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Another Voice: Climate act's needed to protect vulnerable communities

By Luz Velez

On May 17 in New York City, the State Assembly convened a public hearing to examine how best to address the impacts of climate change on vulnerable communities. Up for discussion was the Climate and Community Protection Act (CCPA), which has been heralded as one of the strongest climate justice bills in the country.

Late last month in a public statement, U.S. Senate Minority Leader Charles E. Schumer called on state legislators to enact the CCPA to tackle climate change and build a just and equitable economy. If passed, the CCPA would mandate elimination of greenhouse gas emissions in New York by 2050 while reducing toxic co-pollutants, directing 40% of clean energy investments to vulnerable communities, and creating living wage green jobs.

The CCPA needs a few more endorsements to achieve support from a solid majority of state legislators and a clearer path to passage before the 2019 legislative session ends in mid-June. The ball will then be in Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo’s hands.

The governor staked out his own policy position in January with a watered-down proposal that would strip comprehensive emission reduction goals, economic and environmental justice provisions, and worker protections from the CCPA while introducing the bogeyman of a carbon neutrality and offsets program that would allow pollution to persist in overburdened communities like the South Bronx or my neighborhood on the West Side of Buffalo, which has suffered high asthma rates from diesel truck emissions owing to its proximity to the Peace Bridge.

The governor’s desire to strike equity from legislation would leave communities like mine on the hook for managing and overcoming the cumulative physical, emotional, and mental health impacts of living in toxic and unhealthy homes, neighborhoods that lack access to quality public transit and local food options, and a city that is steadily succumbing to the allures of “urban renaissance” – gentrification and over-policing that lead to displacement of poor people and people of color.

As a PUSH Buffalo member active in the statewide NY Renews coalition – NY Renews has been leading efforts since 2016 to pass the CCPA – I traveled to New York to testify at the Assembly hearing. Troubled by the governor’s position, I shared my personal story of hardship and resilience. As a working single mom I was forced into medical retirement due to worsening respiratory health from corporate polluters depositing contaminants in my home and community – something I call environmental racism. I felt trapped by disinvestment and under threat from gentrification.

Working with PUSH, I was able to access weatherization services that improved conditions in my home and transformed my outlook on life. I’ve since found my voice as an advocate for climate justice, the kind the CCPA would deliver through targeted reinvestments in vulnerable communities. It's time to pass the CCPA.

Luz Velez is a community activist with PUSH Buffalo.

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