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Op-Ed: New York needs a $15 billion investment toward climate justice before the next Ida hits

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Jessica González-Rojas

In August 2021, Tropical Storm Ida flooded New York’s subway stations and tunnels, submerged businesses and homes, and killed 13 people, at least 11 of whom were from Queens. The storm unleashed far more rain than was expected and revealed how far New York still has to go to build sustainable communities.

Storms like Ida will only become more frequent and severe if New York continues to drag its feet on implementing the Climate Leadership and Community Protection Act, the state’s landmark climate bill and model for the federal government’s Justice 40. That’s why I’m calling on Governor Hochul and legislative leadership to include $15 billion in climate justice funding for the 2022–2023 fiscal year, and increase funding in the years to come. 

The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change’s latest report reaffirms what Queens residents already know: the climate crisis is already here.  Coastal cities like New York need plans to keep people safe from storms, rising seas, and reverse decades of bad policies that have perpetuated environmental injustice.

Low-income neighborhoods, communities of color, and immigrant communities have borne the burden of environmental inequalities for decades.

My district, Assembly District 34, which encompasses Corona, East Elmhurst, Jackson Heights, and Woodside, and comprised nearly 90% people of color, was among the hardest hit during Tropical Storm Ida, for example. Right now, New York has the opportunity to invest funds in climate justice measures that would allow communities across the state to thrive, including my own.

NY Renews, a coalition of over 320 community-based labor, environmental justice, faith, and climate groups first introduced the $15 billion investment in climate justice funding campaign. The $15 billion figure was adopted from the New York State Energy Research & Development Authority, which estimates that New York state must invest a  minimum of $10 billion annually, with increases every year, to reduce climate risks. Included in the proposed funding is a $5 billion towards a Community Just Transition Fund, which would provide grants to community organizations that allows them to create local climate, adaptation, and resiliency projects, particularly in frontline communities like my own. It would also provide funding for disadvantaged communities across the state to develop their own grassroots transition solutions, such as cooperative solar projects and urban and rural food sovereignty initiatives. It’s vital that we shift control out of the hands of powerful technocrats to a broad base of community members who are hit first and worst by climate and environmental catastrophes. 

While a $15 billion annual investment may seem steep, the truth is that New York State already loses over $27 billion each year in climate pollution costs. This number will only increase, as will needless deaths in our city. Scaling up investments is vital to the health, well-being, and survival of our communities. 

I’m proud to fight for my constituents by advocating for the inclusion of $15 billion in New York State’s 2022-2023 budget toward climate justice. If Governor Hochul and legislative leadership agree to this investment, New York will be taking a significant step toward creating an equitable, just, and green future. 

Jessica González-Rojas is the assemblywoman representing District 34, which encompasses the neighborhoods of Corona, East Elmhurst, Jackson Heights, and Woodside.

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