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NY State Legislature Wrap-up, 2014

schrader, richard, nrdcThe New York legislative session typically ends with many bills being debated and passed in the last few weeks. But the usual journalistic metaphor of a “flurry of bills” seems, for once, too subdued.

From June 3 to June 20, over 550 bills were passed by legislators, five times the number passed from the session’s first day, January 8, through June 2. That’s more like a blizzard (which Albany experienced as a literal event at least once this session, as well).

The first “flurry” of activity, legislatively speaking, is usually the passage of the New York State budget, ideally before April 1, which is the formal deadline. However in the bad, old days, this was regularly ignored. These days the legislature would risk a brutal excoriation from the New York tabloids (which lose a fortune annually but who’s counting). This would mean major political fall-out, particular in an election year, which 2014 most assuredly is.

The budget session went reasonably well for environmentalists – the Environmental Protection Fund (EPF), a source of funding for multiple programs we care about from land preservation to ocean conservation and zoos, was increased by $10 million, a move in the right direction. The EPF was eviscerated by Governor David Paterson, in a panic over the Panic of 2008 and has very slowly been gaining ground in the Cuomo era. Importantly, the EPF line funding ocean protections was also raised specifically. Some of that new money will renew an important whale monitoring program defunded in the Paterson term.

During the budget process, there was an attempt by the New York State Automobile Dealers to shut out Tesla, the electric vehicle manufacturer, in New York. The PAC-powerful auto dealers wanted to prohibit Tesla’s direct sales operations, since that business model was perceived as an assault on the dealership structure which has dominated auto sales in the US post -World War II. NRDC worked within a highly charged, adversarial process to allow Tesla to maintain its five retailer-owned outlets. An agreement was struck which kept Tesla in New York — the dealers have squeezed the EV company out of New Jersey, Texas and Arizona with action in other states on the horizon.

Also earlier in the session, the Governor, the Public Service Commission (PSC) and the New York State Energy Research and Development Authority (NYSERDA) finalized through the rate-making process, a plan called NY-Sun, which commits a $1 billion investment over the next 10 years in solar photovoltaics. This translates roughly into 3,000 MWs of power, 13,000 jobs and the removal of 2.3 million tons of greenhouse gas emissions.

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