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.

NY Renews Seeks to Implement State Climate Law

​The following piece appeared in the November 9th issue of the Tompkins Weekly.

Luis Aguirre-Torres’s recent decision to step down as the Ithaca city sustainability director came as a deep disappointment to many in Tompkins County. His plan to make the city carbon neutral by 2030 while making sure climate justice was central to this endeavor was ambitious and inspiring and embodied the spirit and vision of the Ithaca Green New Deal (IGND).

Fortunately, Rebecca Evans remains in place as the city sustainability planner. Her expertise, experience and talent, as well as a longstanding commitment to a just and equitable society, will help ensure that the IGND maintains its momentum. But the community also needs to stay engaged and support her work if the IGND is to meet its goals and continue serving as a national model.

Attendees at a recent climate rally in Ithaca.

Besides joining in local activism to promote the IGND, it is important that Tompkins County residents advocate at the state level for effective climate and clean energy policies. The passage in 2019 of the Climate Leadership and Community Protection Act (CLCPA), the nation’s most progressive climate law, carved out the path for moving forward.

This landmark legislation calls for 70% renewable energy in the state by 2030, 100% zero emission electricity in the state by 2040 and an 85% reduction in greenhouse gas emissions by 2050.

NY Renews, a coalition of more than 320 environmental justice, community, faith, labor and multi-issue organizations, played a key role in getting the CLCPA on the books three years ago. Local organizations in the statewide coalition include Climate Justice Cornell, Sunrise Ithaca, Sustainable Finger Lakes and the Tompkins County Climate Protection Initiative.

With the CLCPA signed into law, the fight has shifted to the enactment of legislation needed to achieve its critical goals. As part of this effort, NY Renews recently announced the public campaign launch for its Climate, Jobs, and Justice Package. The campaign seeks to build public support for this crucial set of bills ahead of the legislative session that kicks off in January 2023.

The Climate, Jobs, and Justice Package, if approved by the State Legislature, will rapidly decarbonize New York, make the state healthier and more equitable, ensure a just transition for workers and help create an accessible green economy for all. Overall, the bills individually and collectively advance the goals of the CLCPA.

Beginning Nov. 16, communities across the state will be rolling out the Climate, Jobs, and Justice Package, looking to make the promises of the CLCPA a reality. The Ithaca event, sponsored by Climate Justice Cornell and others, will be Nov. 18 at 5 p.m. at Thompson Park, across from Gimme! Coffee on North Cayuga Street. People planning to attend can RSVP here.

“Ithacans have fought hard to ensure that equity is at the center of the IGND, and the Climate, Jobs, and Justice Package would extend that commitment to the state level,” said Siobhan Hull, coordinator of Sunrise Ithaca and member of Climate Justice Cornell. “As vulnerable New Yorkers continue to be hardest hit by pollution, economic recessions and the COVID-19 pandemic, it is more important than ever to invest in our frontline communities and secure a just transition for all.”

The Climate, Jobs, and Justice Package has three main components: 1) fully fund the CLCPA so that it can achieve its objectives; 2) build renewable energy for all and create green union jobs; and 3) hold polluters accountable and ensure everyone pays their fair share in taxes. The details for each of these include:

1. Fully fund and implement New York’s Climate Act

Climate and Community Protection Fund creates a pool of money to ensure sufficient investment to fund the CLCPA. The act’s core investments would include broad labor, procurement, community benefits and responsible contracting standards.

2. Build renewable energy for all and create good, green union jobs

Build Public Renewables Act would allow the New York Power Authority to build new large-scale renewables more quickly, effectively and democratically than private developers.

Climate Accountability Act provides state agencies with the authority and guidance required to implement the Climate Act and ensure that our energy system is accountable and transparent to the public.

Gas Transition and Affordable Energy Act will give the Public Service Commission the power and direction to align gas utilities with the Climate Act’s emission reduction and climate justice mandates.

Blueprint Bill provides a plan to direct the replacement and redevelopment of New York state’s fossil fuel facilities and sites by 2030.

3. Make polluters and the wealthiest New Yorkers pay what they owe

Climate Change Superfund Act makes the state’s worst polluters, major oil companies, pay for the harm they’ve caused.

Fossil Fuel Subsidy Elimination Act will end the most egregious state subsidies of $330 million each year to the fossil fuel industry, a major contributor to the climate crisis.

Invest in Our New York’s Plan to Fund Our Future is a revenue and spending package from the Invest in Our New York (IONY) coalition that will ensure the state eliminates wasteful handouts to businesses and the wealthiest New Yorkers pay their fair share to fund our climate law.

Make no mistake, securing the passage of the Climate, Jobs, and Justice Package will not be easy. Implementing these kinds of transformative policies will always generate opposition. In this case, the fossil fuel industry has mounted an aggressive lobbying campaign to undermine the state’s climate targets.

new report just released by the nonprofit Public Accountability Initiative describes in devastating detail the attempts of various players in the fossil fuel industry to obstruct climate action in the state. According to the report, millions of dollars have been spent by the industry and its supporters “to delay, water down and otherwise frustrate the implementation of the CLCPA and other key climate legislation.”

The study points to the presence of fossil fuel executives on the Climate Action Council, the body appointed to create a roadmap for meeting the climate and energy goals of the CLCPA, and questions their support of the state’s clean energy initiatives.

“Legislators, communities and other stakeholders invested in a cleaner, greener, decarbonized future for New York must stay vigilant around efforts by the fossil fuel industry to muzzle and erode the state’s most far-reaching climate legislation ever passed,” cautions the report.

So, keeping these words in mind, be sure to attend the unveiling of NY Renews’ Climate, Jobs, and Justice Package at Thompson Park on Nov. 18, and demonstrate your support for real climate action that will bring about a greener, healthier and more equitable future for all New Yorkers.

Building Electrification in the Empire State

New York burns more fossil fuels in its residential and commercial buildings than any other state in the country, a fact that underscores the importance of dramatically reducing the carbon footprint of our built environment to avert runaway climate change. As the New York legislature entered the final days of the 2022 session last week, however, prospects for passage of the All-Electric Building Act (AEBA) appeared dim.

Commercial building heat pumpsThe AEBA would have required all new buildings starting in 2024 to be constructed using only electric appliances for heating, cooking, hot water, and drying clothes; in 2027, the standard would have applied to taller buildings as well.

Although other significant environmental and climate legislation did make it through, including the two-year moratorium on cryptocurrency mining produced by fossil fuel power plants, it was lights out for the AEBA when the session ended. The bill had strong support in both houses, but the leadership blocked it from going to the floor for a vote. It was a bitter disappointment for climate activists, especially in light of the Democratic majority in the state legislature.

Similar proposals have fared better elsewhere in the U.S. Washington became the first state in the country in April to effectively ban the use of natural gas in most newly constructed buildings, mandating the installation of all-electric heating and hot water systems. California adopted a new building code in August 2021 that established a strong preference for electric heating in new construction, although it did not impose an explicit ban on natural gas.

Closer to home, the Ithaca Common Council in May 2021 voted unanimously in support of an energy code supplement that required all new construction beginning in 2026 to be net-zero buildings that do not use fossil fuels except for cooking. New York City passed a law in December 2021 prohibiting the use of natural gas and oil burning systems in new construction starting in 2024, when developers would have to design buildings with all-electric heating, hot water, and cooking appliances.

The AEBA would have implemented a key recommendation of the Climate Action Council, which has been charged with developing a plan to achieve the goals established under the state’s 2019 Climate Leadership and Protection Act (CLCPA). The Draft Scoping Plan, released at the end of December 2021 for public comment, calls for the adoption of all-electric state codes that prohibit the use of fossil fuel for heating, cooling, hot water, cooking, and appliances by 2024 for new construction of single-family and low-rise residential buildings and by 2027 for multifamily buildings over four stories and commercial buildings (see pp. 125-28).Gov. Kathy Hochul’s State of the State address in January seemed to signal a green light for building decarbonization, and she included support for a ban on natural gas in new construction after 2027 in her executive budget, a move backed by the State Senate. The General Assembly, however, left it out of its one-house budget.

The failure of the state legislature to take action on the AEBA makes it very difficult for New York to meet the legal climate targets stipulated in the CLCPA. All the more reason, then, that concerned citizens should make their voices heard in support of the Draft Scoping Plan recommendations. Fortunately, there is still time to do so now that the public comment period has been extended to July 1. Comments may be submitted via the online public comment form, via email at scopingplan@nyserda.ny.gov, and via U.S. mail to Attention: Draft Scoping Plan Comments, NYSERDA, 17 Columbia Circle, Albany, NY 12203-6399. The Climate Action Council will issue a final draft of the climate plan by the end of the year.

Crunch Time on Climate Action in Albany

The future of climate action in New York State is at a critical inflection point. The new budget has been approved and the remaining weeks of the legislative session are now focused on policy proposals. At the same time, the draft Scoping Plan issued by the Climate Action Council at the end of 2021 has been undergoing scrutiny at public hearings around the state and only a handful more of these hearings remain.

When the New York Legislature convened in January, environmentalists and climate activists were hopeful that dramatic headway could be made on such issues as reducing the consumption of natural gas, building electrification, cryptocurrency mining, fossil fuel divestment, and investments in renewable energy development.

Perhaps not surprisingly, the oil and gas industry and its supporters have stepped up their opposition to these measures in recent weeks, spending millions of dollars on ad campaigns and lobbying, money that could be put towards a clean energy future.

The pushback has revealed the obstacles to phasing out fossil fuels even in a relatively progressive state such as New York. A recent Washington Post article highlighted the challenges faced by those who take the ambitious goals of the Climate Leadership and Community Protection Act seriously, focusing on the fight over banning natural gas use in new construction.

Gov. Kathy Hochul (D) included a ban on gas use in new construction by 2027 in her executive budget for the next fiscal year. But, by the time the negotiations came to a close, the proposal was absent from the final budget deal. The ostensible reason for its exclusion, according to a spokesperson for Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie, was that policy measures don’t belong in the proposed budget.

Climate advocates are now pressing state lawmakers to pass the measure as a stand-alone bill before the legislative session ends on June 2. The Renewable Heat Now coalition, in particular, is pushing for passage of the All-Electric Building Act as part of a package of proposals to reduce demand for fossil fuels and compel utilities to plan for a transition to renewable heat.

An organization called New Yorkers for Affordable Energy, essentially a front group for fossil fuel and utility companies and corporate lobbying interests, is mounting a well-oiled campaign to defeat the measure. It contends that banning gas use in new buildings would harm consumers. Among those behind the organization are National Grid, the American Petroleum Institute, the pipeline company Enbridge, and the Business Council of New York State. A recent investigative report concludes that “New Yorkers for Affordable Energy smacks as a classic industry-funded astroturf effort.”

The lines couldn’t be drawn more distinctly: on one side, the backward-looking oil and gas companies, utilities, and other corporate defenders of the fossil-fuel status quo, and on the other, citizens, activists, and other members of the public who want a decent, bright future where runaway climate change has been averted, mass species extinction avoided, and clean air and water acknowledged as fundamental human rights.

The next few weeks will tell us unambiguously where Gov. Hochul and the state legislature stand. In the meantime, we must make our voices heard in Albany as loudly and clearly as possible.

Next Steps for the NYS Draft Climate Plan

The Climate Action Council, headed up by Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) Commissioner Basil Seggos and New York State Energy Research and Development Authority (NYSERDA) President and CEO Doreen M. Harris, has just issued its draft scoping plan. Now it’s our job to review it carefully and respond. Beginning on Jan. 1, the public will have 120 days to offer comments and make sure their voices are heard.

The Climate Leadership and Community Protection Act (CLCPA), signed into law in 2019, calls for New York to achieve a 40 percent reduction in greenhouse gas emissions and 70 percent renewable energy generation by 2030, establish a zero-emission electricity sector by 2040, and create a carbon-neutral economy by 2050. The CLCPA established the Climate Action Council, a 22-member committee charged with determining how to meet these statutory goals. The Council also consulted with a wide range of advisory panels and working groups over the past two years to address issues in areas such as transportation, solid waste, energy generation, workforce development, and climate justice.

A December 30 wildfire destroyed hundreds of homes in suburban Denver, the latest dramatic sign of climate change. Photo by Tristantech licensed under CC BY-SA 4.0.

The release of the draft scoping plan is the crucial first step in reaching the ambitious but necessary climate goals laid out in the CLCPA. There is certainly plenty of material for New Yorkers to wade through. The body of the report itself is 330 pages, followed by 520 pages of appendices. The Climate Action Council’s seven advisory panels – Transportation, Agriculture and Forestry, Land Use and Local Government, Power Generation, Energy Efficiency and Housing, Energy Intensive and Trade Exposed Industries, and Waste – submitted recommendations for the Climate Action Council to consider in the draft scoping plan, all of which can be found in the appendices.

In addition, the Climate Justice Working Group and Just Transition Working Group played key roles in the development of the draft scoping plan. The Disadvantaged Communities Barriers and Opportunities Report examines why some communities are disproportionately impacted by climate change and air pollution and have unequal access to clean energy, and recommends ways to rectify these problems using a climate justice lens. The Just Transition Working Group Jobs Study explores the consequences of climate change mitigation for the job market as well as actions required to provide adequate training, education, and workforce development.

The release of the draft scoping plan takes place against an increasingly dire climate crisis. The latest manifestation of this crisis is the Colorado wildfire that raced through suburbs between Denver and Boulder on Dec. 30, destroying at least 500 homes and forcing the evacuation of thousands of residents. Needless to say, December wildfires are not a common occurrence in Colorado, but a severe drought combined with high winds to fuel the most destructive blaze in the state’s history. Elsewhere, a new report has found unsettling evidence that the so-called “Doomsday Glacier” in Antarctica could collapse in as little as five years, raising the world’s sea level by several feet. The Thwaites glacier already loses 50 billion tons of ice each year and makes up about four percent of the planet’s annual sea rise.

The need to take dramatic and immediate climate action, then, is obvious. Although one of the most sweeping plans issued by any state or country, the NYS draft report leaves many specifics to be worked out. The broad outlines of any effective climate plan must include, as this one does, calls for the electrification of buildings, a shift to electric vehicles, the expansion of renewables such as solar and wind power, the development of feasible energy storage strategies, the decommissioning of natural gas, and the implementation of a carbon tax. But still unclear are the details and timing involved with setting these steps in motion, and how to do so in a way that takes into account historic inequities and brings about a just transition.

The draft scoping plan is now in the hands of Gov. Kathy Hochul and the state legislature. It remains to be seen to what extent public input will influence the final shape of the plan, but it’s critical that New Yorkers weigh in. The final report will be issued on Jan. 1, 2023 and the DEC will then announce legally binding regulations by Jan. 1, 2024 to ensure that the state achieves the CLCPA’s required targets.

Information about how to participate in the public hearings on the draft scoping plan will be disclosed in early 2022, according to the press release issued by the Climate Action Council. There will be at least six hearings held across the state. In addition, comments can be submitted via the online public comment form, by email at scopingplan@nyserda.ny.gov, and by U.S. mail to Attention: Draft Scoping Plan Comments, NYSERDA, 17 Columbia Circle, Albany, NY 12203-6399. Stay tuned!