The New York Times

October 19, 2009


Groups Criticize a Proposal to Pull Environmental Funds




Gov. David A. Paterson’s proposal to pull money from an environmental fund to help alleviate New York’s financial woes is meeting with harsh criticism from environmental groups, who say that it sets a troubling precedent.


Last spring, New York state officials finalized a plan to spend the $220 million in the fund to improve energy efficiency in low-income homes, promote renewable energy technologies and institute other environmental programs.


But late last week, Governor Paterson proposed moving nearly half of the money — raised under a carbon trading program known as the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative — to help close the state’s nearly $50 billion deficit instead.


“Needless to say, we were pretty shocked,” said Jackson Morris, air and energy program director for Environmental Advocates of New York, a group that follows environmental policy issues in Albany. “In the general fund, the money would go into a black hole and it’s like it never existed.”


The initiative is an effort by New York and nine other Northeastern and Middle Atlantic states to reduce the region’s carbon dioxide emissions. Governor Paterson has said that he is committed to the program’s goals.


Mr. Morris said that the governor’s proposal would take money from a program that would save New Yorkers money on heating and energy bills at a time when pocketbooks are tight. And, he said, if New York drew from its fund, other states might decide to draw from theirs.


“There’s a real danger that governors are going to take notice and follow his bad lead,” Mr. Morris said. “Just putting it on the table has already done damage.”


Marcia Bystryn, president of the New York League of Conservation Voters, also said she was concerned that the proposal would set a precedent by using the money “as a reserve fund for other state programs.”


Under the initiative, often called RGGI (pronounced Reggie), the states cap the carbon dioxide emissions from power companies and make them buy tradable permits for the emissions they produce. The states earmark the money from the permit sales for energy-saving and renewable energy programs.


Last April, the New York State Energy Research and Development Authority approved a plan to invest the money. But a lawsuit challenging the initiative, brought against the state by one of the power companies, has prevented use of the money.


On Thursday, Mr. Paterson proposed moving $90 million of the initiative’s money to the general fund, to help with the deficit once the lawsuit is resolved. Morgan Hook, a spokesman for the governor’s office, noted that the state’s shortfall has also required cuts in health care and education. He said the proposal should not be taken as an indication that Mr. Paterson’s commitment to the environment has waned.


The majority of the money in the fund — $112 million — would still be used to finance energy audits and retrofits for homes and small businesses under a recently passed green jobs bill, Mr. Hook said.


He added, “This is a necessary action so that the state can continue paying its bills for the rest of the calendar year.”


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