Ben Parker/Sun Senior Editor

Students and local Ithaca residents gathered Wednesday outside the office of Anna Kelles to rally for passing of the CCIA.

April 8, 2021

Cornell and Ithaca Organizations Rally for Climate Justice Legislation

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Just over two weeks after the Climate and Community Investment Act was introduced in the New York State Senate, Cornell students and other Ithaca residents, including New York Assembly Rep. Anna Kelles (D-125th district), gathered Wednesday afternoon to advocate for the bill’s passage.

Thirty-seven people from a variety of climate organizations rallied in front of Kelles’s downtown Ithaca office for this legislation that would raise billions of dollars through taxes on corporate emissions to fund sustainability projects like solar panels, train people for green jobs, support frontline communities and reduce the cost of utilities for over half of New York residents, according to NY Renews.

The group included activists from Climate Justice Cornell, Sunrise Ithaca, the Ithaca chapter of the Democratic Socialists of America, Tompkins Mothers Out Front, Our Climate and New York Renews. 

One of the event’s speakers was Kelles, who supports the CCIA and said she will vote for it as soon as the bill reaches the New York State Assembly.

“The most critical thing about the CCIA is not only does it establish a very needed revenue stream to combat climate change, it is one of the first bills that I’ve seen that puts equity at the forefront,” Kelles told The Sun.

According to Kelles, her progressive colleagues have expressed significant support for the bill. But for the CCIA to be effective, according to Kelles, the New York State Legislature needs to ensure that it does not transfer funds collected through this legislation to the general budget. 

Eva Milstein-Touesnard ’22, a Climate Justice Cornell organizer, began the event with a land acknowledgement and a summary of what the CCIA includes. 

Other activists then gave speeches about how climate change has affected them personally — including Eden Lewis, a sophomore at Ithaca High School and member of Our Climate, and Magnolia Mead, a senior at Ithaca High School who is part of Sunrise Ithaca and the Ithaca High School Green Team.

Lewis said she is worried for the safety of her extended family who lives in Greenville, North Carolina, because of past hurricane-related flooding in the area. Lewis advocates for the CCIA in part because of the disproportionate impact of fossil fuel emissions on the health of low-income communities and communities of color, as well as the risks these communities face due to climate-related disasters.

“My stake in this struggle is personal,” Lewis said. “Oil, mines and large factories are consistently located near Black and brown communities, leading to poor air quality and more health problems in those communities.”  

Mead’s family is from Guatemala, which is already beginning to experience the effects of climate change on crop yields. Mead sees the effect of the U.S. and Europe’s lack of climate action on countries in the Global South as unjust. 

“The actions that we take in the United States and in New York have major impacts on Guatemala and many countries like it.” Mead said. “My uncle told me that in recent years, coffee farms in lower altitudes have been failing because crops cannot grow.”

Many of the activists present, including Lewis and Mead, said they believe climate change activism should include youth voices. Members of Mothers Out Front, including Merrill Hurst, Elisa Evett and Kathy Malcomson agreed, explaining that they came to the rally to both support youth activists and preserve a better world for their own children and grandchildren.

Katrina Cassell ’23, a student in the School of Industrial and Labor Relations, attended the event as a representative of the Ithaca Democratic Socialists. According to Cassell, the Ithaca DSA supports the CCIA in part because the legislation makes utilities more affordable, a cause that the Ithaca DSA is also trying to address locally through the creation of a rate payers union.

Hannah Brodsky ’22 said she sees the CCIA as an important part of the national fight against climate change. Brodsky and others present encouraged support for the THRIVE agenda in U.S. Congress, which aims to create green jobs, invest in Black and brown communities, fight environmental injustice and strengthen tribal sovereignty.

“New York has been leading the country when it comes to a just transition,” Brodsky said. “Passing the CCIA will motivate other states to champion similar climate justice legislation, helping communities across the country.”