The New York State Governor’s race has already provided some interesting surprises. Despite his enormous financial and political resources, Governor Andrew Cuomo’s campaign has been upstaged by candidates to the left and right, especially Zephyr Teachout, who performed far better than expected in the democratic primary, winning 35 percent of the vote.

And in an election year that has been dominated by environmental issues like fracking, the ongoing recovery from Hurricane Sandy, and what to do about climate change, the Green Party candidate for Governor, Howie Hawkins, is resolutely carrying his message across the state.

The Green Party has historical roots in the environmental crises of the 1970s. It first attracted global attention after Green Party candidates were elected to the German parliament in the early 1980s.

Hawkins is proposing that New York State switch entirely to renewable sources of energy by 2030. A conversion of this scope would not only create jobs, Hawkins says, it would also make energy more affordable.

Hawkins also argues that the state’s public sector can be rebuilt without raising taxes on the vast majority of New Yorkers. This includes New York’s lead environmental agency, the Department of Environmental Conservation, which has lost hundreds of staff members in the last four years.

Investing in renewable energy and environmental protection is part of what the Greens call a “Green New Deal” program.

The New York Greens are also calling on the state Comptroller to “immediately” freeze any new investments in fossil fuels and “divest from direct ownership and any commingled funds that include fossil fuels.” They say the state needs to “make a concerted effort to fully invest in clean tech, green energy production, retrofitting and infrastructure, which helps the environment, people and the economy.”

Howie Hawkins ran for Governor in 2010, earning 60,000 votes. NYER caught up with Mr. Hawkins, who unloads trucks for the United Parcel Service and is a member of the Teamsters union, at the People’s Climate March.




NYER: What do you think the goal of this march should be, in concrete terms? What do you think needs to happen?

HH: Well, I think this march is nominally aimed at the UN, but I think it’s more aimed at ourselves. To show that we’re big, we’re strong.

We’ve got petro-states, we’ve got governments bought by the oil and gas industry, they’re not going to do it. But what we can do right here in New York — we’re running on a program of 100% clean energy by 2030.

NYER: How do we get there? How do we get to 100% clean energy?

HH: The technology is commercially available. We have a study saying it’s technically and economically feasible. You gotta have a policy and you’ve got to plan it out. You gotta do things like [energy] tariffs, carbon taxes to make the market encourage that.

[Hawkins noted later that the lead author of this analysis, Mark Jacobson, has released a subsequent study explaining how all 50 states could switch to 100% renewable energy by 2050.]

We’ve gotta have a public energy system — not rely on companies motivated by private profit who make more money when they sell more electricity or fuel. So you operate as a public utility at cost for public benefit, rather than for private profit.

That’s your infrastructure. Then you create a lot of business opportunities for small businesses and cooperatives to install distributed energy, because you’ve got a smart grid when you build it out. You’ve got micro-wind, solar panels, every building is a mini-power plant.

Look, the wind blows, the sun shines, the earth is heated by the sun and the core. That’s energy we just need to harvest. It’s all around us and it’s clean.

So, that’s how you do it. You’ve gotta have a commitment. It’s a no-brainer.

The problem is we’ve got a governor who’s allowing fracking waste into the state, he’s building out the infrastructure for natural gas. His draft energy plan says we’re going to switch from coal-fired to gas-fired for electric generation.

“Let’s centralize”: The IOU’s, investor-owned utilities, like it and so do the companies that build that, but it’s not good for the people in terms of cost, for clean air, for protecting the climate.

[Hawkins is referring here to the Cuomo administration’s proposal to update how New York’s electric grid operates via the REV initiative. These changes, Hawkins argued later, could potentially “centralize” who controls the grid, making it harder for local communities, homes, and businesses to generate energy on site. The fundamental question, Hawkins said, is whether publicly-owned utilities should be operating on a profit-basis.]

Also, going 100% clean energy in the next 15 years is a full-employment program. Four and a half million jobs in construction and manufacturing. Middle income jobs.

So, that’s what we need to do. So I say, let’s march. Let’s let people know this is a planetary crisis we have to address. And then New York can set the example for the nation and the world.

Workers at the Long Island Solar Farm (LISF) -- currently the largest solar photovoltaic power plant in the Eastern United States.
Workers at the Long Island Solar Farm (LISF) — currently the largest solar photovoltaic power plant in the Eastern United States. Photo credit: Brookhaven National Laboratory.

NYER: Have you spoken with business owners who see this from your perspective? Do you think there is interest in the business community in going in this direction?

HH: Yea! Look, they talk about the business climate in this state. There are three things I would do to lower costs above the bottom line — not after, when they pay their taxes.

First thing is clean energy. That gets us to half the cost for electricity in the decade 2020-2030 then if we stick with fossil and nuclear fuel. So that’s a reduction.

The other two are: single-payer health care. Takes that off their company budget, it’s taken care of more efficiently. Administrative efficiency.

And the third thing is restore the progressive tax we had in the 1970s. Share the revenues, pay for the state mandates, and you can lower your local property taxes. Property taxes are the highest in the nation. Our electric rates are the highest in the lower 48. And our health care costs, like everywhere in this damn country, are too high.

So that’s three ways to improve the business climate. So I talk to businesses about that.

And there are lots of opportunities in clean energy. I used to do it. I was a building contractor. I was in a worker co-op that did solar and wind installations and energy audits and energy efficiency from 1978 to 1984. We were doing green jobs before the phrase was coined. I was involved in the anti-nuclear movement. We knew, these clean energies all around us were the way to go.

NYER: What do you think should happen with Indian Point?

HH: We should shut it down as fast as possible. All the nukes should be phased out as rapidly as possible. Phased out as the renewables come on. The argument is always “Oh what are you going to do about baseload?” Solar thermal, geo-thermal, there are answers to that.

NYER: The funding for the state Department of Environmental Conservation has been either static or cut many times, they’ve lost hundreds of staff people. Would you re-build that Department?

HH: Absolutely. Bringing it back to the environmental racism, environmental justice issue: we’ve got all these toxic sites, lead, old industrial plant facilities in neighborhoods like Ramon’s [Ramon Jimenez, Green Party candidate for state Attorney General] in the South Bronx; the south side of Syracuse where I live. We’ve got Superfund sites where there’s no super funds.

The DEC is behind schedule. They can’t do what they’re responsible for now because they’ve been gutted in this austerity. We’ve lost 400,000 public sector workers in New York since the Great Recession. Most of those [jobs] are local, including 40,000 in the school system.

We’ve got to bring those people back to work, including in the DEC, so they can fulfill their responsibilities. That’s a jobs program, as well as a community service program. The idea that the way to get the economy going is to destroy the public sector is nuts. You’ve got to raise demand in the economy.

We still- the Democrats and Republicans [inaudible] supply side, tax cuts for the rich, trickle down economics. The rich have got so much money, they have nowhere to invest to build new, productive assets and hire people to provide more business services because working people don’t have the demand.

We just got the Federal Reserve study out this week. The median income in this country is down 12 percent. $6,400 the median income has dropped -I think- since the Recession. So, we want a wage-led, bottom-up economic development program. That will create demand, then businesses will invest the money they’ve got, then hire people, and we’ll be back to work.

NYER: Do you think the public sector can be re-built without raising taxes on the entire state?

HH: If you go back to the 1970’s tax structure, we would cut taxes for 95% of us and we’d still raise $30 billion more in revenues, which is 20 percent more than the current state budget. The [New York] State budget is $140 billion so it’s more than 20 percent.

With that- that’s a more progressive income tax. Fourteen brackets like we used to have, instead of six. [The] bottom bracket was half what it is now. It was 2 percent back then, it’s 4 percent now. The top bracket was over 15 [percent], now it’s 8, going down to 6.85.

And then we’ve got the stock transfer tax- 12 to 16 billion dollars a year. That’s the only tax in the world that I know of that we collect and give right back. I mean what’s the point. It’s pennies per share per trade so it’s not a burden. Wall Street’s not moving to New Jersey because of that tax. That tax was instituted in 1906.

And then we’ve got $7 billion in corporate welfare.

That’s $8 billion more from the progressive income tax, $7 billion more from cutting corporate welfare, and about $15 [billion] for the stock transfer tax. Thirty billion dollars.

So, we’re not raising taxes, we’re making the burden more progressive. We’re actually lowering it for most people. And– still funding the public sector.


We are also inviting the other candidates for New York State Governor, Rob Astorino and Andrew Cuomo, to speak with NYER.