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.


No “Climate Plan” but NYS Still Moving Ahead, says Cuomo Administration

Finalization of a “Climate Action Plan” for New York State, which is mandated by a state Executive Order, is not a priority for the Cuomo administration. So says Department of Environmental Conservation commissioner Joseph Martens, who spoke on Central New York WCNY’s Capitol Pressroom friday.

Rather than an overarching plan, Martens said, the focus is “action.”

New York City, by contrast, continues to release plans detailing its approach to climate change mitigation and adaptation. This Earth Day, the de Blasio administration rolled out its “OneNYC” plan, which links climate resiliency and environmental sustainability with social equity.

Commissioner Martens was asked by radio journalist Susan Arbetter about the state climate plan mandated by Executive Order No. 24, which set a goal to reduce New York’s greenhouse gas emissions 80 percent by 2050, relative to 1990 levels.

Executive Order No. 24 also created the New York State Climate Action Council, which is supposed to prepare an action plan that would assess how all economic sectors can reduce greenhouse gas emissions and adapt to climate change. The Plan would also identify the extent to which these actions support New York’s goals for a clean-energy economy.

The Climate Action Council never finalized a plan, but it did release a detailed interim report in 2010, which includes an examination of what is needed to achieve a low-carbon, clean energy economy in New York.

Concrete actions on climate change are more meaningful than “a plan on a shelf,” Commissioner Martens argued. He noted that the state’s mitigation and adaptation objectives are built into current initiatives, such as requiring state agencies to take future climate risks like storm surges, sea level rise and flooding into account when planning, and overhauling how energy is produced and consumed in New York.

Five billion for clean energy- but the devil is in the details

Martens pointed to a $5 billion “clean energy fund” proposed by Governor Cuomo, along with the state’s 10-year, $1 billion commitment to developing a self-sustaining solar market in New York.

The $5 billion fund Martens spoke of friday represents a seismic shift in how the state plans to expand the development of renewable sources of energy.

As discussed in an article by GreenTechMedia, the state plans to raise $5 billion from electric bill surcharges over the next ten years to create a Clean Energy Fund, which would “essentially take over responsibility to ‘ensure the delivery and continuity of clean energy programs’ statewide.”

The state plans to transition from renewable-energy and efficiency mandates, which are expiring this year, to a “new regulatory and economic model that brings distributed, customer-owned [not utility owned] energy assets into account.”

Examples of customer-owned energy assets include rooftop solar, on-site generation, energy storage systems, and smart home or building energy controls.

New Yorkers pay a variety of surcharges on their utility bills which are set to expire, creating an opportunity for the state to adjust its approach to energy planning. One example is the Energy Efficiency Portfolio Standard. The EEPS has helped to fund state energy efficiency programs with the goal of reducing New York’s electricity usage by 15 percent, relative to forecast levels for 2015.

Some of the existing surcharges support programs that assist low-income New Yorkers with their energy costs. Consumers could also see lower costs in a restructured energy market, say proponents.

Instead of the EEPS and other state-led initiatives, New York’s ratepayers will eventually support a Fund designed to encourage private investment, through market development and “technology and business innovation”, to meet the state’s greenhouse gas reduction targets.

“Rather than mandating a certain share of renewable energy or better efficiency,” GreenTechMedia explains, “the Clean Energy Fund will create a market for making this investment worthwhile.”

Advocates push for a climate framework

Peter Iwanowicz, Executive Director of Environmental Advocates of New York, an Albany-based watchdog group, said that decisions in the absence of a comprehensive climate plan lead to bad public policy. “In the end, whatever progress made is undermined by poorly-vetted decisions that exacerbate our climate challenges,” he said in a statement.

Finalization of the State’s Energy Plan, a planning process separate from the market restructuring described above, is now more than two years late, Iwanowicz pointed out.

Iwanowicz referred to inconsistencies in clean energy policy, such as the state’s “bailout” of a coal-fired power plant in Dunkirk, located in central New York.

Under Governor Cuomo’s plan, according to Capital New York, “the 435-megawatt plant is to be converted from burning coal to natural gas, which requires a new pipeline to bring in gas fracked in Pennsylvania. Taxpayers will contribute $15 million to the project, which despite the administration’s promises that it would be cleaner will still be able to burn coal on some days.”

Environmental groups have also criticized a recent “$41 million budget raid of the state’s premier carbon abatement program.”

“Governor Cuomo has embraced an Executive Order that says New York has a goal to reduce climate pollution 80-percent by 2050 and that all New Yorkers will know the plan to achieve that goal…Whether the Governor reconsiders that order or develops another, New Yorkers deserve a climate action plan,” Iwanowicz said.