New York Can Lead with Equitable and Ambitious Climate Law

New York State has a golden opportunity this legislative session to enact the most progressive climate legislation in the country. Legislation currently being debated holds the potential to fundamentally transform the state’s economy to meaningfully reduce greenhouse gas emissions in just a decade, while also helping to create a more just and equitable society.
Credit: Source: New York State Greenhouse Gas Inventory, 1990-2015, Figure S-1 (Sept. 2018).

New York State has a golden opportunity this legislative session to enact the most progressive climate legislation in the country. Legislation currently being debated holds the potential to fundamentally transform the state’s economy to meaningfully reduce greenhouse gas emissions in just a decade, while also helping to create a more just and equitable society. Thankfully the state’s leaders agree on the need for a bold climate package. But to reach consensus and pass the strongest possible bill, they will need to come together to combine the best elements of the Climate and Community Protection Act (CCPA), Governor Cuomo’s Climate Leadership Act, and other smart ideas put forward by diverse stakeholders.

Two critical pieces for such a package include: (1) establishing a program to accelerate renewable energy deployment and require all electricity supply to be zero emissions by 2040; and (2) prioritizing equity by devoting at least 40 percent of clean energy program funds going forward to uses that benefit historically marginalized communities that are disproportionately burdened by climate change, pollution and their negative public health effects. As we stated in our previous post, the NY Renews coalition has been instrumental in advancing the CCPA and driving the climate dialogue in Albany. Their advocacy around ensuring that at least 40 percent of any clean energy revenues going forward is invested to benefit disadvantaged communities has rightfully been a cornerstone of that campaign.

Charting a path to an emissions free electricity system

Codifying a program to eliminate emissions from the state’s electricity supply is the lynchpin to decarbonizing the state’s economy. While electricity generation is only the third largest source of greenhouse gas emissions in New York State, the two largest sources— transportation and on-site combustion of fossil fuels in buildings—will both rely on electrification in order to decarbonize. Electric buses and cars are critical to eliminating emissions from the transportation sector, and clean and efficient heat pumps (which rely on electricity) are integral to eliminating on-site building emissions. Ensuring that vehicles and buildings are powered without producing greenhouse gases or harmful pollution thus hinges on rapidly expanding clean energy resources like offshore and land-based wind generation, and solar energy, and ultimately achieving a reliable zero-emissions electricity system.  

In order to achieve a zero emissions electricity system, New York must build on its recently-established Clean Energy Standard, which requires the New York Public Service Commission (PSC) and New York State Research and Development Authority (NYSERDA) to quickly scale up wind and solar energy across the state. While wind and solar make up only a small portion of New York’s existing electricity supply, NYSERDA and the PSC have worked together to quickly change that and both technologies are rapidly expanding in New York. NYERDA has awarded contracts in recent years to support the construction of thousands of megawatts of new wind and solar projects, and together with the PSC, laid the foundation for a massive new offshore wind industry. Meanwhile, the state's New York Sun program has contributed to the rapid expansion of distributed solar energy, greatly decreasing the costs of deployment. New York can build on this success by raising the ambition of the Clean Energy Standard from its current target of 50 percent renewable electricity supply by 2030 to 70 percent by the same date, setting a new target of 100 percent zero emissions electricity supply by 2040, and enshrining each of these requirements in statute.

Building a just transition: Support for a 40 percent funding requirement and other equity principles

Historically marginalized communities are disproportionately harmed by pollution and climate change, and energy costs impose a much greater burden for disadvantaged New Yorkers.

As the state channels significant resources toward the immense task of decarbonizing the economy, it should account for the long legacy of these disproportionate burdens, and ensure that historical injustices are rectified. Truly progressive climate legislation will account for these burdens and integrate equity principles into program design, while simultaneously ensuring that clean energy programs are efficiently and rapidly scaled up, and effectively administered. Channeling at least 40 percent of clean energy transition funds to benefit disadvantaged communities (a “40 percent funding requirement”) would help to redress historical injustices given that those communities have suffered disproportionately from the harms caused by pollution, climate change, and the state’s historical reliance on fossil fuels. After consulting with some environmental justice advocates who were instrumental in developing this “equity filter” concept, we have concluded that a well-designed 40 percent funding requirement could be effectively implemented and ultimately serve as a critical tool to meaningfully improve the lives of New Yorkers in those communities.

A 40 percent funding requirement could benefit communities by channeling clean energy programs in several ways: First, such programs can directly serve communities. For example, energy efficiency programs that target low-and moderate income housing can increase comfort and lower energy bills for residents, improve community health and provide a direct financial benefit. Second, they can provide an emissions benefit for communities. For example, industrial energy efficiency programs could be deployed in a fashion that prioritizes reducing energy use (and its associated pollution) in disproportionately burdened communities. Third, clean energy programs can provide a workforce benefit. For example, the construction of offshore wind will employ thousands of New Yorkers, and programs to scale up the industry can be designed to foster community inclusion in the workforce. 

When paired with other tools, such as a screening process to consider equity and meaningfully incorporate community voices in program design, a 40 percent funding requirement like the one laid out in the CCPA can help ensure that New York’s future clean energy programs focus on benefiting communities harmed by climate change and pollution from New York’s historical reliance on fossil fuels.

Carpe Diem: Time to close the deal on a nation-leading climate framework

Time is running out to secure nation-leading climate legislation for New York. Our focus in advocating for passage of a climate bill is to ensure that the legislation provides a workable, achievable path to reaching climate justice for all New Yorkers. NRDC has joined with Audubon NY, The Nature Conservancy, New York League of Conservation Voters, Riverkeeper, and Citizens Campaign for the Environment in articulating key design features that we believe are critical to the legislation’s success, which we recently updated in this memorandum.

We are confident that by working together, the Assembly, Senate, and Governor can achieve consensus on a bill that will be the most progressive climate package in the nation. With less than a month left in the 2019 legislative session, what remains is for our elected officials to set aside differences and close the deal—failure, quite simply, is not an option.