Daily digest: Hochul on the future of gas stoves and housing-related tax programs, a mass timber break up, and more news

Gettin’ Gassy

Daily digest: Hochul on the future of gas stoves and housing-related tax programs, a mass timber break up, and more news

(State Farm/Flickr/CC BY 2.0)

Happy Friday! Temperatures in the Northeast this weekend are expected to drop to sub-zero lows, so bundle up or stay in and read the news. However, in today’s digest things are heating up with updates on the proposed legislation to ban gas stoves in New York and more news from the Empire State Building following its divisive light show this past weekend. Let’s get into it:

Is New York banning gas stoves? Here are some energy and climate takeaways from the annual state budget…

In her FY 2024 Executive Budget, Governor Kathy Hochul proposed a $5.5 billion investment in emissions reductions, green energy, and a slew of other climate proposals.

Crucially—and controversially—Hochul proposed a ban on fossil fuel building systems and equipment, including gas stoves, in new construction by 2025. If enacted, New York would be the first state to ban gas in new construction, with limited exceptions for commercial kitchens, laundromats, and other facilities. For existing buildings, a ban on gas furnace installation in single-family homes and smaller buildings would go into effect in 2030, while gas installs would be banned from new larger buildings and commercial facilities by 2035. That means if a buildings gas furnace needed to be replaced after the bans are in effect, the owner would have to purchase an electric or non-fossil fuel–dependent system. (The bans in this segment of the proposal apply to heating, not gas stoves.)

Gas stoves and heating systems would not be banned in existing buildings, but the budget proposes funding to swap oil and gas furnaces in the 80 percent of buildings that use these systems for electric heat pumps to meet the state’s emissions reduction goals. While heat pumps are usually more efficient, they come with high upfront purchase and installation costs. Consequently, the budget proposes the electrification of 50,000 homes over the next five years at a cost of $250 million. But is that enough? The Climate Action Council, a state-appointed advisory group, pegged the cost of electrifying and weatherizing the states low- and middle-income homes at $1 billion per year. Pete Sikora, a climate advocate at New York Communities for Change, told New York Focus that the governors estimate was a “cruel joke.”’

On another emissions reduction front, Hochul directed New York State Department of Environmental Conservation and New York State Energy Research and Development Authority to work on a Cap-and-Invest Program that puts limits on greenhouse gas emissions and invests funds into initiatives that work to reduce emissions. The proposal would require polluters to purchase carbon emissions allowances that would be reinvested into the development of clean energy infrastructure. A third of the revenue from the program would go into a Climate Action Fund that would give New Yorkers rebates to ease increased energy costs.

In New York, the Governor and her office are responsible for preparing an annual budget that state legislators modify, so it’s not clear as of yet what aspects of Hochul’s climate plans will be enacted into law.

…and news of an extension for construction deadlines under the popular 421(a) tax program

Beyond emissions-related changes, Hochul’s proposal also included an extension for the 421(a) property tax abatement program. The widely used program expired last spring, but not before permits for eligible projects surged, according to The City. Previously, construction was required to have started by June 15, 2022, and the initial Temporary Certificate of Occupancy was required to be obtained by June 15, 2026. Hochul would like to extend the deadline for project completion to June 2030, which would “allow developers four more years to complete their buildings,” according to communications from the state government. “This extension is expected to assist many projects to move forward including an estimated 32,000 units of housing.”

Mass timber company Structurlam and Walmart break up

On January 18, Structurlam announced that it was suspending operations and reducing staff at its new mass timber manufacturing facility in Conway, Arkansas. The move, anticipated to be temporary, is due to a customer contract cancellation with Walmart, whose headquarters is in nearby Bentonville.

“Decisions like this are never easy, especially when they impact our people,” said Matthew Karmel, CEO of Structurlam Mass Timber Corporation.

Structurlam’s announcement didn’t name Walmart, but other reporting uncovered more information. According to Talk Business & Politics (TBP), a news website that covers business, politics, and culture in Arkansas, “Structurlam’s claim that the retailer was responsible for the partnership ending ‘would not be accurate,’” according to a Walmart spokeswoman. The following statement was shared:

Walmart was informed today by Structurlam’s CEO that they suspended operations of their mass timber factory in Conway, AR. While this is a disappointing outcome that impacts many parties, we are proud of the significant financial and operational support Walmart has provided Structurlam since 2019. Walmart remains excited about using mass timber on our new Home Office campus and will continue to seek alternate sources of mass timber for the project. We will use as much material from our home state of Arkansas as feasible.

Walmart planned to include “1.1 million cubic feet of Arkansas-grown and Arkansas-produced mass timber in its new home office campus in Bentonville,” according to TBP. An alternate source for Walmart’s mass timber needs has not been identified.

Structurlam’s American facility has the capacity to produce more than 1 million cubic feet of glulam and CLT products each year, which means it can make the pieces for a 200,000-square-foot office building in about two months.

“We appreciate the support of the Conway community and state and regional business partners, and we look forward to continuing to remain a vibrant part of this growing economy,” Karmel added.

H/t to TBP

Sorry, Giants fans. The Empire State Building could go green for the Eagles again

Last week, Giants fans took to Twitter to hurl invective at the Empire State Building. Why were they so mad at an inanimate object? After the Philadelphia Eagles’ win against the Cincinnati Bengals in the NFC Championship Game, the Empire State Building tower glowed green and white in recognition of the Eagles win and advancement to Super Bowl LVII. If the Eagles beat the Kansas City Chiefs in the February 12 game, the building will again display Eagles colors:

In fairness to the Empire State Building’s glam team, the building’s lights change to honor all sorts of events, from holidays to awareness campaigns to big sporting wins, regardless of whether the winner is a bitter rival of any given New York sports team.

Amazon will not build a storm shelter at tornado-ravaged Illinois warehouse

In December 2021 a tornado tore through Edwardsville, Illinois, damaging a 1.1-million-square-foot Amazon warehouse, killing six employees. The tragedy prompted a group of U.S. senators (Sen. Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass., and Reps. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, D-N.Y., and Cori Bush, D-Mo.) to write to Amazon, asking about the e-commerce giant’s warehouse reconstruction plans and the site’s lack of a storm shelter. It turned out that Amazon has no plans to erect a storm shelter at the facility. 

This week, CNBC obtained correspondence between Amazon and the senators regarding the situation. A January 14 letter from Brian Huseman, Amazon’s vice president of public policy, said the company followed the sheltering requirements set forth by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) and the National Weather Service. He added that it plans to maintain its status quo plan for severe weather events, which involves a designated assembly area for employees. The employees killed in the tornado were all in the bathroom at the time, while those in the assembly area survived. 

Since the tornado, OSHA has reviewed the site and has recommended that Amazon reevaluate its weather-related policies and procedures. As a result, the company has hired a meteorologist, created new emergency badge cards that detail evacuation plans and assembly points, and established an internal group that monitors and communicates on weather events.  

Desert X announces list of artists designing for this year’s site-specific exhibition

Desert X, an annual site-specific art exhibition in the Coachella Valley, has announced the artists who will design works for this year’s iteration. The 11 artists, whose works spans multiple media and who hail from across the globe, will each be responsible for creating an immersive work that responds to climate change and the environment. Projects realized in sculpture, painting, film, music, and more will be staged at sites across the Coachella Valley. 

Now in its fourth year, the 2023 Desert X is curated by Artistic Director Neville Wakefield and Co-curator Diana Campbell

“Since its founding, Desert X has provided a non-judgemental platform where artists and audiences generate cross-cultural dialogue and new understanding about our world. They are challenged by the desert, its beauty, harshness, and ever-changing environment,” said Desert X Founder and President Susan Davis in a press release. “For 2023, visitors will encounter immersive works that respond to the global impact of climate change, economic challenges and the profound social transformations we are confronting.”

Here is the list of participating artists, their respective nationalities, and current places of residence:

  • Rana Begum, Bangladesh, based in London
  • Lauren Bon, USA, based in Los Angeles
  • Gerald Clarke, USA, based in Anza, California
  • Paloma Contreras Lomas, Mexico, based in Mexico City
  • Torkwase Dyson, USA, based in Beacon, New York
  • Mario García Torres, Mexico, based in Mexico City
  • Hylozoic/Desires (Himali Singh Soin, India, based in London and Delhi and David Soin Tappeser, b.1985, Germany, based in London and Delhi)
  • Matt Johnson, USA, based in Los Angeles
  • Tschabalala Self, USA, based in New York
  • Marina Tabassum, Bangladesh, based in Dhaka, Bangladesh
  • Héctor Zamora, Mexico, based in Mexico City

Desert X will run from March 4 through May 7. More information can be found here.