New Yorkers approved $4.2 billion bond to prepare for climate change

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Editor’s note: This is the fifth story in a series on environmental issues in the 2022 election.

By Molly Wright, Emile Rizk, Kyle Wasielewski and Vladislava Sukhanovskaya

New York voters passed a $4.2 billion proposal on Election Day for water drinking protection, pollution mitigation, land conservation, waste management and other environmental projects.

It was the only statewide environmental bond on the ballot in the Great Lakes region.

It was also the first environmental bond to be on the ballot in New York since 1996.​​

In many cases, the state’s environmental infrastructure is 30-40 years old, according to Andy Bicking, the director of government relations and public policy at Scenic Hudson in Poughkeepsie. His nonprofit organization prepared an education campaign about the Clean Water, Clean Air and Green Jobs Environmental Bond Act.

Bicking added, “At that time, we anticipated severe storm events every 100 years. But now with climate change, we are seeing those major storm events happen much more frequently, sometimes multiple times in a decade.”

Image: Asher Freedman

A quarter of the bond money, $1.1 billion, is designated to reduce the risk of floods, restore coastal and shoreline areas and repair flood-prone infrastructure and roads.

The proposal also will fund protection of wetlands threatened by sea levels.

One reason behind the bond is that some areas in the state, such as New York City, are at moderate risk of flooding overall.

Nearly 30% of the roads in the city are prone to severe flooding, while critical infrastructure is at major risk with 367 out of the 903 buildings classified as flood-prone, according to the Risk Factor website, which helps users learn about a property’s current and future risk of flooding and other environmental threats.

New York has suffered from recent flooding disasters, including damage from the effects of Hurricane Ida and severe thunderstorms.

Bicking said it will take around a decade to spend all the bond money.

The proposal will also create 100,000 jobs, he said.

At least 35% of the money will be spent in disadvantaged communities that are susceptible to environmental hazards, flooding, storms and the urban heat island effect.

Approval of the bond came one year after voters passed a referendum recognizing a constitutional right to clean air, water and a healthy environment.

States elsewhere in the country also had environmental issues on their ballots, but not all passed.

For example, Californians voted on a proposal to raise income taxes for wealthy state residents and to designate the new revenue to boost zero-emission infrastructure and suppress wildfires.

It lost.

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