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Gov. Hochul discusses N.Y.’s commitment to environmental policy during Vatican City trip

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Gov. Kathy Hochul showcased New York’s environmental commitment Thursday during an international climate conference organized by the head of the Catholic Church.

Hochul was introduced to Pope Francis and, according to her office, she received rosary beads as a gift.

The Pope also prayed for New Yorkers.

“I was raised as an Irish Catholic and my grandparents had a picture of the Pope back when I was a little girl visiting their home. So, to meet him in person, this person who is so holy and represents the values that I associate with the Catholic Church,” Hochul said in exclusive interview addressed an audience at the Joint Summit on Climate hosted by the Pontifical Academy of Sciences and the Pontifical Academy of Social Sciences in Vatican City.

“One could not spend part of a morning with the inspirational leadership of Pope Francis and not come away with one strong sense of our moral responsibility — not just to our own constituents, but to those who’ve been left behind on God’s great creation known as Mother Earth,” she said.

“I had two hurricanes my first week on the job — more than Florida had that year. I had an earthquake — an earthquake in New York,” Hochul explained.

Hochul also discussed how she helped pass the $4.2 billion “Bond Act” to help strengthen drinking water infrastructure and flood prevention.

She announced $300 million, a portion of that funding, is now available for New York municipalities to apply for through state grant programs.

“You better put money behind it, or else it’s just talk,” she warned.

But some argue, the state has a lot more ground to cover.

“New York’s policy is very heavy on the performative stuff and very light on the actual substance,” Ken Girardin, the director of research at the Empire Center for Public Policy, a conservative think tank, said.

Girardin said New York is moving too slow in its transition away from fossil fuels and already blew a deadline back in January for the so-called “cap and invest” — a key component of the 2019 climate law aimed at curbing emissions.

“The governor is in a really complicated spot. On the one hand, state law requires Albany to make some pretty extreme changes to economic regulations and other parts of energy policy in order to reduce carbon emissions. On the other hand, the governor is looking at reality and not only what people are going to be able to afford but what kind of economic disruptions people are going to tolerate,” Girardin said.

Hochul also blamed climate change, in part, for the migrant crisis that’s led hundreds of thousands of asylum seekers to New York, California and Massachusetts.

“We are a magnet — our three states are magnets — for refugees, for migrants who are looking for a better life coming up from South America, West Africa,” said Hochul, appearing to gesture at California Gov. Gavin Newsom and Massachusetts Gov. Maura Healey, who were also in the audience. “But those who are the climate refugees, local circumstances, environmental challenges, that are driving people from their homes because they can no longer sustain themselves.”

Some argue, Hochul should go further.

“The governor was right on that, but she stopped of saying who was responsible, she doesn’t mention anything about the oil companies who knew for decades that this was going to be a problem,” Blair Horner, NYPIRG’s legislative director, told NY1 in an interview in New York on Thursday.

“New York is already facing billions of dollars in climate costs now, they will go to tens of billions of dollars soon to fix the New York City sewer system, so that it can handle more intense rainstorms, that’s a $100 billion price tag,” he added.  

The governor is also on track to travel to Dublin and Killarney, Ireland, where she is expected to speak in front of business leaders about New York’s foray into artificial intelligence research during a conference.

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