New York State Senator Rachel May answered questions on bills, policies, and initiatives related to climate justice during a town hall with Hamilton students and members of the local community. The Oct. 8 event was organized by Sunrise Hamilton and moderated by Madison Lazenby ’23, the group’s hub coordinator.

Fatima Oliva ’23, Sunrise Hamilton’s policy lead, opened the event by providing background on the student-led organization and their endorsement of May in her campaign for reelection in the state’s 53rd district, citing primarily her commitment to “making climate change a priority in New York.” 

One of the main pieces of legislation discussed was the Climate Leadership and Community Protection Act (CLCPA), enacted in July 2019. The New York State website touts the CLCPA as “among the most ambitious climate laws in the world,” before outlining its key components: reducing greenhouse gas emissions and creating an effective Climate Action Council tasked with the responsibility of charting a course toward carbon neutrality. 

May appeared generally optimistic about the act when asked about the success of its implementation so far. “The membership of the council is pretty good, I think there’s some very smart people on there,” she said. “The meetings I’ve been able to either watch or read transcripts from have been — they’re taking it seriously, how to get there.” 

May admitted, however, that the CLCPA has been somewhat back-burnered as of late. “The pandemic has been so overwhelming,” she said. “We’ve been spending so much time just helping people get their unemployment benefits, and that sort of thing.”

Despite this, May touched on a few current bills and initiatives focused on specific environmental issues. She voiced her support for introducing more plant-based options in school lunches, noting the present cultural shift away from meat-based diets. “You’ve got to bring the culture along with you a little bit,” May stressed. “If you start just making unilateral decisions for people about how they live their lives, they are going to resist, and things could get worse.”

When asked about public transportation, May referenced a proposal for a bus rapid transit system in Syracuse. With this more efficient system, she said, thousands of people without cars would be able to get to work more quickly. The city would also encourage development along the new bus lines. 

Other legislation discussed included what May dubbed a “21st century Works Progress Administration” that would create readily accessible jobs such as weatherizing homes, planting trees, and installing green energy sources. A bill that promotes climate education curricula in schools was backed by May as well.

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