The Green Jobs / Green New York Act

The Green Jobs / Green New York Act

Thursday, October 1, 2009



The Green Jobs/ Green New York Act

The Green Jobs / Green New York Act (A8901 / S5888), which passed both the New York Assembly and Senate, could be a model for other states.  The legislation sets the goal of implementing energy efficient retrofits in one million buildings over the next five years and creating approximately 14,000 family-sustaining jobs.  Efficiency measures help combat climate change, produce cost savings across the economy, reduce pressures on the electrical grid and provide public health benefits.       

According to Dan Cantor, Executive Director of the Working Families Party, “The key innovation in the bill is a revolving capital fund, which would leverage private investment in energy efficiency to massively increase the use of existing technology”¦. [S]tate certified contractors will perform free or low-cost energy audits for homeowners, looking for repairs and upgrades (like air sealing, insulation, new boilers) that can pay for themselves through the energy savings they create. The work would be paid for by the fund -- homeowners pay it back out of a portion of their energy savings (they pocket the rest, in addition to getting their homes repaired).”

It took a unified coalition consisting of diverse stakeholders such as environmental and local community organizations as well as labor activists, including, but not limited to, the Working Families Party, the Center for Working Families, and the IBEW to move this legislation.  Senator Darrel Aubertine, chair of the Senate Energy and Telecommunications Committee and lead sponsor of the bill in the Senate, said: “By passing the Green Jobs/Green New York Act with bipartisan support we have taken an important step toward improving our economy and helping our environment. This bill encourages conservation, helps consumers with the cost of capital improvements to their homes and businesses, and creates jobs in the new economy. It’s a win-win for New York State.” According to the New York State Senate:

  • The program will be funded with revenue raised by the auction of carbon emission credits through the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative (REGGIE).  The bill allocates $112 million from these auctions to the NYS Energy Research and Development Authority (NYSERDA) and those funds will be used to leverage private and federal investments. 
  • Specifically, NYSERDA will establish a revolving loan program to provide up to $13,000 per residential customer to retrofit a home, and up to $26,000 to retrofit each qualifying business.  NYSERDA will also conduct energy audits, program administration and a credit enhancement for critical private sector capital investments. 
  • The program will front the cost of the work, enabling property owners to afford energy efficient retrofits.  Although property owners will repay the full cost over time, their total energy usage will be reduced by 30-40%, providing them with savings greater than their loan payment on their energy bill will be less than what they saved, providing property owners with net savings.
  • In partnership with the NY Department of Labor, NYSERDA will also create workforce training programs throughout the state to ensure that the state’s workforce is highly trained and in place to handle mass-scale retrofitting.  

"This is exactly the type of innovative initiative President Obama envisions when he talks about creating green jobs and the new clean energy economy," said Assemblyman Kevin Cahill. "A successful program here in New York will establish us as a national leader in tackling the tough challenges of climate change and employment opportunities in the 21st Century."


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Voter ID Law Struck Down by Indiana Appellate Court

Last week the Indiana Court of Appeals struck down the photo identification requirement for voting that was upheld by the US Supreme Court in its Crawford decision last year.  In doing so, the court ruled on the basis of equal protection as guaranteed by Indiana's state constitution, which is more extensive than federal law.  The Indiana court follows Missouri, whose photo ID requirement was found unconstitutional under that state's constitution in 2006.

The Indiana Court of Appeals did not rule that requiring a photo ID to vote inherently violates equal protection, but they did find that the current exemptions to the ID requirement create classes of voters with different burdens and that those differences cannot be adequately justified by the state.  Specifically, the exemptions from the ID requirement for those casting absentee ballots, or those living in a nursing home that is also a polling place, run afoul of the state constitutional mandate that “[t]he General Assembly shall not grant to any citizen, or class of citizens, privileges or immunities which, upon the same terms, shall not equally belong to all citizens.”  

In regard to the exemption for those who cast absentee ballots, the court pointed to a case where the state's high court had previously allowed the inclusion of extra requirements for absentee ballots based on "inherent differences [that] make mailed-in ballots more susceptible to improper influences or fraud."  Therefore, the court found that it was irrational for the state to create a rule placing less scrutiny on absentee voters than it does on polling-place voters.  Similarly, the Missouri Supreme Court found that a photo ID requirement was not necessary to protect the state's interest in preventing voter fraud because there was no evidence at all that voter impersonation occurred in Missouri, the only form of fraud addressed by ID requirements.  With regard to the exemption for residents of nursing homes that are also polling places, the court found that the law failed in its requirement to treat similarly situated individuals the same.

True to form, the Governor and Secretary of State were quick to disparage the ruling as "arrogant" and those who brought the case as "irresponsible."  Both seem to believe that if the US Supreme Court has ruled on the federal constitutionality of a law, there is no place for the state courts to rule on the same law's constitutionality under their state Constitution.  Given their high positions in state government, such a view is sad if not surprising.

Decision Appears to Mark Shift in Best Venue for Voting Restriction Challenges:  Two important lessons come from state courts striking down voter ID laws on constitutional grounds.  First, state courts are showing themselves more exploratory than the federal courts in assessing governments' justifications for voter ID laws.  In both Indiana and the earlier Missouri case, the court found that the laws, or parts of them, were not narrowly tailored to achieving the governments' interests.  The Supreme Court in Crawford was much more willing to accept the government's justifications even when they didn't appear to have any facts to point to (ie. relying on references to voter fraud from the 19th century to justify current ID requirements).

The other important lesson is that as the US Supreme Court becomes more conservative, especially in the context of voting rights, it will fall to state constitutional protections to preserve the right to vote from further encroachment.  Even in conservative states, as the cases from Indiana and Missouri illustrate, the constitutions themselves, and the judicial interpretation of those constitutions, will possibly be a more fertile ground for challenges against voting restrictions than their federal counterparts.  While the Indiana Supreme Court has yet to make a final ruling, signs are pointing to a shift of where voting rights will find their best protection as we move into the future.

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EPA to Follow States and Ban Lead from Automobile Wheels

Car owners and fans of NPR's Car Talk know that when you get new tires or rotate them, the tires need to be balanced.  Often, those tires are balanced with lead weights, which either disintegrate over time from daily driving, releasing lead powder into our environment, or are knocked off by curbs and unkempt roads.  Maine, Vermont, and Washington have banned lead weights, and at least California and Iowa are considering similar action.  The Environmental Protection Agency has taken notice, recently signaling that it will work to institute a nationwide ban of leads weights as Europe has already done.

It is well known that exposure to lead causes a variety of health maladies, such as brain and nervous system disorders, high blood pressure, and reproductive and development problems.  However, the EPA estimates that 2,000 tons of these small lead weights are lost from vehicles and released into our environment each year, the weight equivalent of 1,364 Toyota Prius hybrids.  

The Sierra Club, Ecology Center and other environmental groups have long petitioned for the ban, and were rebuffed by the Bush Administration in 2005.  Yet, the EPA is now changing course.  Adding to the pressure on the EPA to ban the lead weights has been the action of states in recent years.  A senior EPA official cited the increase of state bans as one of the pressure points leading them to act, saying "a number of states have moved to ban these weights, so there's clearly rising concern."

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Voting Machine Merger Threatens Integrity of Elections

Last month, leading voting machine manufacturer Elections Systems & Software (ES&S) purchased Premier Election Solutions from its parent company, Diebold Inc.  ES&S currently controls 50% of the voting machine market in the US and the acquisition of Premier will add another 33%, giving the company control of over 80% of the market.  The sale was not announced prior to completion and has raised serious concerns among voting integrity advocates and lawmakers.

The almost total control that the merger gives ES&S in the US voting machine market raises strong anti-trust concerns, especially considering the absence of other large competitors in the market, which would prevent competitive bidding for voting machine contracts in many states.  These concerns led US Sen. Charles Schumer and the election integrity organization Voter Action to request Department of Justice review of the merger under anti-trust law.  Both the Senator and Voter Action point to the serious consequences that monopoly control of voting machine production and maintenance could have for our democracy, noting that a "[GAO] report indicates that having a diversity of voting systems in our country may decrease the likelihood of widespread election fraud," and that "the ES&S/Premier acquisition is absolutely unique in its potential for disturbing U.S. election processes and results."

ES&S and Premier are perhaps the most problem-plagued producers of voting equipment.  The actions of each alone have given serious heartburn to election officials and activists nationwide, which in part explains the strong response against their merger.  However, privatized election systems are in and of themselves a substantial threat to the integrity of our voting systems, giving the crucial task of tabulating and canvasing votes to private corporations with little public oversight.  Election reformers in and out of government have for years advocated for full public control of elections and strict transparency as the only way to run legitimate elections.  This new merger is perhaps a worst-case scenario, giving one company control of much of the nation's election infrastructure.

The number three machine maker, Hart InterCivic, has filed a lawsuit seeking to undo the sale, and a federal judge in New Jersey has agreed to hear the company's request for a preliminary injunction.  Hart's attorney, Johnathan Rubin, noted that the government was not a party to the lawsuit because "these parties did a stealth transaction in an apparent attempt to end-run the government."

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Research Roundup

Correcting Five Myths About the Stimulus Bill-  This policy brief by the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities emphasizes a few key facts: unemployment would be worse without stimulus spending, the intent was always to spend the money over two to three years (not in a couple of months), the costs of the stimulus are small in the context of long-term deficit projections, the law has played a key role in helping states avoid cuts in health care and education, and states are rightly using funds for short-term projects like paving and repair rather than longer-term infrastructure.

The Poor Pay More ”• Poverty's High Cost to Health - As this report by Spotlight on Poverty and Opportunity describes, the poor tend to suffer from more illnesses and die younger because of factors including neighborhood safety, housing quality and access to nutritious food. The report examines policies for addressing these problems, such as increasing the minimum wage, investing in early childhood education and increasing aid to jobless workers.

Estimating the Cost of Racial and Ethnic Health Disparities - According to the Urban Institute, excess rates of diabetes, hypertension, and stroke among African Americans and Latinos relative to whites will cost $23.9 billion in 2009. Over the next decade, the total cost will be approximately $337 billion.

The Nursing Workforce Challenge: Public Policy for a Dynamic and Complex Market - The next decade may see more nurses retiring than new ones entering the workforce, according to this Urban Institute report.  Shortages of nurses are due both to demographic changes and structural issues like low pay and declining public support for training, so the report recommends a focus on raising wages and strengthening public investments in nurse training.

New Law, Same Old Loans: Payday Lenders Sidestep Ohio Law - Policy Matters Ohio finds that despite having one of the best-crafted payday lending laws in the nation, Ohioans are still paying triple-digit interest rates on payday loans. Payday lenders in Ohio are deliberately violating the new law which requires lenders to give people 30 days to pay back loans and established other consumer protections to keep borrowers out of the debt trap.

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The Stateside Dispatch is written and edited by:

Nathan Newman, Executive Director
Nora Ranney, Legislative Director
Caroline Fan, Immigration and Workers' Rights Policy Specialist
Altaf Rahamatulla, Tax & Budget Policy Specialist
Julie Schwartz, Broadband and Technology Policy Specialist
Christian Smith-Socaris, Election Reform Policy Specialist
Adam Thompson, Health Care Policy Specialist
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