In New York, the 2020 election was a big deal. It’s the first time since the 1930s that Democrats have successfully held a majority in the State Senate. While the Presidential race in New York was called for President-Elect Joe Biden almost immediately after polls closed, which gave the illusion of completion, the state is still counting ballots today. This year, as is true every other year, every member of the State Legislature was up for reelection. While incumbents certainly carry an advantage into any election cycle, New York has seen a political awakening following the 2016 election of President Donald Trump. This movement carried a new, Democratic majority into power in the State Senate in 2018 and lead to many moderate Democrats being swept out in favor of more liberal candidates.
Briefly, while the state of the election is very much still in flux, there are two certainties:
- The Senate Democrats will gain two additional seats when all the ballots are counted, giving them the coveted super majority headed into a redistricting cycle.
- The Assembly Democrats will retain their super majority.
Elections have consequences and this is especially true for the energy industry. In the 2019 and 2020 legislative sessions, Democrats controlled the Executive Branch and both the Senate and Assembly majorities for the first time in a decade. This control enabled the rapid-fire passage and enactment of key environmental and energy policy agenda items that have fundamentally changed the face of New York’s energy landscape. Principle among those achievements is the Climate Leadership and Community Protection Act (CLCPA), signed into law on July 19, 2019, and the Accelerated Renewable Energy Growth and Community Benefit Act (The Act), which passed as part of the 2020-2021 State Budget. These acts codified strict environmental goals into state law, including setting a statutory target of a zero-emission energy grid by 2040 and a one-year timeline for state regulators to approve or deny new renewable energy projects.
While significant action has already occurred, legislation is being prepared for 2021 that will further advance changes to the state’s energy system. We’re watching a number of bills, but will highlight several that are well positioned for passage when lawmakers reconvene in January:
- A257/S2649 – Bans fossil fuel tax subsidies. This legislation passed in the State Senate in 2020 and many advocates, including New York Youth Climate Leaders and the Natural Resources Defense Council, are pushing for action in the State Assembly in 2021.
- A1536/S2126 – Requires the State Comptroller to divest from fossil fuel companies. This legislation, despite opposition from Comptroller Thomas DiNapoli due to the precedent it could create, continues to gain support in both houses, with 31 Senate and 69 Assembly Democrats signing on as co-sponsors.
- A host of bills aiming to provide more oversight of electric and gas utilities. These bills run the gamut from requiring utilities spend at least 40% of their operating budgets on infrastructure resiliency, including undergrounding power lines, to a mandate that utilities update their emergency response plans.
Additionally, there are several bills on our radar that could promote the public ownership of utilities in some capacity or another, a concept that has gained support among many on the left.
In New York, lawmakers and their constituents have come to realize the powerful tools available to the State Legislature when it comes to setting the agenda for energy policy. While state regulators are tasked with fleshing out the laws created by the legislature, it is the Senate and Assembly, in concert with the Governor, that creates the backbone. As a result, now more than ever the locus of new energy initiatives, incentives, and penalties is the 3rd floor of the State Capitol, where the Senate and Assembly meet.