Unpacking New York's Big New Climate Bill: A Primer

This Primer was drafted by NRDC Legal Intern Peter Damrosch

As outlined in our prior post, New York State is raising the bar on climate action with an agreement between the Governor and legislature on a nation-leading framework: The New York Climate Leadership and Community Protection Act

After Senate passage earlier this week, in the wee morning hours of June 20th, the Assembly also passed the legislation, which we expect to be delivered to the Governor and signed into law straightaway. Once enacted, the critically important work by the Climate Action Council, state agencies, and engaged stakeholders to implement the framework’s ambitious provisions will commence.

Now, with the dust settling on a long and intense legislative process, NRDC has compiled the following brief bill summary outlining the Act’s key components (also available here). 


The Climate Leadership and Community Protection Act

Updated June 20th, 2019

A. Introduction

This primer explains the major provisions of the Climate Leadership and Community Protection Act (CLCPA or the “Act”), a historic climate law that puts New York on a path to reaching net zero greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions. The culmination of more than three years of grassroots organizing, the CLCPA establishes economy-wide and electric sector targets for reducing GHG emissions and scaling up clean energy that will transform and strengthen New York’s economy. Moreover, the Act includes several environmental justice components, including a requirement to direct at least 35-40% of the program’s benefits to historically disadvantaged communities. [1]

The Act extends and enhances a number of New York’s successful clean energy initiatives. It codifies in law Governor Cuomo’s ambitious goals to accelerate the development of wind and solar power, increase energy efficiency, and facilitate the growth of energy storage technology.


To achieve net zero GHG emissions, the law creates a Climate Action Council, which over the next two years will develop and propose a suite of strategies for attaining deep decarbonization across the economy, updating those plans every 5 years thereafter. [2] The work of the Climate Action Council will be guided by the legal requirements contained in the Act, which are discussed below.


B. Major Provisions


1. New York’s New Mandate: Net Zero Emissions


  • The CLCPA commits New York to reaching net zero greenhouse gas emissions. This mandate covers all sectors of the economy and includes electricity and fuels that are imported from other states.[3]


  • The bill requires 40 percent emissions reductions in absolute terms from 1990 levels by 2030 and 85 percent emissions reductions by 2050.[4]


  • To reach the target of net zero emissions, the CLCPA allows for any remaining emissions beyond 85 percent to either be directly reduced, or offset through projects that remove greenhouse gases from the atmosphere.


  • The offsets must be verifiable and permanent and represent new, additional reductions in emissions that would not otherwise have occurred. The only emissions that are eligible to be offset are those where it is technologically infeasible to reduce the emissions by other means.[5] Electric generators are not eligible for offsets.


  • The offset program must be designed in a manner that does not disproportionately harm disadvantaged communities.[6] Moreover, to the greatest extent practicable, offset projects must be located within 25 miles of the source they’re offsetting, ensuring that the benefits of offsetting emissions will be locally realized.[7]


2. Ambitious Targets for the Electric Sector


  • The CLCPA codifies a number of ambitious electric sector targets, many of which were originally proposed by Governor Cuomo as enhancements to the state’s existing Clean Energy Standard. By enshrining these goals in law, the CLCPA ensures that the state’s clean energy programs will continue to benefit New York long after Governor Cuomo has left office.


  • The specific targets include:


  • 70 percent of the state’s electricity must come from renewable energy by 2030, and 100 percent of the state’s electricity supply must be emissions free by 2040.[8]


  • 9,000 MW of offshore wind must be installed to serve New Yorkers by 2035.[9]


  • 6,000 MW of solar energy must be installed to serve New Yorkers by 2025.[10]


  • A statewide goal of reducing energy consumption by 185 trillion British thermal units (BTUs) from the state's 2025 forecast through energy efficiency improvements.[11]


  • 3,000 MW of energy storage capacity must be installed to serve New Yorkers by 2030.[12]


3. The Climate Action Council and the Scoping Plan


  • The Act creates the Climate Action Council, a 22-member body made up of the heads of different state agencies, as well as experts appointed by the Governor, the Speaker of the Assembly, the temporary President of the Senate, and the minority leaders in both houses of the New York legislature.[13]


  • The Act requires the Climate Action Council to create a scoping plan, which will set out recommendations for reducing emissions across all sectors of the economy, including the transportation, building, industrial, commercial, and agricultural sectors.[14]


  • The Climate Action Council must prepare and approve the first scoping plan within the next two years, and then update the plan at least every five years.


  • The Act does not mandate any particular strategies for reducing carbon emissions. Rather, it allows the state’s Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC), which is responsible for enforcing the emissions targets, to rely on a number of different mechanisms, including “enforceable emissions limits, performance standards, or measures or other requirements to control emissions from greenhouse gas emission sources.”[15] The act does, however, contain safeguards that require strategies for reducing emissions, including any market-based strategies developed by DEC, to guarantee that they will not worsen pollution in disadvantaged communities.[16]


  • The Scoping Plan will be incorporated into the state’s energy plan and will inform the actions of the state’s regulatory agencies. Furthermore, the act requires all state agencies to assess whether their actions are consistent with the state’s goals of reducing greenhouse gases.[17] For any decisions which are not consistent with the state’s goals, state agencies must explain and justify the need for those decisions and identify alternative measures that can be taken to reduce greenhouse gases.  


4. Disadvantaged Communities and the Climate Justice Working Group


  • The law includes several environmental justice provisions. It sets a target for disadvantaged communities to receive 40 percent of the overall benefits from the state’s climate programs, and at a minimum, disadvantaged communities must receive no less than 35 percent of those benefits.[18]


  • The CLPCA also creates the Climate Justice Working Group, which will advise the Climate Action Council and establish the final criteria for identifying disadvantaged communities based on considerations related to public health, environmental hazards, and socioeconomic factors.


  • The Act also attacks the problem of poor air quality through the creation of a community air monitoring program.[19] As part of the program, the DEC identify high-risk communities and monitor the air quality for exposure to contaminants and criteria pollutants. Working with the Climate Justice Working Group, the DEC will then create and implement a strategy to improve air quality in communities affected by local air pollution.


  • These efforts to improve air quality are further strengthened by the Act’s requirement that the state prioritize projects that both reduce GHG emissions and eliminate criteria pollutants in historically disadvantaged communities when the state acts to meet its GHG reduction goals.[20]



C. Conclusion


New York’s groundbreaking climate legislation[21] establishes a mandate to achieve net zero emissions that is not only clear and bold, it also represents the only responsible course of action that New York can take to combat the greatest environmental and economic challenge of our time: protecting New York from the catastrophic impacts of climate change.


The Climate Leadership and Community Protection Act is the result of tireless advocacy by dozens of grassroots organizations, including NY Renews, a coalition of over 180 environmental, community, and labor organizations. The Act establishes the nation’s strongest greenhouse gas emissions limits. It protects the health and safety of all New Yorkers while redressing the problems of pollution and poor air quality that have plagued many of the state’s communities for decades.


The CLCPA establishes a nation-leading framework that builds on the successful efforts by Governor Cuomo to accelerate the development of clean energy. By enshrining into law clear, concrete targets for developing wind, solar, energy efficiency, and energy storage technologies, the law provides a clear timeline for the rapid deployment of clean energy, in the process unlocking the next wave of investment in New York’s clean energy industries.


[1] The act defines disadvantaged communities as “communities that bear burdens of negative public health effects, environmental pollution, impacts of climate change, and possess certain socioeconomic criteria, or comprise high-concentrations of low- and moderate- income households.” CLCPA §2, amending Environmental Conservation Law §75-0101(5).
[2] Id., amending ECL §75-0103(11).
[3] Id., amending ECL §75-0101(13).
[4] Id., amending ECL §75-0103(11).
[5] Id., amending ECL §75-0109(4)(e).
[6] Id., amending ECL §75-0109(4)(b).
[7] Id., amending ECL §75-0109(4)(h)(ii).
[8] CLCPA §4, amending Public Service Law §66-p(2).
[9] Id., amending PSL §66-p(5).
[10] Id.
[11] Id., amending PSL §66-p(6).
[12] Id., amending PSL §66-p(5).
[13] CLCPA §2, amending ECL §75-0103(1).
[14] Id., amending ECL §75-0103(11).
[15] Id., amending ECL §75-0109(2)(b).
[16] Id., amending ECL §75-0109(3)(c).
[17] CLCPA §7(2).
[18] CLCPA §2, amending ECL §75-0117.
[19] Id., amending ECL §75-0115.
[20] Id., amending ECL § 75-0109(3)(d).
[21] At the timing of writing the CLCPA has passed in both the New York State Senate and Assembly, but has not yet been signed into law by Governor Cuomo.