Bronx Activists Push Bill to Fix Climate Crisis

By Daphney Altidor

Four days before the April 1 deadline for the state budget to be finalized, more than 400 New Yorkers mobilized at the Assembly chamber to demand that the state government fight climate change by funding the Climate Jobs & Justice Package. “The climate crisis is here; we can’t delay making the needed investments to protect our communities,” said NYS Senator Samra Brouk, who supports the bill’s inclusion in the budget. “Failure to act is both costly and deadly, and New Yorkers deserve better.”

Developed by NY Renews, a coalition of over 300 environmental, justice, faith, labor, and community groups, the bill “[will] prevent our kids from being poisoned by pollution, which affects mental health, develops anxiety, and affects the brain,” said activist Victor Davila, a member of The Point Community Development Corporation, an environmental justice organization in the South Bronx.

The package aims to move New York toward a more sustainable future through three pillars: expediting renewable energy development through the Build Public Renewable Energy Act, raising funds for climate initiatives through the Climate Change Superfund Act, and greening the economy. This last move would create a reliable energy system, improve the community’s health, and provide better and more secure job opportunities and infrastructure. “Greening the economy will build social equity while reducing environmental risks and scarcities,” Davila said. For example, it will prevent schools from being built near the highway.”

Congressman Richie Torres concurred, saying that capping the Cross Bronx Highway is one of the first steps to fighting social inequity and environmental racism. To fund these changes, the bill calls for a 10-billion-dollar fund for « emission reduction programs”. Nan Faessler, Harlem Indivisible representative, said, “This bill matters because it makes polluters themselves pay.”

Mounting data shows that the impact of climate change on our communities is enormous. According to a City Limits investigation, fewer than half of the estimated deaths in New York State caused by pollution originated in the state itself. Every year, more than 2,000 New Yorkers are estimated to have died prematurely from the effects of pollution from vehicle emissions—even before the COVID-19 pandemic. At least 1,400 of these deaths were in the New York City metropolitan area. Pollution also causes hundreds of people annually to develop severe illnesses such as asthma, chest pain, wheezing, coughing, hypertension, heart attacks, and strokes. New York State faces a staggering $15 billion budget deficit and currently offers $1.6 billion annually in fossil fuel tax benefits.

Besides these losses of lives and livelihoods, activists pointed out that the climate crisis is implicated in the degradation of farmland, cultural heritage, biodiversity, and ecosystem services. Feassler said, “Hundreds of us rallying, making our voices heard in the capitol, and putting final pressure on the legislature and governor right before the budget is due is a must.”

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