, home fuel sellers have sent EMAIL to their customers attacking electric heating and the CLCPA. Utility provider Central Hudson released clear concerns about New York’s proposed plan to implement the CLCPA, saying it would “significantly increase costs” and “could jeopardize the integrity of the grid.” And opinions opposing the state’s climate plan have appeared in Times Union, Crain’s Business in NY, news day, NY Daily NewsAND Service drop – that spread misinformation about higher bills, job losses and increased outages.

A series of substantial state actions over the next several years—financed by a mix of state and federal rate funds, along with ample subsidies and tax breaks—would make the transition feasible for consumers in existing buildings. Accordingly, Governor Hochul has already announced the creation of a dedicated green electrification fund to electrify low-income homes and advance the state’s goals of creating affordable green housing.

New York State must transform its energy, transportation and construction sectors to meet the goals of its landmark climate law. These actions will improve air quality, protect public health and reduce greenhouse gas emissions that exacerbate climate change. New York cannot allow the oil and gas industry, under the guise of front groups, to undermine efforts and investments that address climate change.

Richard Schrader is the New York Legislative and Policy Director for the Natural Resources Defense Council and Isabel Friedman is the Program Coordinator for the Natural Resources Defense Council. On Twitter @NRDC.

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