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What If New Yorkers Stopped Subsidizing Fossil Fuel Infrastructure?

And some steamy links for your Friday.

9:35 AM EDT on August 18, 2023

A bunch of kids in front of a white truck wait for popsicles to be handed out from a woman in a yellow dress, while a man in the bottom left corner signs a petition.

(Hell Gate)

With Con Ed hiking rates this summer and the entire world seemingly on fire, you might be pretty steamed up right now about, well, everything. It's too hot, you're more broke than you were before your most recent electricity bill, and there's not a whole lot you can do about it—right now. 

But there's (maybe) some hope on the horizon. The NY HEAT Act is a bill that's aiming to both cut down on electricity bills and deal a fatal blow to the area's remaining gas companies. 

And while its current form stands little chance of passage when the state legislature reconvenes next year, legislators lining up behind the bill are currently criss-crossing the city to raise support for the bill, by giving out free ice cream. 

"We're watching rising utility costs drive people out of our neighborhood," Queens Assemblymember Jessica González-Rojas told Hell Gate on Wednesday, as she passed out popsicles to kids out of Jackson Heights's Travers Park and encouraged their parents to sign on to a petition meant to get Governor Kathy Hochul to pay attention to the bill. 

The bill passed the State Senate last year (many cool but far-fetched bills pass the State Senate), but the bill went nowhere in the Assembly—a place where legislation goes to die at the behest of powerful interests and the governor. Legislators now have an eye toward getting it passed through the budgeting process next year, outside of the razor-like maw of deliberative bodies. 

The NY HEAT (Home Energy Affordable Transition) Act is a piece of legislation meant to both cap energy bills and stop ratepayers from having their money used to expand fossil fuel infrastructure. It also contains several provisions that would effectively kneecap the use of fossil fuels for home heating in the state, and lead to the electrification that New York needs to reach its 2040 climate goals. 

Right now, New York's ratepayers help subsidize future gas hookups for their neighbors through the so-called "100-foot rule." That rule mandates that utility companies are required to hook up buildings within 100 feet of an existing gas main at no cost to the building owner. But that cost is then passed on to other customers, who subsidize these hookups to the tune of roughly $200 million a year, or $28 per year per household. 

So while the state's landmark climate law is meant to cut drastically down on the use of fossil fuels, New York's other laws regulating its utilities are still subsidizing more fossil fuel infrastructure. The NY HEAT Act would not only drop the 100-foot rule, but cap energy bills for low-income ratepayers at six percent of their annual income. 

By ending the ratepayer subsidy for gas hookups, the hope from supporters is that natural gas companies could enter a death loop, where their whole operation becomes too expensive to continue. 

"We're too hot and too broke," Laura Shindell, an organizer from New York Food and Water Watch, told Hell Gate about the legislation. "We expect opposition from the fossil fuel industry, from the utilities. They're going to launch a propaganda campaign, but right now this is hard to argue with. Every New Yorker wants to stop these runaway electricity rates."

But while the "100-foot rule" and the price-capping are what advocates are leading with when trying to sell the bill, the current legislation goes much further—it would essentially freeze almost all new gas infrastructure by 2025, and give the state the power to unilaterally phase out gas heating (something that again, needs to happen under the state's climate plan). 

Con Ed, the monopoly that operates much of New York City's electricity infrastructure and just successfully lobbied for massive rate hikes on consumers, is not a fan of the price-capping part of the legislation, but is much more agreeable to ending the 100-foot rule. Why? Probably because that means going all-in on more infrastructure for electricity, which is Con Ed's main business. National Fuel, which sells—you guessed it—gas, is deeply opposed to the legislation on the whole. 

But right now, Governor Kathy Hochul has made no indication that she supports the NY HEAT Act. Her office did not respond to a request for comment. 

Last year, activists were able to translate the passage of the Build Public Renewables Act in the Senate into its inclusion in this year's budget—unlocking the state's ability to build its own renewable power projects. 

For advocates like Shindell, the HEAT Act is the next step—helping to kick New Yorkers off of fossil fuels, and helping to stop price-gouging by utilities on New Yorkers who can least afford it. 

"The burden of these rising utility bills would not be on the backs of those who are already struggling to make ends meet," Shindell said.  

In the meantime, enjoy the free ice cream—it's a little consolation while you pay more to utilities to subsidize further baking the planet. 

And more hot links for your Friday:

  • Bid farewell to the Department of Sanitation's TikTok account. 
  • The Adams administration once again wants to house migrants in a jail. And maybe in shipping containers?
  • Adams also wants to turn Midtown offices into housing. Good luck with that, truly. 
  • "She Disagrees With Roe v. Wade. Brooklyn Dems Just Picked Her for Supreme Court."
  • The Times has an update on the woman who was bitten by a shark at Rockaway Beach: "Ms. Koltunyuk, 65, now has 'a permanent disability,' and she is expected to need several years of intense physical therapy and medical monitoring, according to a statement that her daughter, Dasha Koltunyuk, and her son-in-law, Gregg Kallor, released on Thursday. They did not provide details on the nature of her disability. In the eight days immediately following the attack—days that her family described as 'nightmarish' on a GoFundMe page raising money for Ms. Koltunyuk’s recovery—Ms. Koltunyuk underwent five surgeries, and her family said she will require more. The total extent of her injuries is not yet known, her family said, but she is expected to remain at the hospital for at least several more weeks."
  • ICE continues to be ICE, via Gothamist: "The federal government has spent the last three years trying to deport a Queens man to Haiti because of a crime he was convicted of 31 years ago. But Pascal 'Shakoure' Charpentier has never actually been to Haiti."
  • The state is finally operating its much-beleaguered social equity fund for legal weed licensees. From the CITY: "Those licensees sign ten-year loan agreements with a 13 percent annual interest rate, said Jeffrey Gordon, a spokesperson for DASNY. Buildout estimates are about $1 million for each store—critical financing since access to traditional loans is difficult for a business selling a product that remains illegal under federal law. Chicago Atlantic is guaranteed at least a 8 percent return on its loans, according to a request for proposals that DASNY issued last May."
  • Project Veritas's founder James O'Keefe is in even more trouble.
  • Greatest City in the World:
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