The Climate Action Council Delivers

The Climate Action Council, in a momentous step on December 19, approved the state’s Final Climate Scoping Plan in a 19-3 vote. This plan provides a detailed guide to reaching the ambitious climate goals delineated in the 2019 Climate Leadership and Community Protection Act, including 70% renewable energy by 2030 and 100% zero emission electricity by 2040. The ramifications are far reaching: New York must retire fossil fuel plants and stop burning fossil fuels like gas in buildings.

This critical milestone represents the culmination of over three years of collaboration and over a hundred meetings, and includes contributions from the Council’s Advisory Panels and Working Groups. The release of the Draft Scoping Plan exactly one year ago led to a public comment period that included 11 public hearings across the state and more than 35,000 written comments.

Meeting of NYS Climate Action Council

The first meeting of the Climate Action Council took place in March 2020. Photo credit: NYSERDA.

The scoping plan establishes a comprehensive foundation for dramatically lowering greenhouse gas emissions, electrifying buildings and transportation systems, securing climate justice, and advancing New York’s commitment to economy-wide carbon neutrality by 2050. It outlines changes in state policy that, if implemented, will not only move New York away from fossil fuels but also towards a just energy transition, one that will finally address the harm that pollution from conventional energy systems have inflicted on frontline communities. It identifies strategies to reduce the environmental burden of greenhouse gas emissions and associated pollutants suffered by these communities as well as address energy affordability.

The scoping plan makes clear that the benefits of the clean energy transition must not overlook workers and communities that have relied on the fossil fuel economy for their livelihood, and emphasizes that they should not be left behind.

At the heart of the scoping plan is a determination to make sure that the advancement of a clean energy economy results in new economic development opportunities throughout the state and supports long-term, well-paying jobs. At the same time, the plan offers recommendations regarding how to provide support and tools to workers and communities affected by the energy transition.

What happens if the plan is not implemented? The state estimates that the cost of inaction will exceed the cost of action by more than $115 billion. That’s a big price tag for failing to stave off runaway climate change and ignoring environmental justice and health concerns.

Make no mistake, the plan is not perfect. The final draft postpones the dates by which New York will move away from fossil fuel use for construction of new homes and commercial buildings, putting them off one year later than in the draft plan passed in December 2021. To take just one example, the prohibition of fossil fuels in new construction for single family homes will occur in 2025, not 2024. As Cornell Professor Robert Howarth, a member of the Climate Action Council, points out, this delay is especially disappointing given that the building sector is the largest source of greenhouse gas emissions.

Another area inviting scrutiny involves “renewable natural gas” and hydrogen for use in gas pipelines, a ploy by the fossil gas industry to extend its operation and profits into the future. Raya Salter, founder and executive director of the Energy Justice Law and Policy Center and member of the Climate Action Council, rightly terms these so-called alternative fuels “a dangerous distraction.” In her words, “there is at best a limited role for alternative fuels, which are in many cases infeasible, costly, untested, leak-prone and carbon intensive to produce.”

Despite these flaws, the scoping plan marks a crucial turning point in New York’s energy transition and establishes an important framework for moving forward. Next steps include presentation of the plan to the governor and state legislature, and the creation of new rules and regulations to take into account its recommended policy changes. As this process unfolds, we should all work to ensure that the scoping plan is funded and fully implemented to ensure a just transition for all New Yorkers.

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