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Another Voice: New York's natural gas bottlenecks drive up heating bills

By Paul Brown

As another cold winter sets in, working families across New York State will inevitably cast a nervous eye at the thermostat. Anyone who has ever struggled to make ends meet understands the impact that home heating prices can have on a family’s bottom line.

As the State Legislature heads back into session next month, I hope that our representatives will keep that in mind. New Yorkers need access to reliable, affordable energy to heat their homes – and it’s up to us to make that happen. An alarming report released this week by the Consumer Energy Alliance highlights the challenges facing vulnerable New Yorkers heading into the cold winter months. With the Northeast in the grip of a chilly winter, spikes in home heating prices are expected to be more severe than in the past due to the ongoing impacts of New York’s blockade on natural gas infrastructure.

According to CEA’s analysis, a winter season just 10 percent colder than expected would drive up a family’s home heating cost by a third. On average, that’s an extra $585 for New York households. For New Yorkers living paycheck to paycheck, that means going without necessities such as food or medicine to cover heating bills.

A report by the U.S. Energy Information Administration estimates that 11 percent of households nationally are forced to keep “their homes at an unhealthy or unsafe temperature to reduce energy expenses.”

The situation is even more dire for residents of public housing. Last winter’s bitter cold left 80 percent of New York City Housing Authority residents without heat or hot water at some point during the winter, at a time when affordable domestic energy is plentiful in other parts of the country.

With domestic energy production on the rise, heating costs should be going down. So why the disconnect? Because critical natural gas infrastructure projects have been stalled across New York State, creating a bottleneck in which reliable, affordable energy can’t get to consumers in the Northeast.

To be clear, I support the environmental movement and the ambitious goals to transition to a renewable energy future. I share that renewable energy dream, but right now that’s exactly what it is – a dream. At the end of the day, working families in Buffalo and Albany can’t heat their homes with dreams of what may be possible decades from now.

As we debate these critical energy issues in the months ahead, I hope that we remember our neighbors who are cold this winter and struggling to stay warm. Vulnerable New Yorkers can’t heat their homes with lofty platitudes. We owe them real world solutions.

Paul Brown is president of the Buffalo Building and Construction Trades Council.

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