• Analysis

Climate activists demand more from state lawmakers in wake of Supreme Court EPA ruling

With the federal government’s ability to tackle climate change curtailed by the Supreme Court, activists are pressing climate-friendly state lawmakers to step up.
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On the last day of a consequential term, the Supreme Court gutted the federal government’s ability to combat climate change. Hours later, a crowd of New York climate activists gathered in Manhattan’s Foley Square to decry the court’s June 30 ruling — and spotlight state lawmakers’ inaction on a package of long-awaited climate legislation.

“They really need to get on with passing these important bills if we want to have any chance at trying to lead the country in saving the planet,” said Andrew Engel, an activist with Sunrise Movement’s New York City chapter, which was one of several groups present at the rally.  

In its 6-3 ruling on West Virginia v. EPA, the Supreme Court severely limited the Environmental Protection Agency’s power to limit greenhouse gas emissions from power plants, making state and local climate policies more important than ever. Yet, activists across the country say that both federal and local officials aren’t doing enough, even in states typically seen as more friendly to climate policies. 

In California this week, climate activists set up tables and chairs in front of the state’s natural resources agency to accuse Gov. Gavin Newsom of “sitting at his desk” while ignoring dozens of leaking oil and gas wells in the state. Last Monday, a group of 14 climate protesters were arrested in the Washington, D.C. area after shutting down a highway to demand that President Biden declare a climate emergency. 

And in Boston, climate activists from Extinction Rebellion and the performance troupe Red Rebel Brigade held a die-in for climate action to protest the Supreme Court’s ruling and demand that Massachusetts ban all new fossil fuel infrastructure.

Meanwhile, in Pennsylvania, activists celebrated the General Assembly’s inclusion of a record-breaking $125 million in the state budget to fund home repairs and weatherization against the climate crisis. It’s the first program of its kind in the country, and it comes after months of organizing, including the installation of a climate clock at the State Capitol complex last month.

Last week, New York Gov. Kathy Hochul, who has billed the state as a leader on climate, signed into law a series of bills meant to lower carbon emissions and spur clean energy development. 

“New York is once again in the familiar, but unwelcome, position of stepping up after the Supreme Court strikes a blow to our basic protections. But as always, New York is ready,” Hochul said in a statement following the ruling, in which she emphasized the state’s commitment to reducing gas emissions 85 percent by 2050.

“We will strengthen our nation-leading efforts to address the climate crisis, redouble efforts with sister states, build new clean energy projects in every corner of the state, and crack down on pollution harming the health of many New Yorkers,” she said.

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Though they welcomed the legislation, activists with Public Power NY called the efforts “gaslighting at its finest” in light of the administration’s continued refusal to sign more comprehensive climate legislation into law.

“The bills she signed are very low-impact bills, so it just feels very disingenuous,” said Engel, who instead called for the state legislature to take action on the Build Public Renewables Act, which would enable New York Power Authority to build up the state’s publicly-funded renewable infrastructure.

In light of the Supreme Court’s ruling, activists have called on Speaker Carl Heastie to convene a special session of the state assembly before Aug. 3 to vote on the bill — which has already passed in the state Senate — as well as the All-Electric Buildings Act and the Clean Futures Act, which would move New York towards a carbon-free energy grid. 

“What really drives us is that none of us see this as an impossible thing to get done in New York,” Engel said. “Renewable energy is a popular thing that people want to see done.”

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