Governor Hochul Should Declare Climate Emergency

Governor Hochul Needs to Declare A Climate Emergency in State of State Following Release of the Draft Climate Plan

Climate activists are urging Governor Hochul to make climate action a focal point of her January 5th State of the State Address.

The groups are looking for the Governor to propose at least $15 billion in funding for climate initiatives in her upcoming budget, as well as halting any new fossil fuel infrastructure and ending subsidies for fossil fuels.  Groups want Hochul to support having the New York Power Authority (and local public power systems) build renewable energy projects, a proposal made by Governor Cuomo that was rejected by state lawmakers due to opposition from private developers.

At least half of the climate funds should be targeted to low-and-moderate income individuals and EJ communities, including to decarbonize buildings and construct community renewable energy. This includes funding for a massive investment in public housing and mass transit. Groups are also calling for the state to convert the Capitol and Empire State Plaza to 100% renewable energy as a visible pilot project, while also investing in a clean energy future for the Sheridan Hollow neighborhood which has endured a century of pollution to power the state office complex.

“Lawmakers have failed to take any significant action on climate since passing the CLCPA 2 and half years ago. The draft plan released this week by the Governor-dominated Climate Action Council (CAC) lays out options rather than making decisions on many key issues such as how to reduce emissions and pay for the clean energy transition. It avoids specific steps and short-term timelines. With the IPCC declaring a Code Red for the planet due to the weak climate actions by governments since the Paris climate accords, Hochul needs to stop the delay and shift the state to a climate emergency footing,” stated Mark Dunlea, Chair of the Green Education and Legal Fund (GELF).

GELF said that Hochul and the state should at least adopt the faster national climate goals announced this year by President Biden: moving to 100% carbon-free energy (electricity) by 2035 (2040 in CLCPA); and, a 50 to 52% cut in emissions based on 1990 by 2030 (40% in CLCPA). Hochul should also embrace the call by Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (NY) to require 100% new zero-emissions cars by 2030 (2035 in recent NY law).

GELF wants Hochul to move forward on the Green New Deal concept that Cuomo said he supported several years ago. The initial Green New Deal proposal made in 2010 by the Green Party called for a 10-year program to move to 100% renewable energy, zero emissions, combined with a commitment to a guaranteed living wage job, single-payer health care, housing and education. Groups want Hochul to commit to at least two million energy-efficient, all-electric homes by 2030 along with a Green Affordable Housing Fund. GELF has supported a Just Transition that guarantees at least existing wage from workers displaced from the fossil fuel economy. It is critical to ensure that everyone benefits from the transition to a clean energy future.

Hochul should call for a halt to the proof-of-work cryptocurrency mining which has a massive climate impact from running thousands of computers to solve mathematical puzzles. Investors are increasingly seeking to re-open mothballed fossil fuel plants to reduce their electricity costs. She should also take immediate action of several of the recommendations in the draft climate plan, such as amending building codes to require new buildings to be carbon-free. This should include having the state adopt a stronger version of the recently passed NYC law to ban gas in new buildings.

The lack of funding has been an Achilles heel with the CLCPA. Governor Cuomo amended the CLCPA to significantly weaken the goal of helping “disadvantaged communities (DAC) ” recover from decades – sometimes centuries – of being forced to live with polluting facilities. The law’s goal is to direct 35% of largely “new” climate funding to such communities. However, the CAC this week determined that 50% of the state population actually falls into the DAC category; it also wants to exclude many of the largest investments from the “equation.”

While the draft plan acknowledges the need for massive investments in building energy retrofits and decarbonization efforts such as ground source (geothermal) and air heat pumps, it doesn’t provide funding targets or short-term timelines. Existing subsidies still make systems such as air heat pumps (e.g. $10,000 to $15000 after rebate) beyond the financial reach of low-and-moderate income New Yorkers. Governor Cuomo’s administration impeded the implementation of the Green Jobs Green NY law enacted under Governor Paterson to energy retrofit hundreds of thousands of homes, employing on bill-financing by the utility companies to provide the upfront costs (recouping the investments through lower energy bills.) Hochul should commit to making the initiative work.

The draft plan does mention possible funding options such as a carbon tax but fails to make a recommendation. Lawmakers have told climate activists that they are unwilling to pass the CCIA polluter penalty bill that would raise $15 billion a year due to political concerns (e.g., a rise in prices at the gas pump). So groups are now focusing on ensuring that $15 billion in climate funding is included in the 2022-23 state budget. Lawmakers can decide how to finance it (e.g., polluter penalty, tax on the rich). The CAC estimates that $3 trillion will be needed by 2050 for the system changes needed to meet the state’s climate goals, though they hope 90% of the funding can come from redirecting current expenditures.

“At our current rate of emissions, we will exhaust the world’s so-called remaining carbon budget in 7 years. While New York has made significant progress in reducing emissions from electricity, the two biggest sectors – buildings and transportation – have seen increased emissions since 1990, including in recent years. We need a radical shift in focus with a sense of urgency at the State Capitol. We need to hear about the target goals for 2022 and 2024 rather than 2030 and 2050,” added Dunlea.

GELF wants Hochul to support divesting the NYS Teachers’ Retirement System to divest from all fossil fuels, as the City and State public pension funds have largely done. NYSTRS did commit this week to divest from coal but continues to argue that it should invest in fossil fuels so that it can work from the inside to reform companies like Exxon, despite decades of failed shareholder engagement efforts.

GELF wants Hochul to follow through on the climate plan’s call to reduce single-use plastic (e.g., laws to limit plastic utensils on takeout food to on-demand) and make polluters responsible for the disposal of waste (Extended Producer Responsibility), while expanding the bottle bill.

New York has always done a better job of announcing climate goals than in achieving them. Two decades after Governor Pataki announced goals to significantly expand solar and wind, those sources account for only 5 to 6% of the state’s electricity, with hardly any expansion since the CLCPA was passed. To meet even the limited goals of the present CLCPA framework would require the state to add 5% from wind and solar on an annual basis, duplicating annually what has taken it 20 years to accomplish. The draft plan envisions that almost all of the state’s energy will come from wind and solar.

Both Pope Francis and the IPCC have stated that the capitalist system and its focus on having the economy directed by individual investors seeking to maximize profits has been a failure. Many climate activists believe that New York’s approach of tinkering with market incentives to drive the transition to clean renewable energy is a recipe for disaster, as demonstrated by the state’s poor performance in expanding renewable energy. The significant expansion of public power in the state would also enable democratic decision-making and coordinated planning as to where and when new renewable energy facilities should be constructed. This includes how to build the next generation of a transmission system to most cost-effectively deliver electricity.

GELF wants the state to dramatically expand funding for climate actions by local government (e.g., the Clean Energy Communities and Climate Smart Communities programs). The City of Ithaca, which supports a Green New Deal, recently authorized $100 million to decarbonize local buildings. The state should also require municipalities and counties to develop their own detailed climate plans in the next year, including selecting sites for renewable energy projects.

Community opposition to siting has often delayed projects for a decade or more. Governor Cuomo did overhaul the siting process to try to reduce the timeframe for two years.

“GELF and 190 other organizations had advocated for the Off Fossil Fuels / 100% Renewables Act, which had a much stronger and faster climate timeline than the CLCPA. But once the CLCPA was passed, GELF and most climate experts knew it was unlikely that the state would accomplish even its more limited goals. Unfortunately, the slow progress and lack of details in developing the climate plan just reinforces the belief that the state will fall short,” added Dunlea. Dunlea noted that after the Climate Plan is enacted in 2023, it then goes through another planning process to update the State Energy Master Plan.