Update: Since I posted this blog, this particular bill—S. 6605—has died. But the leaders of the New York State Senate have decided to double-down on their attacks on clean energy and fast-track a bill that’s even worse: S. 6651A. That bill would not only raid all of the RGGI funding referred to in the post below. It would also raid all clean energy funding administered by the New York State Energy Research and Development Authority. Or, essentially, almost all of the clean energy funding in the state. NRDC strongly opposed S. 6605. We’ll fight against S. 6651A with everything we’ve got.
As New York Governor Andrew Cuomo moves to pick up the slack in climate leadership in the wake of President Trump’s reckless decision to pull out of the Paris climate agreement, the New York State Senate is considering a different sort of “leadership”—new legislation that would move New York in exactly the wrong direction on clean energy. The bill, S. 6605, would raid tens of millions of dollars from New York’s Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative (RGGI) account to fund annual subsidies to nuclear power plants, instead of using those funds to catalyze New York’s transition to a clean energy economy, as RGGI does today. This bill is a significant threat to New York’s clean energy future and position as a climate leader, and should be rejected in no uncertain terms. (The state’s zero emissions credit, or “ZEC,” program to subsidize certain nuclear facilities was adopted as part of the state’s broader Clean Energy Standard; as structured, the costs of the ZEC program are recovered from customers in the same manner as other electric system costs. While NRDC did not support the ZEC program, we do support states’ legal authority to adopt and implement such programs).
RGGI is the nine-state carbon cap-and-invest program that New York and other Northeast and Mid-Atlantic states launched a decade ago to curb dangerous carbon pollution from power plants. Since its inception, RGGI has been wildly successful, helping slash regional emissions by more than 40 percent, driving job growth and billions of dollars in economic gains, and protecting public health by cleaning up our air. RGGI works by capping the total amount of pollution that power plants can emit, and auctioning carbon allowances up to that cap, which power plants must buy to comply with the program. The states reinvest these auction revenues in programs that benefit consumers, primarily energy efficiency and renewable energy.
New York, in particular, has benefitted from these investments to the tune of:
- At least $711.5 million and more than 9,000 job-years added to the state economy (a job year is equivalent to a year of full-time work);
- A whopping $3.7 billion in lifetime customer energy bill savings as a result of RGGI-funded energy efficiency investments and other programs; and
- Lower carbon emissions – RGGI-funded measures through 2016 will cut more than 12.9 million tons of pollution, equivalent to taking nearly 2.5 million cars off the road for a year.
And these numbers don't even include the significant health benefits to New York as RGGI has cut pollution and helped clean up our air. Abt Associates estimates that RGGI saved New Yorkers as much as $1.87 billion in health costs through 2014, including by preventing more than 2,100 asthma attacks in New York State, between 8 and 78 non-fatal heart attacks, more than 10,600 lost days of work, and between 78 and 177 premature deaths.
Many programs that New Yorkers know, love, and benefit from are funded—in part—by RGGI. These include the NY-Sun initiative, which promotes solar power across New York; the Cleaner, Greener Communities program that furthers local and regional sustainability; the Long Island Power Authority’s energy efficiency and renewable energy programs; Charge NY, which helps put more electric cars and trucks on New York’s roads; Green Jobs – Green New York, which trains workers for clean energy jobs; and, the REV Campus Challenge, which uses a little healthy competition among colleges to spur the development and adoption of clean energy on campuses and in local communities, thereby helping New York’s students become forces for good.
Yet if the sponsors of S. 6605 have their way, all of the RGGI funding for these programs—and their associated benefits—would disappear. That’s because the bill would redirect New York’s RGGI revenues away from innovative clean energy programs in order to fund subsidies to nuclear power plants—a move NRDC strongly opposes. While nuclear power is low-carbon, it’s neither clean nor renewable, and it presents a host of potential risks and impacts.
To keep RGGI’s benefits coming, we need to both strengthen the program and ensure that its revenues continue to be devoted to innovative clean energy programs that benefit the state’s residents. New York State’s leadership on climate has never been more important. President Trump last week made the wrong decision on Paris, threatening to undermine our nation’s climate and clean energy progress. This week, New York’s State Senate shouldn’t follow his lead. Senators must reject S. 6605.
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