Buffalo-area lawmakers discuss climate protections, economic benefits of the Build Back Better Act

Photo courtesy of the Governor’s Office
Extreme weather due to climate change, as pictured in this December 2021 storm in western New York, can overwhelm sewage and wastewater systems, contributing to sewage overflows that flood lakes, rivers, and streams, said two lawmakers during a recent press conference. Sen. Sean Ryan and Assemblyman Bill Conrad are asking the U.S. Senate to pass the Build Back Better Act, which includes $550 for environmental protection programs.

Two Western New York lawmakers today spoke of the need to pass federal funding through the U.S. Senate to prevent future weather emergencies and promote their local manufacturing industries and job markets.

State Sen. Sean Ryan, D-Buffalo, Assemblyman Bill Conrad, D-Tonawanda, and climate change activists urged the U.S. Senate to pass significant climate investments, during a recent virtual press conference.


The announcements follow the House’s passage of H.R. 5376- the Build Back Better Act, in the House of Representatives last year, which included $550 billion in funding for clean energy programs.

While pleased by the progress made, such as with Gov. Kathy Hochul’s proposal for electric school buses and a rebate on electric car purchases, Ryan, Conrad, and the conservationists who joined them said more can be done.

Julie Tighe, president of the New York League of Conservation Voters said, “We need the Senate to take action. We’re so pleased that Sen. [Chuck] Schumer has been such a fierce advocate for climate and we appreciate his support and leadership. He’s really been driving these negotiations and making good progress but we need to ramp this pressure up across the state, our region and our country to get this once in a lifetime climate goal passed.”

Brian Smith, the associate executive director of Citizens Campaign for the Environment, cited recent flooding in West Seneca and pressed the need for investment in New York specifically.

“Studies have shown that [more than] 240,000 New Yorkers are at increased risk of inland flooding due to climate change,” Smith said. “Extreme weather due to climate change also overwhelms our sewage and wastewater systems contributing to sewage overflows that flood our great lakes with millions and millions of gallons of raw sewage.”

He described the investments as a tool to prevent future crises. Through the prevention of flooding by developing wetlands areas and removing lead pipes, New York’s drinking water will become cleaner and their citizens safer.

For example, in New York City and surrounding areas in the region, coastal wetlands helped prevent roughly $625 million dollars in flood related damages during Hurricane Sandy. Additionally, lead pipe removal under New York’s LSLRP program has given 20 million in funding to municipal applicants which can help reduce the amount of lead in the water of citizens, helping prevent negative health effects.

“Climate investments are not a luxury anymore. We can’t as a species or a citizenry afford to consider it as an afterthought anymore, an if and when we get to budget items. It’s over,” Conrad said.

He explained that the clean energy activity in his district has already been a success. After receiving grants for their environmentally conscious efforts, they were able to make improvements in HVAC efficiencies, LED lighting, and solar panels.

Job creation in the clean energy sector was also emphasized by the legislators, with the possibility of funding for new projects being distributed throughout the state.

Assemblyman Conrad pointed to 3M and Saint-Gobain as examples of companies already working in the clean energy sector around his district. Ryan also expressed optimism towards these new jobs, believing they will serve to strengthen the middle class.

Under the proposed funding, estimates show that the bill would create more than 170,000 new jobs for New Yorkers over the next five years.

“Prior to the pandemic we were on a real roll in terms of the economy and clean energy jobs. In 2019 there were about 160,000 New Yorkers working in clean energy. With this investment we could easily double that amount in just a few years,” Ryan said. “These are good paying jobs, these are union jobs, these are plumbers, electricians, operating engineers, the people that have to actually get this work done.”