New York voters overwhelmingly approved a $4.2 billion state environmental bond that includes major investments to reduce flood risk. 

The vote comes 10 years after Hurricane Sandy smashed into the city, causing $19 billion of damage and taking 44 lives.

The Clean Air, Clean Water and Green Jobs Act will dedicate $1.1 billion to flood resilience measures, including restoring wetlands and streams to absorb flood waters, as well as relocating and repairing flood-prone roads or other infrastructure. 

A lush garden with the New York City skyline as the backdrop
New Yorkers voted overwhelmingly to fight climate change. Photo Courtesy of SWA/Balsley, shot by Wade Zimmerman.

With the backing of a broad coalition of more than 300 labor unions, environmental advocates, farmers, firefighters, construction workers, local government groups and others from across the state, the measure passed with nearly 70% of the vote. 

“States rarely dedicate long-term funding for coastal resilience work, and it’s desperately needed,” says Kate Boicourt of Environmental Defense Fund, who led a multilingual campaign to educate voters about the proposal. “This investment will benefit communities across the state for generations to come.” 

Here’s what New York’s bond will do: 

  • Fund $1.5 billion in climate pollution reduction and public health efforts, including energy efficiency upgrades in public buildings and schools, green roofs and gardens that reduce urban heat and zero emission school buses 
  • Direct up to $650 million to initiatives to preserve farms, forests and parks
  • Invest $650 million to safeguard drinking water, such as replacing lead pipes, expanding sewers and upgrading water treatment plants
  • Provide $300 million in unallocated funds 
  • Create or preserve a projected 84,000 local jobs
  • Direct at least 35% of the funds to benefit communities most harmed by pollution. 

Initially proposed in 2020 as a $3 billion effort, the bond was put on hold when the pandemic hit New York. In 2021, legislators resurrected and Governor Kathy Hochul increased the amount to $4.2 billion.

Having state funds at the ready will help attract additional federal money from the Inflation Reduction Act, allowing New York to hit the ground running with major projects. “We hope the bond act can be a model for other states to follow,” says Boicourt. 

Four more environmental wins this election day

New York State isn’t the only place in the U.S. where a ballot initiative helped advance environmental progress.

Cleaner Transit in San Francisco

The city by the bay can continue to expand and upgrade its transit system, thanks to voters’ extension of an existing half-cent transportation sales tax first enacted in 1989. Proposition L help electrify the city’s bus fleet and expand commuter rail, as well as increase equity, help leverage billions of dollars of federal and state funding, cut greenhouse gas emissions from transportation and reduce air pollution.

Rhode Island’s Green Bond

This $50 million bond measure enables Rhode Island to help communities adapt to climate change, offer no- and low-interest loans to small businesses making clean energy upgrades, restore forests, conserve open spaces, and help protect and restore Narragansett Bay and its watershed.

Detroit suburbs beef up their bus system

Voters in Oakland, Wayne and Macomb counties approved a property tax increase to fund the area's Suburban Mobility Authority for Regional Transportation, increasing transit availability to those who need it, while cutting climate and air pollution by reducing the number of cars on the road. “After this vote,” said Oakland County Commission Chair Dave Woodward on Twitter, “we finally move the conversation away from who needs or deserves access to transit, to how we make it work better for everyone, especially to help our most vulnerable neighbors.”

Recycling and composting in Denver 

Businesses, apartment buildings, construction sites and large events are responsible for 82% of Denver's waste. Yet until this election, they were not required to recycle or compost. That will change thanks to an effort championed by the grassroots group Waste No More Denver. Denver's Ballot Measure 306 requires these businesses to recycle, compost food waste and provide educational materials on waste reduction in both English and Spanish.