More than 150 climate activists rallied Wednesday across the street from State Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie’s Lower Manhattan office calling for the passage of the Build Public Renewables Act (BPRA). The bill requires New York Power Authority (NYPA) to provide only renewable energy, aiming to make 70% of New York’s energy renewable by 2030 and to allow New York State to meet the goals of the 2019 Climate Leadership and Community Protection Act (CLCPA). Those in favor of the BPRA say it is profoundly important climate legislation and provides an alternative, and potentially more affordable, energy source to private companies like Con Edison or National Grid.
The bill passed the state senate at the end of May but subsequently died in the assembly when Heastie refused to bring it to the floor for a vote. Public-power backers did get Heastie to allow a first-ever public hearing on the legislation which is being held online today. Supporters hope the hearing will bolster support for the assembly to hold an August special session to pass the BPRA before it could next be voted on in January.
The failure of the private sector to deliver has radicalized public power advocates who now insist only the public sector can build out the renewable energy supplies needed to achieve a low-carbon future.
Assemblymember Zohran Mamdani (D-Astoria) emceed the event which was held on the shade-covered sidewalk outside City Hall. He opened the protest with a call to address growing concerns about climate change, saying, “We cannot afford to pretend that things are as they used to be, that the world can afford to wait for our calendar.” As such, he and the other three assembly members present at the protest called for a special session of the assembly in order to pass the bill.
Assemblymember Marcela Mitaynes (D-Sunset Park) said private energy companies have not met the demands of the climate crisis. “For-profit companies are more interested in profit than in making sure our working class and poor neighbors can withstand the climate crisis,” she said. Robert Carroll (D-Park Slope), lead sponsor of the bill, also emphasized that private energy companies have a monopoly on the energy market, and that support for public power will allow residents to decide where to get their energy, building competition and creating competitive prices.
Community organizers also spoke at the protest. Noel Sanchez, the teen Climate Justice Summer Program coordinator at the Sixth Street Community Center, described the effects of environmental racism, citing how projects like the North Brooklyn Pipeline and demolition of East River Park disproportionately affect poor, working class, Black and brown communities. They support the BPRA because it will “replace corporate control with public power–an energy system that will prioritize our well-being because it will be controlled by public money.”
New York State Assemblymember Phara Souffrant Forrest (D-Central Brooklyn) said that the call for public power is an exercise of democracy. Mamdani emphasized that the BPRA supports “publicly owned, democratically controlled, renewable energy,” and that the bill allows public power to provide renewable energy where private companies have failed to meet the clean energy standards being demanded by the people and the CLCPA.
Those opposed to the BPRA, including Heastie himself, cite an “untold cost to the bill,” but Tim, a public school teacher and member of Suffolk County Democratic Socialists of America, says this is just a “scare tactic to distract the public.” Though he believes that the cost of combating climate change is worthwhile, he says, “The BPRA is a revenue-neutral bill, and it actually costs New York Power Authority less to build renewable energy projects than private developers” because NYPA’s pristine bond rating makes it cheaper for it to borrow money.
The Indy spoke with Carroll, who said that there is a lot of momentum for the bill in the state assembly. “The energy from a broad array of New Yorkers is amazing, and will be critical in making sure it gets passed. I would not be shocked if there was a special session this year,” Carroll said. “It is far from unprecedented — we had one a few weeks ago. We should not let the year end without passing this bill.”
Mamdani also emphasized the importance of grassroots organizing in the continued push for the passage of the bill, citing its trending on social media and calls for statements from national reporters to the assembly press office in early June asking about the bill. He encouraged activists to push leadership to follow through on their stated support for climate action, saying, “If lawmakers do not take action to stop the climate crisis, then they are in effect denying its reality.”
Carroll also spoke to the importance of community organizing and how this bill can serve as example legislation for other states to adopt renewable energy policies. “Without continued activism, we would not be having this hearing tomorrow or be on the precipice of passing the most consequential climate legislation in our nation,” Caroll says. He cited the progress of red states like Kansas and Texas in pursuing wind and solar energy, and believes that New York, which gets approximately 4% of its power from wind energy and 2.5% from solar, can catch up and become a model to other states through the passage of the BPRA. “This bill will create a framework for other states to adopt to turbo-charge their renewable energy generation,” Caroll said.
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