New York Is Poised to Pass a Comprehensive Climate Bill

Long before grassroots activists captured the nation’s attention with the Green New Deal, the New York Renews coalition was hard at work in New York State crafting a bold vision to fight climate change that put equity principles front and center. Thanks to their tireless advocacy in promoting the Climate and Community Protection Act (CCPA), and leadership from the State Assembly, Senate and Governor (who all agree on the need to codify in law a comprehensive plan to fight climate change), the state is poised to adopt a nation leading climate plan that invests in historically marginalized communities impacted by climate change. Now is the time for the state’s leaders to cooperate and cross the finish line together in this important battle.

As NRDC explained in our testimony in support of a comprehensive climate bill, and more recently in a memo compiled and circulated to the legislature by a number of environmental groups, good ideas from both the CCPA and the Governor’s Climate Leadership Act can and should be combined with other emissions fighting strategies to yield a winning legislative package that can be signed into law and effectively implemented.

Craft a comprehensive plan to address emissions that builds on existing state efforts

The CCPA provides for the Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) to develop a “scoping plan” to reduce emissions from nearly all sectors of the economy, including energy, transportation, buildings, industrial, commercial, and agriculture. The governor’s bill adds another smart idea to the mix: having such a plan act as an input to the State Energy Plan, which guides the state’s current clean energy regulatory efforts, and is developed with the help of rigorous analyses from the New York State Energy Research & Development Authority (NYSERDA).

Our recommendation is to combine these approaches by building from the existing state energy planning process to create a more comprehensive State Climate Plan. This approach would provide a seamless mechanism for state regulators to address topics like land use planning, agriculture, resilience, and adaptation which are not currently reflected in the State Energy Plan, without creating a redundant or complicated new reporting structure.

As we explained in our CCPA testimony, New York has already developed a host of successful programs which contribute to the State Energy Plan goals, including the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative (RGGI) to cap and cut carbon pollution from power plants; the $1 billion NY-Sun program to scale up solar power; ChargeNY, EVolve NY, and the Drive Clean Rebate to expand electric vehicle (EV) infrastructure statewide and get more EVs on the road; the state’s initiative to deploy 3,000 megawatts of battery storage by 2030; and a successful Clean Energy Standard to expand renewable energy penetration. By updating existing efforts rather than starting from whole cloth, this approach would facilitate faster progress toward the state’s climate goals.

Set the most aggressive goals possible, but require a plan to get there

The CCPA changed the climate conversation by boldly calling for zero greenhouse gas emissions by 2050. Governor Cuomo recently indicated conceptual support for a similar goal at the national level, but suggested a need to demonstrate doing so is feasible before enshrining such a goal in statute, saying “I get the goal. Zero carbon emissions, yes. How?” While the Governor’s Climate Leadership Act as proposed in the Executive’s budget bill did include a 100 percent zero emissions target for the power sector by 2040, it did not alter the state’s current 80 percent by 2050 from 1990 levels economy-wide target that has been established via Executive Order.  

In our view, both the need for a truly transformative vision and the requirement to demonstrate a path to feasibility can be met by adopting a structure that sets a net zero emissions goal (such as by 2045, as the Governor outlined in his State of the State earlier this year), but calls for the state’s agencies to work to develop plans to chart a path to zero net GHG emissions in each economic sector before the goal becomes a binding target. This process would allow for the state’s existing 80 x ‘50 target to be formally strengthened in each sector (transforming the net zero emissions goal for each sector into a legally binding mandate) as soon as a plan demonstrates a feasible path to doing so. The work for such a plan is already complete in the power sector, where the Governor’s plan charts a course to zero emission power by 2040 and appropriately includes a binding target for that sector in the legislation.

By setting truly ambitious goals for every sector, as the CCPA does, and focusing on the how, as Governor Cuomo asks, we can ensure that concrete plans are developed for every sector to make real progress on a transformation to a 100 percent clean economy. Further, all relevant state agencies should be granted the full regulatory authority necessary to act on these recommendations (the CCPA provides extensive authority and authorization to the Department of Environmental Conservation but can be further strengthened with comparable explicit detailed authorization for all state agencies to act in concert).

Provide for net zero emissions

We think net zero emissions is the right approach, as opposed to simply zero emissions, because as Columbia Professor Michael Gerrard discusses here, some emissions, like those from out-of-state vehicle use, cannot be fully eliminated solely under state authority. Further, a net zero approach will allow the state to leverage the power of land-use, agriculture, and forestry best practices to fight climate change. Importantly, cleaner air in the state’s communities must be guaranteed. Any net zero plan must include rigorous safeguards to ensure that emissions are eliminated to the greatest extent possible, and emissions reductions credits are used only as a last resort. No greenhouse gas emissions reduction credits should be permitted to offset power sector emissions, ensuring that power plants located in environmental justice communities cannot offset their pollution. The State Climate Plan should be developed in a transparent and analytically rigorous manner to ensure that stringent criteria are established for any potential greenhouse gas emissions reduction crediting programs.

Codify and strengthen the state’s aggressive clean energy and efficiency programs

New York has adopted a number of aggressive clean energy programs through regulatory order, including the Public Service Commission (PSC)’s Clean Energy Standard, which currently provides a path to 50 percent renewables supply by 2030. The CCPA rightfully recognized that codifying those ambitious programs in law is necessary to enshrine the Clean Energy Standard goals so as to safeguard them from erosion in future administrations. The governor’s bill smartly borrows from this approach, and even goes a step further: calling for the Clean Energy Standard to be strengthened to require 70 percent renewable energy by 2030. We agree with enshrining this new renewable energy goal in statute, and also recommend that the state safeguard another major pillar of the clean energy transition: energy efficiency.

The PSC also recently adopted a much-needed framework to rapidly expand energy efficiency in New York. Utilities can induce savings by funding programs through electricity and gas rates that incent companies to provide attractive energy savings opportunities to customers. For example, when you buy a new home heating system, a rebate offered by the utility might make more efficient options cheaper, allowing you to pick that option and thereby reducing pollution and reducing the costs of serving the system for everyone else.

The legislation should adopt the PSC’s target and make clear it sets a floor not a ceiling for utilities, who should be free to invest in all cost-effective opportunities to deliver even greater savings to customers. Further, the legislation should require utilities to assess the opportunity for energy efficiency investments to reduce or eliminate the need for gas pipeline infrastructure investments, requiring all cost-effective energy efficiency investments to be pursued before other options are explored.

Prioritize equity

The CCPA also includes important commitments to equity and outlines critical measures for authentic community participation and transparency. For too long communities disproportionately impacted by climate change, including low-income communities of color, have been sidelined in climate policy discussions. As a consequence, some proposed climate solutions have not adequately accounted for the impacts on those communities. To truly support the workers and communities who are affected by the transition away from fossil fuels, New York State must strengthen how those communities are included in the decision-making process. The CCPA takes a big step forward in this regard by providing for environmental justice and labor representation on a Climate Action Council tasked with providing input to the DEC’s scoping plan, and creates working groups focused on environmental justice and climate justice to provide input into the DEC’s policy formation. The Governor’s bill calls for the creation of similar working groups, and likewise brings environmental justice and labor representatives to the table of a Climate Action Council. We agree with this general approach and recommend that environmental justice and labor representatives be given a direct avenue for input into the State Climate Plan.

The CCPA also requires 40 percent of any funds collected pursuant to a market-based program enacted to achieve the state’s climate goals be invested in a manner which will benefit disadvantaged communities. We agree that programs targeted at disadvantaged communities need to be prioritized, with a significant portion of any revenue specifically earmarked for investment in those communities.

We’re almost there—time to get it across the finish line

We’re at an unprecedented moment in New York State, with both houses of the legislature and the Governor poised to enact a nation-leading climate program that jumpstarts an inclusive clean energy economy and invests in New Yorkers that have too often been overlooked. But to paraphrase the journalist David Roberts, stitching together diverse interests, building up functional institutions, and crafting policy mechanisms that work as intended is difficult, both emotionally and intellectually. Enshrining a climate program in statute will require collaboration from all involved. We think New York is up to the task. Let’s get it done!

About the Authors

Jackson Morris

Director, Eastern Region, Climate & Clean Energy Program

Miles Farmer

Senior Attorney, Climate & Clean Energy Program

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