States Get Ready: All Climate Progress Will Now Be Local

These days, it’s our most common refrain at NYER staff meetings: in the era of Trump, state and local-level climate policies are more important than ever.

That’s not to say that federal rules and regulations are irrelevant, or that the damage of having a climate denier in the Oval Office will not be “yuuuge“—they’re not, and it will—but for the next four years, the battle for climate progress will be spearheaded by mayors, governors, state legislators, and activists across our country.

“States have always led the way in regards to creating significant U.S action on climate change,” Heather Leibowitz, director of Environment New York, told Grist. “The Trump victory will make state climate change efforts even more important.”

New York Leads The Way

New York is well-positioned to be an East Coast climate change leader—and actually has been for quite some time.

Twelve years ago, New York was one of seven Northeast States to sign onto the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative, a market-based program designed to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. RGGI establishes a regional cap on the amount of CO2 pollution that power plants can emit by issuing a limited number of tradable CO2 allowances.

This pioneering program has been extremely successful. Since its launch it has:

Last month, Governor Cuomo called for an even stronger RGGI, proposing a reduction in the carbon cap of 30% by 2030.

“With this proposal, New York will lower the emissions cap even further and set the precedent for recognizing and taking action against climate change to support the future of communities across the globe,” said Governor Cuomo.

Cuomo has also launched Reforming the Energy Vision, a comprehensive strategy that focuses on clean energy development while also spurring innovation, bringing new investments into the State, and improving consumer choice.

REV includes a slew of tangible, on-the-ground projects, such as:

New York’s Governor Cuomo has set out a nation-leading plan to jumpstart development of as much as 2,400 megawatts of offshore wind power in the state, as part of New York’s plan to get 50 percent of its electricity from renewable sources by 2030. Photo credit: Deepwater Wind

New York is also building the country’s largest offshore wind farm, a project just approved last month that will power 50,000 homes with clean, resilient energy.

Cities and local municipalities are also contributing to New York’s climate leadership. Under Mayor de Blasio, New York City has pledged to reduce carbon emissions 80% by 2050. To reach this goal, the city must eliminate 43 million metric tons of greenhouse gas emissions: nine million metric tons from power production, seven million metric tons from personal and commercial vehicles, two million metric tons from the disposal of solid waste, and the remaining 25 million metric tons from energy used in buildings.

According to the city’s progress report released in 2016, there has been progress.

  • Nearly 1,000 projects have signed up for energy efficiency investments through the Retrofit Accelerator.
  • Solar capacity has tripled since 2013: city is now at almost 75 MW.
  • 19 of New York City’s iconic hotels have joined the NYC Carbon Challenge program.
Mayor de Blasio plans to install solar panels on 24 school rooftops, like this one at the John F. Kennedy Educational Campus in the Bronx. Photo credit: Rob Bennett/NYC Mayor’s Office

Is this enough to keep New York City on track to meet reduction targets by 2050? It’s not yet clear, but it’s a step in the right direction.

So, next time you’re feeling down about our current climate situation, repeat our mantra: local climate policy is more important than ever. And then call your representatives and remind them, too.


New York City Moves to Divest from Fossil Fuels

Mayor de Blasio announced today that he will be pushing for the divestment of the city’s pension funds from investments in coal. The Mayor has also proposed that New York City’s public sector pension funds, worth over $160 billion, develop a long-term strategy relative to all fossil fuels in order to “further reduce contributions to climate change while protecting retirees.”

“New York City is a global leader when it comes to taking on climate change and reducing our environmental footprint. It’s time that our investments catch up – and divestment from coal is where we must start,” said the Mayor in a statement.

Noting that the Mayor’s announcement came the day after a White House summit on how to expand offshore wind power projects, U.S. Environmental Protection Agency Regional Administrator Judith Enck stated that, “every level of government has a vital role to play to reduce carbon pollution that threatens our children’s future.”

The city’s five pension funds’ assets total over $160 billion. This includes at least $33 million of exposure to thermal coal alone in the public markets, reports the Mayor’s Office.

Perhaps the pension funds will eventually consider investing in the Long Island – New York City Offshore Wind Project, which has been described as the largest potential offshore wind project in the U.S. If executed, almost 200 3.6-megawatt wind turbines would be constructed 13 miles off the Rockaway Peninsula. The project is currently working its way through a multi-year federal review process.

Making the case that divesting from fossil fuels is smart financially

The de Blasio administration says it will meet with the city’s five primary pension boards over the coming months to “examine the specific impact and optimal reallocation of these assets [currently invested in fossil fuels].”

The city’s five primary pension funds are administered on behalf of public school teachers and other Board of Education employees, police and fire department personnel, along with employees from other city agencies.

According to the Mayor’s Office, an initial analysis has found that divestment from coal “poses little risk to pension fund returns, especially given the federal EPA’s new clean power plant rules and increased regulatory limitations on emissions, which help reduce the attractiveness of thermal coal as an investment.”

John Adler, who directs the Mayor’s Office of Pensions and Investments, argues that investing in coal at this juncture is risky. There is an urgent need, Adler says, to “address the risks that climate change poses to the long-term performance of the pension funds that protect the futures of our over 700,000 beneficiaries.”

Striving towards an 80 percent reduction in greenhouse gas emissions

Taking action on pension fund investments is the de Blasio administration’s latest initiative related to climate change. The city has set the goal of an 80 percent reduction [relative to 2005 levels] in greenhouse gas emissions by 2050, and the cleanest air of any large U.S. city by 2030.

“Divesting from coal reflects both our emissions reduction and clean air goals,” said Nilda Mesa, Director of the Mayor’s Office of Sustainability, in a statement. “Ozone that drifts to NYC from coal-powered plants is a major source of smog, which affects our most vulnerable populations… We should be investing in energy sources that lower greenhouse gas emissions, as well as make our air cleaner.”

The de Blasio administration says it also plans to “dramatically” increase the use of renewable energy in New York, including a new initiative to power 100 percent of city government operations from renewable sources.

Referring to the twin goals of reducing carbon emissions 80 percent by 2050 and moving towards renewables, the Mayor noted that, “we’re going to need every city asset helping us achieve them.”