Debates over New York’s future transportation landscape went into high gear Wednesday as supporters of two environmental bills worked to jump-start their ideas before the state legislative session ends on June 10.

Both ideas: a new tax on fossil fuels, and expanding the sale of direct-to-consumer electric vehicles are being fueled by the state’s 2019 Climate Leadership and Community Protection Act. The legislation sets carbon-reduction goals across the state’s economy, and transportation is a major piece.

The two proposals also offer a glimpse into how the state may reach and pay for those goals. And they reveal the competing interests involved. 

Sponsored by Brooklyn Democratic Sen. Kevin Parker and Kingston Democratic Assemblyman Kevin Cahill, the proposed Climate and Community Investment Act would levy a charge of $55 per ton on fossil fuel emissions from all sources including the industrial and transportation sectors.

“We think this is absolutely critical,” Parker said during a teleconference to rally support for the bill. “This is actually the next logical step in implementing the CLCPA,” he said.

Supporters, including a variety of environmental and social justice groups, said the money from such a levy could fund 160,000 jobs over the next decade, including those needed to build out a new green infrastructure.

That bill, however, is opposed by business interests including the New York State Business Council and Republicans who predicted the levy would amount to a 55-cent-per gallon gas tax on New York motorists.

Suburban lawmakers including Democrats had earlier said that was problematic, given the backlash they would get from voters in their car-dependent districts.

Many, although not all, of those speaking for the bill on Wednesday were from New York City-based groups. That points to a reality that plays out in almost any New York public policy debate which is the upstate/downstate divide.

Lots of New York City residents don’t own cars or use public transit for their day-to-day needs, and a gas tax isn’t as much of a problem for them. But for suburbanites or rural New Yorkers, the tax adds to their daily living expenses.


Parker and other supporters noted that the bill includes a rebate of up to $1,100 toward energy or commuting costs or even cash vouchers for moderate and low-income people.

But the possibility of what opponents say would be a new gas tax remains an obstacle.

Motorists who drive plug-in electric vehicles or hybrids don’t worry as much about gas. Perhaps with that in mind, two other legislators on Wednesday were also making a late push for a bill they say would help get more zero emission electric vehicles or EVs on the road.

“New York’s future will run on electric vehicles,” said Long Island Democratic Sen. Todd Kaminsky, who is sponsoring the bill along with Albany Democratic Assemblywoman Pat Fahy.

“New York’s largest share of carbon emissions emanate from our transportation sector and accounts for 37% of all emissions statewide,” said Fahy.

New York has long mandated that new cars have to be sold through franchise dealerships, who typically buy their cars from manufacturers such as Ford or Toyota and sell them to consumers.

But a few years ago Tesla Motors, which sells its EVs direct to consumers, got an exception allowing them five stores statewide.

Now, Fahy and Kaminsky want to lift that cap of five stores, making it easier for Tesla and other EV makers to get their cars to market.

Franchise auto dealers have pushed back. They say they maintain jobs in their communities and offer car buyers a local spot for repairs.

“Some want to give certain companies special treatment in this very competitive market by allowing them to operate outside of the state’s automobile distribution laws,” said John Bozzella, president and CEO of the Alliance for Automotive Innovation, which represents major automakers.

Since Tesla came on the scene, other EV manufacturers such as Rivian trucks and Lucid motors say they want to sell directly to consumers too.

Both the fossil fuel tax and EV bill are in committee. And they have different appeals for lawmakers pursuing a green agenda.

The EV measure appears to have drawn  suburban lawmakers who see it as an enhancement of drivers’ choice rather than a new tax, such as a fossil fuels charge.

The fossil fuel tax may have more appeal to those who see a need for more funding of environmental infrastructure and environmental justice projects.

The bills aren’t mutually exclusive but there may have been a bit of jockeying on Wednesday, since press conferences on both measures took place at the same time of day, a bit unusual for members of the same Democratic conference.

rkarlin@timesunion.com 518 454 5758 @RickKArlinTU 



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