Democrats Are Trying to Smother New Yorkers with Methane Gas

An effort to weaken New York’s climate law was defeated last week by the environmental left. That weakening was backed by State Sen. Kevin Parker, one of the fossil fuel industry’s favorite Democrats.

State Senator Kevin Parker speaks as Governor Kathy Hochul signs bills regarding New York’s commitment to clean energy development at Newlab Headquarters at Brooklyn Navy Yard, July 5, 2022. (Lev Radin / Pacific Press / LightRocket via Getty Images)

Powered by fossil fuel money, New York governor Kathy Hochul and state senator Kevin Parker tried hard to weaken the state’s climate law last week, especially its provisions on methane, as Julia Rock reported. Thanks to a well-organized and left-wing climate movement, they failed. But the episode was a public reminder of what New York socialists have known for a long time: Parker isn’t an ally to workers or the planet.

As part of the state budget talks, Governor Hochul and Senator Parker were trying to push a new way of measuring methane emissions, one favored by the fossil fuel industry. Methane is far more damaging to the planet and to human health than carbon, trapping eighty times more heat and warming the world at a much faster rate. It accounts for more than a third of global warming and contributes significantly to air pollution.

Even without considering its climate impact, the ozone created by methane kills about a million people every year, through asthma, lung and heart diseases, and neurological complications as well as everyday problems like headache, nausea, and dizziness. Methane decreases the amount of oxygen in the air, which means that the atmosphere is suffocating us.

What kind of sickos would sign us up for this torture? Mainstream, corporate Democrats.

Hochul and Parker’s industry-fueled change would track methane’s impact over the span of a century, rather than the twenty-year period that most experts agree is a more accurate measure. The century is a bad timescale for methane, because while carbon dioxide takes hundreds of years to accumulate in the atmosphere and break down, methane turns into other greenhouse gases, and much more quickly than that. Taking one hundred years to measure its impact, then, would miss about two thirds of methane’s environmental impact.

This move by the fossil fuel–backed Democrats to effectively deregulate methane was announced Sunday, April 2, but the Hochul administration withdrew its support that Wednesday, after extensive pressure from hundreds of left environmental groups, including the New York Renews coalition, government agencies like the Climate Action Council, and many citizens mobilized by groups pushing for public renewables.

Parker has been notorious in Albany for years, including for violent outbursts that include punching a traffic cop, breaking a journalist’s camera, and allegedly hitting and shoving a legislative aide. Most American workers, if they behaved this way at work, would no longer be employed.

Parker has held his seat for over two decades. During that time, he has become one of the state legislature’s biggest recipients of campaign cash from the fossil fuel industry, especially National Grid, Entergy, National Fuel Gas, and Independent Power Producers of New York. Worse, the industry gets even more than it pays for from Parker: as Senate Energy Committee chair, he has obstructed meaningful climate policy. Even after having to wage a serious campaign to defeat a socialist challenger, Parker is still doing the fossil fuel industry’s dirty work. National Grid and other major fossil fuel interests were, of course, behind Parker’s effort to water down the methane rules.

Last year Parker faced a vigorous primary challenge from David Alexis, a Haitian Lyft driver and organizer for the Drivers’ Cooperative, a driver-owned ride-hailing app service, who was backed by New York City Democratic Socialists of America (NYC-DSA). Alexis — who like many New Yorkers, suffers from asthma, as do his children — ran a campaign foregrounding the fossil fuel industry’s influence on Parker and the need for publicly funded renewable energy.

Alexis and his socialist supporters knocked on some sixty thousand Brooklyn doors and raised over $200,000. Their work certainly helped the Build Public Renewables Act, which lays the groundwork for a public power system, to come as far as it has in the legislature. But they failed to unseat Parker. The district has some conservative neighborhoods in which the incumbent’s support is strong. As well, the Alexis campaign was probably a bit too polite: running on the issues and a positive socialist vision was good, but highlighting Parker’s nasty personality, especially in contrast with Alexis’s wholesome charisma, couldn’t have hurt.

It’s good that the environmental left defeated Parker’s brazen methane rollback. Organizing works, and the Left has more power in the legislature than it has in years, thanks to a significant uptick in left-wing electoral activism and institution building. Still, the episode shows that David Alexis could run for his seat again, with the backing of NYC-DSA, the Working Families Party, and other progressive groups.

New York City socialists have electoral momentum, adding two new legislators to the DSA slate last year, and Parker is exactly the sort of elected official wholly captured by fossil fuel interests that socialists have identified as a major barrier to state-level progressive legislation. Knocking Parker out of office in the next electoral cycle would be a huge boon to the cause of building a sustainable New York — and a huge defeat to a Democratic Party leadership that is indifferent to that cause.