Testimony of Mark Dunlea, Chair of Green Education and Legal Fund
Joint Hearing of Senate Standing Committees on Finance, Energy and Telecommunications, and Environmental Conservation
To examine legislative and budgetary actions necessary for implementation of the Climate Action Council Final Scoping Plan
January 19, 2023
I am Mark Dunlea, chair of the Green Education and Legal Fund (GELF), and convenor of PAUSE (People of Albany United for Safe Energy), the 350.org affiliate in the Capital District. I am also co-chair of the EcoAction Committee of the Green Party of the United States and author of Putting Out the Planetary Fire: An Introduction to Climate Change and Advocacy.
We appreciate the opportunity to submit testimony related to the “legislative and budgetary actions necessary for implementation of the Climate Action Council Final Scoping Plan”.
The Hochul administration has adopted a climate scoping plan comes almost 14 years after Governor Paterson first issued an Executive Order to establish a Climate Action Council to develop such a climate plan., a draft of which was first released in December 2010. The CLCPA climate law enacted 3.5 years ago largely mirrored the 2009 Executive Order, with some important additions, particularly the goal of dedicating 35% of some new climate funds to assist disadvantaged communities and some stronger goals for renewable energy (offshore wind, solar) and battery storage inserted by Governor Cuomo.
Key actions for the state legislature to take in response to the scoping plan include: speed up the emission reduction goals to 70% by 2030;
– raise $10 to $20 billion a year in new climate funding, preferably by polluter penalties and a carbon tax rather than cap and trade;
– provide leadership to accelerate the development of renewable energy, especially offshore wind (the area off of Long Island and NYC is the best source of offshore wind on the planet);
– invest several billion dollars a year in subsidies to help New York residents decarbonize their buildings;
– with buildings and transportations by far the largest source of emissions, we need to invest tens of billions of dollars in expanding and re-imagining mass transits (e.g., zero fares), and enact a radical overhaul of the state’s building codes to require all new buildings to be carbon free within three years, including banning new gas hookups in buildings by 2024;
– enacting a Green New Deal, something I first helped propose in 2010 when I was the Green Party’s gubernatorial campaign manager. This combines a rapid (ten-year) transition to zero emissions, 100% renewable energy with a robust Economic Bill of Rights and a Just transition, including a guaranteed living wage jobs, single payer universal health care, affordable quality housing, and free public college education;
– rapidly covert all government-owned facilities to 100% renewable energy, starting with a 3 year timetable to convert the state capitol and plaza as a model (including the possible use of geothermal energy for heating);
– adopt a 10 to 15 year timetable to phase out existing fossil fuel uses;
– requiring all counties and municipalities of over 50,000 to adopt by 2024 their own climate plans, including the construction of local renewable energy facilities and plans to decarbonize all local buildings;
– since the Hochul administration has determined that at least 50% of the state’s residents are “disadvantaged,” the existing goal in the CLCPA of investing 35% of “some new” climate funds in such communities is a call for underfunding, so the goal should be raised (e.g., doubled);
– expand efforts to reduce waste in New York, such as the Extended Producer Responsibility bill introduced last session by As. Englebright, expanded bottle bill, and increased requirements for composting of organic waste; and,
– enact democratic control and public/community ownership of the state’s energy system, including funding for municipally-owned renewable energy systems, the Build Public Renewables Act, public ownership of the grid, and public election of the Boards of NYPA and the Public Service Commission.
As the Secretary-General of the United Nations constantly warns the world’s government, we are moving far too slowly to avoid climate collapse. Taking 14 years to draft a climate scoping plan which now faces a multi-year process to develop the concrete steps to implement is a reflection that New York still fails to treat this as a climate emergency. Two decades after Governor Pataki established renewable electricity goals for NY (e.g., 30% by 2015), NYS still only gets 4 to 6% of its electricity from wind and solar.
The scoping document focuses more on identifying the climate questions that need to be addressed rather than providing clear answers, steps, timetables, and funding levels. It is critical that the State Legislature step in and provide the leadership to at least give future generations some chance of having a decent life. The legislature needs to adopt short-term timetables (2023, 2025, 2027) rather than for 2030 and 2050.
The State Legislature needs to treat the CLCPA as a floor rather than a ceiling. The emission reductions goals outlined in the CLCPA are inadequate to keep global warming below the 1.5 degree C target. President Biden has set a national target of a 50 to 52% reduction in emissions by 2030, significantly faster than the CLCPA. To meet such national goals, states led by Democrats need to adopt faster timetables to offset slower action in Republican-controlled states.
The CLCPA goals are also slower than that recommended by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (45% by 2030). The developed, industrial countries need to slash emissions much faster than the worldwide average, as developing countries will have higher emissions as they seek to catch up with the Global North in terms of raising their standards of living. In addition, IPCC acknowledges that its emission reduction goals are far too slow to keep global warming below 1.5 degree Celsius. They instead rely on the development of carbon capture technology to avoid climate collapse despite that approach not being shown to be viable after decades of research and tens of billions of dollars in investments.
New York Still Lacks a Climate Plan
The “scoping” plan unfortunately is not a plan – nor does the CLCPA actually require one. It lacks clear actions, timetables, and funding. While it contains useful analysis of the climate challenges facing New York, its purpose is more to lay out questions that the Hochul administration (i.e., DEC, PSC, State Energy Master Plan) will now seek to provide more detailed responses to in the next 12 months to 3 or 4 years.
A critical question is whether state lawmakers will step up to the plate after 30 years of largely inaction on climate and energy, rather than leaving it in the hands of the Governor. Lawmakers should speed up the timetable. Lawmakers need to raise a lot of money quickly. Legislators also need to reject the false climate solutions, greenwashing, and corporate welfare that played a major role in the Hochul (Cuomo) administration. False solutions include biofuels, “renewable” natural gas, biomass, waste incineration, carbon capture technology, and most hydrogen (with some exceptions for green hydrogen).
It appears that Hochul wants to leave most of the decision making in her hands. For instance, she seems ready to adopt carbon pricing administratively, bypassing the legislature, much as Governor Pataki did with the Regional Greenhouse Gas Inventory (RGGI).
The Hochul administration believes that the admittedly limited role of the Climate Action Council is largely over now that the scoping plan is adopted. Perhaps lawmakers can amend the CLCPA to give the Council a continuing major role. Legislators should also largely remove the agencies from the advisory council, and add on far more climate activists, farmers, workers, and state lawmakers. The present Council is completely dominated by the Executive Branch, which has all the real decision-making powers. Reforming it would provide a much-needed counterbalance to the Governor. Make it a climate watchdog with some real powers.
The Legislature Needs to Determine How much Money is Need for Climate Action – and How to Raise it
NYSERDA did present a study to the Climate Action Council outlining a possible $3 trillion price tag through 2050 for the clean energy transition, though there did not appear to be much review of this by the Council or outside energy experts. A huge assumption in the paper was that 90% of the needed funds would be re-allocated from existing energy expenditures, leaving the state needing to raise $300 billion (an average of $10 billion a year). However, the 90% figure is a huge assumption, The only other estimate I saw years ago on a global analysis was 75% (which would require $25 billion a year).
At the last moment, the Hochul administration did propose a cap-and-trade (invest) program to implement carbon pricing, though few details were provided, starting with the estimated amount of funds to be raised. Few of the tens of thousands who submitted testimony to the Climate Action Council spoke in favor of this approach. GELF’s initial analysis of this proposal is here. (Some of it is included below). GELF for decades has advocated for a carbon tax, which is what most economists view as the most effective way to speed up the transition from fossil fuels to renewable energy.
Most of the existing state funds for climate action, including renewable energy, are allocated outside of the state budget process, starting with the surcharge on utility bills ordered by the Public Service Commission (PSC). This is an undemocratic and regressive way to fund climate action and the legislature should curtail this approach. Much of the additional state climate funds comes out of the existing Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative (RGGI0 cap-and-trade program on electricity producers.
A state carbon tax / polluter penalty is better than cap-and-invest
GELF helped draft a state carbon tax bill in 2015 with As. Cahill (with Senator Parker). Another version, labeled a polluter penalty bill (CCIA), was drafted by NY Renews. The NY ISO has also drafted a carbon pricing proposal. Groups led by NYPIRG have developed a Climate Superfund proposal to make the largest greenhouse emitters pay to remedy the damages their pollution has caused.
A 2017 review of NY’s existing cap-and-trade program (RGGI) by the Congressional Research Service concluded that it had not been particularly effective in reducing greenhouse gas emissions since the cap had been set too high. The Hochul administration plans to use the CLCPA emission goals for the caps. Climate groups led by Earth Justice had submitted testimony to the CAC that such an approach would be superfluous since it wouldn’t add anything to the existing effort.
The legislature should reject the proposal by the Hochul administration to allow “the market” to set the price of carbon. That has been a complete failure in RGGI, with the present price still only $12 a ton despite DEC estimating that the average social cost of carbon is $121 a ton (much more for methane). As both Pope Francis and the IPCC have pointed out, capitalism and the market are a core cause of the climate crisis, Solving the climate crisis requires an economic system centered on the common good, not the maximization of profit. The state legislature needs to insist on a high bottom floor for the cost of carbon. Remember, a carbon price is not only intended to raise revenues (at least short term before emissions decline) but to also raise the cost of using fossil fuels to make renewable energy even more cost effective.
The International Monetary Fund estimates that the annual worldwide fossil fuel subsidies by governments is $6 trillion. Most of this vast subsidy is due to governments not making fossil fuel users pay for the pollution damage they cause, starting with increased health problems. New York needs to finally end this major subsidy for fossil fuels (as well as the more than $1 billion in direct subsidies).
Rebate at Least Half of Carbon Pricing to Consumers
Since low- and moderate-income consumers spend a higher percentage of their income on basic necessities such as energy, any energy tax is considered regressive. So, steps need to be included in the design of any energy tax/penalty/pricing to make it more progressive.
A traditional approach is to rebate some if not all of the “energy tax” to consumers. There are many variations to this, with pros and cons to the different approaches. (See my carbon pricing chapter in my climate book.) In her State of the State, Governor Hochul proposed returning $1 billion of the carbon pricing revenues to New Yorkers but did not explain how much of that would be in the form of a direct rebate or dividend versus some form of subsidy say for heat pumps. Since she did not indicate the amount of the revenues to be raised, one cannot evaluate how adequate the size of the “rebate” would be.
When I helped draft the state carbon tax bill in 2015, we surveyed more than 100 climate activists and groups to come up with what percentage should be rebated. The median response was 60%, which we included in the bill, targeting it to low- and moderate-income New Yorkers. However, we have always been clear that the rebate provisions in the bill were a placeholder. There are many legitimate perspectives on how to structure the rebate (including the size), and it would be impossible for us to come up with an approach that everyone embraced. We said that the rebate issue would be resolved during the final negotiations over a carbon tax.
Polls do show slightly stronger support, particularly among Republicans, when the revenues are invested in renewable energy rather than a rebate.
The easiest and cheapest way to provide the rebate is through the annual state income tax filings. However, this is not an ideal situation for low-income New Yorkers, who often have limited interaction with the state income tax system. Plus, households struggling on a monthly basis to pay their bills aren’t helped much by receiving a tax refund once a year. One of the improvements that NY Renews proposed in their polluter penalty bill was alternative ways to provide a rebate, such as through free mass transit cards.
One of the few positive developments of the COVID crisis was that the government figured out a way to provide several stimulus checks directly to individuals. This would enable governments to adopt a similar approach for a carbon pricing rebate.
Invest in a Clean Energy Future, not corporate welfare
In addition to the rebates, the revenues need to be invested in the transition to renewable energy.
Whenever a new pot of public funds is made available, the special interests and their campaign donations and lobbyists swarm around it to extract as much of possible for themselves. This needs to be resisted. It is critical that these funds are not invested in “false climate solutions” whose main impact is to enrich the developers peddling them.
Promotion of Public Power
We certainly need to increase the investment in renewable energy, including decentralized systems. I have advocated for public power for more than four decades. Our energy system should be treated as a common good, democratically controlled with strong levels of various forms of public ownership (including worker and community cooperatives).
Governor Cuomo four years ago proposed having the New York Power Authority (NYPA) to build renewables. This unfortunately was defeated by the private developers who want to maintain their profits. This goal has re-emerged in the Build Public Renewables Act, which passed the Senate last year but was blocked by the Assembly Speaker from being voted upon despite appearing to have enough votes to pass.
In addition to an expanded NYPA role, funds should be provided to expand and develop municipal renewable energy systems. New York already has more than 50 municipal power systems, which provide their customers with cheaper electricity than the investor-owned utilities. Carbon pricing revenues should be provided to any municipality that wants to build local renewable energy systems, which would ensure that local residents and elected officials determine the siting of such facilities rather than private developers. Municipalities should be urged to develop local renewable energy systems.
Local public power systems would enable governments to build and/or purchase its own clean, renewable energy sources for electricity, heating, and cooling and the smart grid infrastructure needed to accommodate distributed nature of renewable energy sources. It could oversee the development of community-owned solar and wind, including enabling the participation by low- and moderate-income consumers who often find themselves gentrified out of such initiatives.
Local public power systems could finance the construction of many forms of community energy projects. Rooftop solar and/or small-scale wind shared by a group of households with different solar and wind exposures could be built with the public power system financing the upfront costs and the households paying them off over time out of savings from lower cost renewables,
Invest in Mass transit
While we need to make it more affordable for residents to transition to electric cars, even more critical is to invest in a greatly expanded mass transit system, including buses. To say that New York – and the U.S. – has a third world mass transit system would be an insult to many third world countries. We need to make mass transit affordable and convenient to everyone, including in rural and suburban communities, incorporating outside-the-box solutions. One approach is to widely expand regional transit hubs.
Just this week for instance Capital District Transportation Authority kicked off its new car sharing service in Albany County, rolling out its fleet of all-electric cars that users can rent by the hour or the day. Community members will have the ability to book a zero-emission Chevrolet Bolt for $5 an hour or $40 a day, plus a one-time $20 application fee. The first 150 miles are included in the booking costs and any trip over that limit will cost $0.35 per mile.
Many communities across the country have been moving to zero fares for mass transit to increase ridership.
The other industrial countries invest in a world class transit system, with high-speed trains traveling everywhere. America instead wastes its tax dollars by throwing ever more money at war contractors. We need a peace dividend.
An audit last year by the NYS Comptroller find that NYPA was far behind schedule in installing electric charging ports from vehicles. The State legislature needs to provide more oversight of the operations of NYPA. The testimony on July 28 to the NYS Assembly hearing on building public renewables by Justin Driscoll, the Governor’s nominee to head NYPA, was especially troubling. He questioned the basic competency of NYPA and his overall performance demonstrated that the Senate should reject his nomination.
The scoping plan does not adequately address our need to expand and improve public electrified and intercity rail, which would improve transportation coverage and create good, green, unionized jobs in the process. Additionally, it fails to put forward policies that would influence economic growth and investments in new transportation technology and infrastructure in order to address deep-rooted systemic racism, poverty, and more.
Meeting the requirements of the new climate law, CLCPA, will require a reduction in vehicle miles traveled: that is, people will have to get out of their cars and onto public transport, bicycles (or other micro-mobility devices) or their own two feet.
To adequately improve public transit availability and accessibility in the state there is a need for operating and capital costs to provide first mile/last mile connectivity; a greater number of destinations accessible by public transportation, walking, and biking; increased service frequency with more reliability and hours of operations; increased number of mobility options (e.g., micro-transit, micro-mobility); and high-quality amenities at public transportation facilities/stops.
Massive subsidies to the auto and fossil fuel industries, as well as an unworkable approach by urban planners, maintain the auto’s dominance of our cityscapes. The present-day approach of upgrading streets to accommodate increased traffic generates new traffic because access is now easier, and people will now take jobs further from their homes or purchase homes further from their jobs. Some people shift from public transit to private cars due to the trip time in cars being shorter. As patronage for public transit decreases, public transit loses funding, becomes less viable, and service deteriorates thus encouraging even more people to use their cars.
Mass transit needs a lot of money, far more than state lawmakers agreed to in 2019. One committee convened by the Governor and State Lawmakers put the capital costs just for the MTA at $60 billion. There is also a need to improve and strengthen bus service in the city – and statewide.
NYC has more than two million cars. Transportation in NYC accounted for 29.7% of the city’s greenhouse gas emissions in 2015. Gasoline is by far the largest contributor to transportation GHG emissions, with approximately 80 percent of the total, followed by diesel with approximately 16 percent, and electricity (mass transit) with approximately 4 percent. (NYC’s overall carbon footprint is the third highest for a city on the planet.)
The transportation sector emissions showed by far the greatest growth in New York State, with emissions increasing by nearly 20% from 1990 to 2015. This is due to an increase in the consumption of gasoline and diesel fuels associated with an increase in vehicle miles traveled in New York State.”
As will all climate initiatives, any program to address transportation must be done in a way that centers environmental justice, racial justice, Indigenous rights, and equity. It’s also necessary that impacts on women and youth are prioritized. It is critical that disadvantaged and frontline communities receive a minimum of 70% of the funding and are centered in the policy strategies as they are most harmed by the impacts of pollution and climate change.
We agree with the Climate Justice Working Group’s warning against policies like the “clean energy supply standard” that could extend reliance on fossil fuel infrastructure and allow emissions from fuel combustion to continue to disproportionately impact Disadvantaged Communities.
New York State has some of the most diesel-polluted census tracts in the country. The final plan should recommend targeted policies to electrify facilities with large volumes of truck traffic. In particular, the Council should urge DEC to evaluate and adopt Indirect Source Rules, as permitted under the Clean Air Act, to boost electrification and improve air quality near ports, warehouses, railyards, and other facilities. Indirect Source Rules provide the cleanest policy mechanism to drive down emissions in these types of facilities and should be included in the Council’s Final Scoping Plan
Expanding, electrifying, and improving public transportation must be a top priority, to reduce emissions, improve access especially for disadvantaged communities, and improve public safety per passenger mile, saving many lives and preventing serious injuries even more. Passenger convenience and service frequency are key factors in increasing ridership
All forms of transportation now burning fossil fuels should convert to zero emissions, especially battery electric, as fast as feasible, starting with public fleets: Albany County Executive McCoy just committed to electrify their entire fleet by 2025. The state should fund all public fleets in New York to do likewise.
Financing should be available to cover the FULL front-end costs of new and secondhand electric cars, especially for working people struggling to make ends meet, because electric vehicles still have higher purchase prices but lower energy and operating costs.
“Fee-bates” – fees on gas-guzzling vehicles with the money rebated to subsidize purchase of clean energy vehicles as the plan suggests would encourage purchasers to afford making sustainable choices. The program should be designed to meet other policy goals, like higher rebates for low-income consumers, exemptions from the fee for lower- priced vehicles purchased largely by low- and middle-income consumers, and an additional rebate for used zero emissions vehicles paired with affordable financing options.
A new “cash for clunkers” program with the money only available to purchase ZEVs would be a further incentive for vehicle purchasers.
Likewise, large financial incentives to capture refrigerant gases such as HFCs from cooling systems would prevent release of super-pollutants at the end of product useful life.
The plan should recommend that express bus systems aka Bus Rapid transit, on the model of Curitiba Brazil, be created (all-electric) in all metro areas especially those with insufficient density to support local trains or light rail.
Diesel powered trucks and buses should be removed from over-polluted EJ communities first, rerouted and/or replaced by electric or fuel cell powered heavy vehicles.
Major investments to electrify, expand, and improve intercity rail transportation of both people and freight would reduce emissions, improve access, and create many good jobs, which should be open to unionization.
High-Speed and especially Very High-Speed Rail can be a practical alternative to energy-intensive intercity air travel for distances up to a few hundred miles. Saved travel time would be greater for VHSR but investment costs and deployment times would also be greater. New York should make a detailed cost benefit study comparing HSR and VHSR for a line from Buffalo to Montauk with an Albany to Montreal branch, considering total life cycle costs and benefits, including external social and environmental costs and benefits, pick one and complete it before 2030.
Workers from disadvantaged communities and/or displaced from fossil-dependent jobs should be in the front of the line for the many jobs that the transition to clean energy would create.
We approve of the following recommendations in the scoping plan: allowing direct electric vehicles sales, adopting California’s Clean Cars 2 Regulations, reforming utility rate design for EV charging, transitioning to a zero-emissions state fleet, and investing in zero emissions public transit and EV charging stations.
We recommend California’s Heavy-Duty Low NOx Omnibus rule be included in the Final Scoping Plan, which would reduce PM and NOx emissions by ~90%, with priority in overburdened communities. The final plan should recommend that NYSDEC go forward with a rulemaking to adopt this rule as soon as possible, in line with the CLCPA’s equity provisions.
Green Transit Green Jobs
The ElectrifyNY coalition has introduced the Green Transit Green Jobs proposal. One bill requires all new transit bus purchases starting in 2029 to be of zero-emission buses (ZEB). The second would create contracting incentives for public transit agencies to procure these buses from manufacturers that utilize labor from high-need communities within New York State and create good green jobs.
This legislation will help decrease air pollution and protect New Yorkers’ health, while also helping to achieve the GHG emissions reduction goals in the CLCPA (which is too slow in its timetable). By transitioning all the buses in New York to zero-emissions electric vehicles, transit agencies would eliminate 900,000 metric tons of CO2 and save approximately $870 million in health costs.
The value of zero-emission buses in combating climate change is enormous. According to Bloomberg researchers, approximately “270,000 barrels a day of diesel demand will have been displaced by electric buses.” Experts estimate that the total greenhouse gas savings of converting all buses at 900,000 metric tons of carbon dioxide equivalent, which is the same as removing over 190,000 passenger vehicles (or 2.2 billion miles driven) from New York’s roads for one year.
The “Green Transit” component would task the New York State Department of Transportation with facilitating this conversion. NYSDOT would be explicitly tasked with considering ZEB purchasing in the disbursement of their five-year capital plans and would also help coordinate non-MTA transit agencies on purchasing, installation, and sharing of services.
The timeline included in the bill mirrors a commitment that the MTA has already made to purchase only electric buses starting in 2029. Other transit agencies, including the Capital District Transportation Authority and Rochester-Genesee Regional Transportation Authority, have already launched pilot initiatives, or are planning to do so shortly. Governor Andrew Cuomo echoed similar principles in his 2020 State of the State address, calling for five of the largest upstate and suburban transit systems (CDTA, RGRTA, NFTA – Buffalo, Suffolk County, and Westchester County) to also take steps to shift to zero-emission bus fleets.
There are approximately 8,500 transit buses in New York State, most of which (5,800) are controlled by the MTA. There are at least twelve transit systems across New York State that have a minimum of 25 buses, and many more with fewer than that.
Green Transit Green Jobs also means more local, good-paying jobs because it will encourage electric bus manufacturing in New York and will contribute to the growth of a green economy that no longer exacerbates the risk to public health and our climate. There are 8,500 transit buses in operation throughout the state and transitioning all of them to electric vehicles will greatly improve the health, environment, and economy of the entire state and its people.
 https://www.dec.ny.gov/docs/administration_pdf/nycghg.pdf, table 1, p. 14; also p. 24