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Full Episode: Hochul's Chief Judge Nominee Rejected; What's in New York's Plan for Climate Change?
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Hochul's Chief Judge Nominee Rejected; What's in New York's Plan for Climate Change?

Full transcript of Hochul's Chief Judge Nominee Rejected; What's in New York's Plan for Climate Change?

 

Dan Clark: New York's court system is a complicated, confusing, and often dysfunctional branch of state government. There are 11 different kinds of courts just at the lowest level, and then there's the mid-tier appellate courts. At the top is New York's Court of Appeals. Basically, our equivalent to the US Supreme Court, and the Chief Judge of the Court of Appeals also doubles as the head of the state's entire judicial branch. It's a really important job that affects each and every New Yorker daily.

That's why Governor Kathy Hochul’s nominee for Chief Judge, Hector LaSalle has gotten a lot of pushback from progressives. He's a presiding justice of one of the state's four appellate courts, and progressives don't like him because they say he's shown a pattern of siding with prosecutors and against unions. 

Some legal analysts have said that criticism is overblown. LaSalle got the chance to defend himself this week when the Senate held a hearing on his nomination saying those decisions shouldn't define him.

Hector LaSalle: I see a case, I rule on it, I decide it. I don't then say, ‘oh, boy, I just, you know, had four cases where I agreed with the prosecutor, I better agree with the defense’. So it could go the other way too. 

We make determinations based on what's in front of us, case by case. Every person is treated as an individual and their case is treated as individual, not an aggregate. That's not how we decide cases.

DC: But after 5 hours of testimony and a lot of questions, the Judiciary Committee voted down Lasalle's nomination. 

We don't really know what that means as some, like Governor Hochul, think it doesn't matter and that the state constitution still requires a full floor vote in the Senate. Others like Senate Judiciary Chair Brad Hoylman-Sigal say that's not the case, and LaSalle's nomination is now dead.

Brad Hoylman-Sigal: It's our assessment that the Senate has performed its responsibilities pursuant to the state constitution. We have rejected the nominee pursuant to the Senate rules and the constitution, and that process starts anew.

DC: There are still a lot of questions about what's next. For more we head to this week's panel, Yancey Roy from Newsday, and Josh Solomon from the Times Union. 

Thank you, guys. 

So, Yancey, where do we go from here?

Yancey Roy: Well, a lot of it depends on the decisions by Governor Kathy Hochul. The Senate committee has voted down Héctor LaSalle, and Kathy Hochul makes the case, as do her supporters and the former Chief Judge of New York State, that it’s not sufficient. They say that the constitution and the state statutes call for is a vote of the full Senate, where it might be a different outcome. 

Now, they say they have the law on their side, but there's the law and then there's the political strategy. Does she want to pick this fight? Does she want to fight it to the end, not only for Hector LaSalle, but to the end of executive branch versus legislative branch, and how does it play out with a state budget coming out?

DC: That is so interesting to me.

Josh, take me behind the scenes of what's happening here, as much as we know. 

I say that like it's a strong term because we didn't even know if he was going to pass the Judiciary Committee when he went to the hearing on Wednesday. So, take me behind what Democrats are going through right now.

Josh Solomon: Well, public facing Senate Majority Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins is saying we're good, we're following the rules and we're going to keep doing that, we're going to follow our rules. Now, from what I've understood, no one has retained counsel yet. Apparently, the governor's office is seeking to retain counsel.

My former colleague Chris Bragg with the Buffalo News said that that the governor's office is going to retain counsel, but the Comptroller's office hasn't found that yet, no contracts have gone forward. It's a bit of a mess, and you see a lot of jockeying right now. 

The news coming out the night before the vote that the governor is going to retain counsel, now the majority leader is saying, we're not doing anything yet, we're going to wait and see what the governor does. We're kind of all waiting.

DC: It's a waiting game.

Historically, judicial nominations in New York for the Court of Appeals and for the appellate departments as well, are kind of more rubber-stamped by the Senate. They have a very short hearing usually, before the Judiciary Committee, sometimes it's as short as 10 minutes, and then they go straight to the floor and get a near-unanimous vote. Why is this one different?

YR: This one is different because of sort of the political climate and the recent history of the court, among other things. What you have now is you have a strong Democratic majority in the legislature, especially the Senate, that's more progressive, more liberal than the governor. They want to change the direction of the court, which has moved to the right in the last few years.

You know, beyond maybe any individual decisions that's been discussed about Héctor La Salle, one of the things that they want to do is not have a court that's so dominated by former prosecutors, and they want someone from a different area of the law. That’s sort of the overview, the macro, the big issue here beyond any specific interest groups and decisions that have been discussed about Judge LaSalle.

DC: The situation is really interesting to me in terms of judicial dynamics too. We have the former Chief Judge, as you said, Jonathan Lippman, supporting Hector LaSalle, and he was a very different Chief Judge than the most recent Chief Judge, Janet DiFiore. Do you think that changes things at all?

YR: Well the issue here is what's happened with the court. They've sided a lot more with prosecutions in the last year under Janet DiFiore, they've certainly cut down on the number of cases that come before the court, and that's another sort of raw territory for defenders. So, they want someone to change the direction, and they say that Judge LaSalle from his profile isn't that person.

DC: So Josh, going back to the retaining counsel question, that would mean if they did retain counsel, it could just be for counsel, or it could be to have a lawsuit against the Senate. Which would mean that public money pays for that governor's counsel, the Senate's counsel, and then they go at it in court until we have a resolution or a conclusion of some sort.

Take me through the politics. Before we came on the air, we were talking a little bit about how, down the road, these next few months, this disagreement between the governor and the Senate could have wider ripples. What do you think?

JS: Both sides say that everything is still cordial, things are fine, and the budget will go smoothly. The governor is going to be putting out her executive budget around February 1st, and then you know, we have until the beginning of April for the state to negotiate a budget. So, this is going to be playing out while they're negotiating.

Let's not forget, progressives have different asks in the budget than what the governor has already laid out. Good cause eviction, hiking the minimum wage before adjusting it to inflation, there are significant asks that they have that the governor doesn't want, and that the moderate block of the Democrats don't want. So that could play out in some of the politicking at play here.

DC: I don't know if it's enough to have progressive say give us X, Y, Z and we will confirm Hector LaSalle. What do you think? It seems like no matter what they want to block him.

JS: Yes. They want to block him.

Let's not forget that it was the Court of Appeals and a 5-4 decision that struck down their political maps during redistricting, which then led in part to the Republican majority in Congress. Those same progressive senators say it is extremely important, and even the majority leader says it's extremely important to counter the balance of the Supreme Court with our court, and we need to be a sword to their shield.

YR: You know, there's two things to point out, one thing that hurt Judge LaSalle in the vote is that it’s not just the progressive wing that had opposed him, there were heavy hitters from labor who oppose him. There was the NAACP, there were abortion rights groups, so I think it's fair to say if it were only the progressives, we might have had a different outcome. But it's not just the progressives, it's a sort of wide branch of supporters of the Democratic Party.

The other thing about how long this plays out, while we're talking about the budget which is due in April, the Court of Appeals has six judges.

DC: I was just going to ask you about that.

YR: It's a potential for a lot of three, three decisions. Just last week in a set of decisions that get handed down routinely, there were two cases that the court said will have to be reargued. Now, they never say exactly why they will need to be reargued, but you can kind of guess that one or both of those cases came up deadlocked 3-3 and they couldn't reach a decision.

So how long does the court wait before they agitate and say we need a seventh judge, we need a Chief Judge?

DC: Right. The dynamics of the Court of Appeals right now are very interesting because you do have, for lack of a better term, a conservative block on that court and a slightly smaller, more progressive, more moderate part of that court with judges like Rowan Wilson and Jenny Rivera. So I think people are looking for a judge that maybe shakes things up.

Dan Clark: New York is now moving forward with a plan to adapt to and combat climate change. The state's Climate Action Council met last month to approve what's called a scoping plan.

That's basically the state's plan to meet its climate goals, which were set in 2019 when the legislature passed the state's Climate Act. To do that, New York will lean on more renewable energy like wind, geothermal and more. That's power producers against environmentalists with concerns about the state's energy grid, and if it's ready for that transition.

Gavin Donohue was one of just two no votes on the Climate Action Council against the scoping plan. He's president of Independent Power Producers of New York, a trade group for energy producers.

Gavin Donohue: The buildout that we're talking about here is unbelievable and this state has never seen a buildout like this. So, we need to do it right and we need to keep the system reliable.

DC: The state is confident that won't be a problem. The scoping plan also includes recommendations for improving the state's energy grid and preparing it for the future. 

To learn more about the scoping plan, we spoke with the co-chairs of the Climate Action Council, DEC Commissioner Basil Seggos and Doreen Harris, president of the state's Energy Research and Development Authority.

I want to ask you first about the timeline of the scoping plan. Climate change is so urgent, you know, so as we're looking at this plan to get to 100% renewable energy net zero emissions, what's the timeline for that? How quickly can we get there?

Basil Seggos: Right, well the law requires us to get to net zero by 2050. That seems like a long way off, but there are a number of important benchmarks between now and then that we have to hit, like 70% renewable by 2030. That's just around the corner, and I think you'll hear that we are making good progress toward that. The law was ambitious when we signed it back in 2019.

We've been hard at work for now, two and a half, three years, putting the plan together, and I think you heard from the governor in the state of the state, we are now rolling into implementation. We're not missing a beat, and importantly other agencies of the state have been rolling out renewable power at an extraordinary rate for the last few years.

DC: Yeah, especially here in Albany. We have a lot going on in wind power and alternative energies. That's great. 

Doreen, I want to ask you about something we talked about last time you were here. You surprised me then when you told me that our biggest source of emissions is buildings in New York, because I would think it would be the transportation sector.

This plan includes a strategy to make our buildings more efficient, with less emissions. How do we get there?

Doreen Harris: Well certainly buildings are number one with respect to greenhouse gas emissions, but no regrets, transportation is close behind. These are really the two biggest challenges we have as a state in really addressing the threat of climate change and specifically achieving the goals within the climate law. When we think about buildings, for us, it's really about health.

It's where we live and work, and it's really about creating healthier buildings for people to live and work in. We talked a lot about this as a Climate Action Council, and certainly the scoping plan reflects the input of that council and specifically the governor has set forth in her state of the state address real initiatives to act on this challenge and specifically with respect to new construction.

She's advanced a proposal for zero-emission new construction in low-rise buildings by 2025 and high-rise buildings by 2028. So that's soon, but not too soon. We can certainly plan around that. 

With respect to existing buildings, we're really looking at the equipment within those buildings and specifically the heating equipment. We're looking to advance zero-emission heating equipment in 2030 for low-rise and 2035 for high-rise, really capturing these when it needs to be changed out.

DC: So when we're talking about buildings and small buildings, we're also talking about residential buildings, homes. If I'm somebody who owns their home right now, will I have to make any changes?

DH: No, you don't have to make changes. Really, what we're looking at is capturing when your furnace needs to be replaced, say, in a decade there will be heat pumps and other technologies available to replace that fossil fuel equipment.

DC: Opponents of the strategy say that we have a housing shortage, so we're going to be building a lot of housing in the next ten years hopefully. They say, well retrofitting these homes with new technologies will be more expensive. Are there ways that we can offset those costs in this plan or is it not as expensive as people may think?

BS: Well, I think it's a bit of both. I mean, talk about expense and costs generally. We are already bearing an extraordinary cost when it comes to climate change, our health, the emissions that we breathe, and also the costs of responding to severe weather, multibillion-dollar storms. So those are some of the costs out there just to be really clear about that.

We've we have spent an enormous amount time thinking about that transition, how to advance it, how to incentivize it, how to offset some of those costs, and you have the governor advancing the cap and invest idea through the state of the state, and that's something I think that we would seek to develop solutions around so that we can help New Yorkers make that transition and ultimately defray some of those costs.

DC: Talk to me about how that works. The cap and invest proposal. Cap and investor, you know, it's kind of easy to figure it out, but who would be buying and where would that money go?

BS: So cap is a cap on emissions, and that cap would decline over time. The invest part is investing in largely renewable power, clean energy, making that transition with a percentage of that also as a rebate as the governor discussed during the state of the state. 

So to get into the cap and invest program, to be a covered party we haven't developed all of the regulation yet. Of course, that will happen this year, but we would set and allow an auction price and sell allowances for large fuel suppliers in to New York state. 

Large emitters would purchase into that and ultimately those proceeds would then fund this transition. That's the mechanics of it.

We will spend probably the next 12 months pulling it together. We've started stakeholder meetings on it already and that'd be something that certainly would help drive this transition over the next 8 to 10 years.

DC: I didn't realize that the cap would get lower over time, so that's a way to transition away from these fossil fuels and maybe not have a cap and invest program down the road and just be on renewables. Am I understanding that right?

BS: That's the idea, yes.

DC: So, that's buildings and cap and invest isn’t just buildings, but I want to turn to vehicles next.

Doreen, on this I think everybody would like to have an electric car. There are some people who say that they're not as fast or whatever. I would love to have an electric car, but they're so expensive. How do we get over the cost?

DH: Well, I just saw the metrics for 2022 and 10% of light-duty vehicle sales were electric last year. When I think about that number, that's an inflection point. What we really see is scale. Ultimately, when we think about reducing cost, we think about first, all of the rebates that are provided. The federal government has really stepped up between the federal and state rebates, so we're approaching $10,000 a vehicle at this point, but when we see 10% turn to 20, 30, 40, that's where we get to scale and we get to the cost reductions we're really looking for. 

That's the combination that will bring that electric vehicle into your future and of course, across New York.

BS: Dan I can tell you, I'm fortunate to have one right now. I look at the app that tells me what I'm saving on gas, and it's about $2,000 this year alone. That's really incredible. 

DC: That's what I want. 

First of all, I want to save money on gas, and second of all, you know, I do go to the mechanic, and it just seems like an electric car would be easier to fix. 

BS: No brakes, there's no fuel filters, no oil changes. I mean, I think you have to watch the tires because, in fact, they are a little bit faster than your average vehicle.

DC: Really? Oh, that's interesting.

Outside of vehicles kind of in this whole energy space, we have this bigger question of the state’s electric grid, too. I think our grid is considered one of the more reliable in the country, if I'm not mistaken. Is our grid ready for this transition to a more renewable energy space? 

DH: The council spent a good bit of time working on this. I know the commissioner and myself, along with our colleagues at the Department of Public Service and the New York Independent System Operator, recognize that we are going to be relying on our grid more expansively, not only to support your electric vehicle and the heat pump in your home, but also just for load growth.

We are expecting to expand businesses across our state and we want to support that with renewable and clean energy. So, we know this transition needs to be occurring over the coming decade. We've been working to do so for a number of years, in fact, and as we speak, we have hundreds of projects in development and construction across our state.

It's a transition that won't happen tomorrow, but it will happen over the coming decades as those projects come online and are constructed, and as we reduce the use of fossil fuels and ultimately eliminate it into 2040 and 2050.

DC: There are people in the state who I could see being concerned about this whole direction that we're going in because of where they live. Places like the Adirondacks, very rural areas, all they've known their entire life is heating their homes on oil or gas. So when they hear they may have to transition to a new energy, something like that, it might give them pause. 

Will it cost more or will it be there If I have an outage, something like. What do you say to those people?

DH: Well, I was up in the North Country last week for the University Games, and while I was there, I actually met with a number of heat pump installers in the North Country when I was in Saranac Lake.

It is true, it's a different climate in the North Country, not all that different than the climate in northern Europe, where they actually have heavily electrified their heating sources, so it can be done. 

It is the case that one needs to weatherize one's home. So, it needs to be very efficient, and when a heat pump is installed for those very cold days, of course, there may be a necessity for some backup. Those woodstoves are nothing that's going to change in the North Country, and certainly having that combination of heat pump electrification and backup heat may be necessary, but I'll tell you, when you go to Norway, it's just heat pumps all the time.

DC: When you talk about heat pumps, is that geothermal energy where they're installing it to go down where it's warmer and bring it back up into your home.

DH: It can be either an air source or a ground source heat pump. It really depends on the type of building that you have and frankly, your interest in exploring either technology is supported by our climate law.

DC: Just in terms of the funding for this, in public spaces, other places like that, the state will bear, I'm assuming, some cost to make this transition. I think it's over a number of years, so that cost may not be as big as people may think year to year.

Where does that money come from? We just passed the Environmental Bond Act. Does it come from there or does this have to happen through the state budget? 

BS: It is probably an all of the above honestly. It’s through the cap and invest program that we would seek to advance this year and get into play by 2026. It’s rate payers who are already paying for some of this transition now, those who are paying utility bills, the state budget is helping here and there. I mean, we have many programs across the state that are actually helping this transition already. Some on the  budget, some off, and yes, the Environmental Bond Act will also help.

The Environmental Bond Act is largely focused on the landscape. So think about the climate effects, flooding, loss of open space, things like that. That's where we seek to put the bulk of that money, but there is an important pot of money in the Environmental Bond Act for this transition. Greening schools, making them more energy efficient, electric buses, making that transition more noteworthy and accelerated, so the Environmental Bond Act will be helpful. 

Really, it is an all of the above approach and ultimately we're looking to keep costs down or help New Yorkers, in fact, meet the challenge of energy these days, which is extraordinarily expensive.

DC: Yeah, I think people get scared, especially in this moment with inflation and energy costs being up, when we talk about transitioning into new energies, but as we've seen in New York, we are doing very big things in wind. We have new solar projects all the time, new renewable energies, so I'm really fascinated by that scoping plan.

I think it's an incredibly huge document with a lot of details that we couldn't hash out here for these 12 minutes, unfortunately, but thank you both so much for talking about it. 

Dan Clark: The Clean Slate Act has been reintroduced at the state capital this year. It's a bill that would automatically seal criminal convictions for most charges after a waiting period if someone has served their entire sentence, including probation.

That means that if you have a criminal conviction and it's been long enough, this bill would block it from public view. There would be an exception for sex offenses. 

Supporters say sealing those convictions would provide new economic opportunities for a lot of New Yorkers. Paul Zuber is from the Business Council of New York State. 

Paul Zuber: How do we grow economically if we don't have enough people to fill the jobs? Nationwide there are 10 million open jobs and only 6 million people able to fill those jobs. So if we gave everybody a job in the United States we'd still be 4 million short. New York State has something like 500,000 unfulfilled jobs. So why are we keeping people out of the economy?

It doesn't make sense.

DC: Opponents of the bill argue that business owners should be able to not hire someone if they have a criminal record and that that information should be public. We'll let you know if that bill starts to move this year.

On This Week's Edition

Catch this week's show on your local PBS station, or watch on YouTube, Facebook, or using the free PBS app anytime after Friday.

On This Week's Edition of New York NOW:

  • Gov. Kathy Hochul's nominee for New York's next chief judge gets a hearing at the State Capitol, and a rejection from the Senate.
  • Yancey Roy from Newsday and Josh Solomon from the Times Union join us to chat about that, and other news from the week.
  • New York's Climate Action Council approved a plan last month for how the state will respond to climate change and lower emissions over the next few decades. State DEC Commissioner Basil Seggos and Doreen Harris, president of NYSERDA, join us to discuss.
  • Advocates for the Clean Slate Act kick off their efforts for this year's legislative session.
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