Greens: NYS Budget Carbon Tax, $15 B Climate, Capitol 100% Renewable

Greens Call for State Carbon Tax rather than Cap-and-Invest

NY needs to commit $15 billion a year in climate funding, convert State Capitol to 100% Renewable Energy

The Green Education and Legal Fund (GELF) called today for state legislators to enact a state carbon tax of at least $60 a year rather than the cap-and-invest proposal advanced by Governor Hochul. The Greens said that the state needs to immediately begin investing at least $15 billion a year in a rapid clean energy transition, with several billion dollars a year to assist low- and middle-income families to decarbonize their buildings.

“We continue to call for the state to officially declare a climate emergency, which needs to include a halt to any new fossil fuel infrastructure and an investment of at least $15 billion annually in renewable energy and other Green New Deal initiatives. The state must make surviving climate change the number one priority for all actions at every level of government,” said Mark Dunlea, chair of GELF and national co-chair of the EcoAction Committee of the Green Party.

If NY does go ahead with C&I, it should impose a cap on emissions to achieve a much quicker reduction than presently outlined in the state’s climate law and have the state rather than polluters set the price of carbon.

The Greens also outlined a number of other budget initiatives including an expanded bottle bill, a 2024 ban on gas in new buildings, a doubling of the goal to invest climate funds in environmental justice communities, an end to the $7.6 billion nuclear subsidy, and to rapidly convert all state buildings to 100% renewable energy starting with a 3-year timeline for the State Capitol and Empire State Plaza. (See written testimony).

GELF supports enacting a strong Extended Producer Responsibility act such as that proposed by Senator May, but it should be done outside of the budget.

Mark Dunlea, chair of GELF, noted that for the first time in decades he has been denied the opportunity to testify at the annual state budget hearing on the environment.

“When I first started testifying at the budget hearings twenty years ago in favor of a carbon tax, the Senate Finance Committee chair Owen Johnson argued that carbon emissions were good since trees liked to breathe it. We need to finally make polluters pay for the $30 billion plus in damages that New Yorkers annually suffer from the burning of fossil fuels. And lawmakers have to reject the fantasy that relying on the ‘market’ is ever going to solve the climate crisis, since it is the drive to maximize profits under capitalism that created the problem,” added Dunlea, author of Putting Out the Planetary Fire and the Green party’s 2018 candidate for State Comptroller.

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.

GELF said that lawmakers should agree to and improve upon the Governor’s proposal to have the New York Power Authority build utility-scale renewables. GELF had testified in favor of the similar proposal by former Governor Cuomo four years ago. GELF supports 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.

GELF noted that the fact that California had a cap-and-trade program led environmental justice groups, supported by many national climate groups, to derail the nomination of Mary Nichols by President Biden to head the EPA. Instead, a far weaker environmentalist was selected. A major problem with cap-and-trade is that it often enables polluters to continue their pollution in more disadvantaged communities.

GELF had opposed the creation of the state’s existing cap-and-trade program, the Regional Greenhouse Gas Inventory, as being too flawed to have a major impact on greenhouse gas emissions. The Congressional Research Search’s study of RGGI confirmed that analysis.

GELF observed that lawmakers and most climate groups seem to have put aside their misgivings about cap-and-trade to support the Governor’s proposal as the most realistic way at the moment to raise some climate funds. However, it appears that the projected revenues will take several years to materialize and will be far short of what is needed. GELF said that lawmakers should set a high floor for the price of carbon, closer to the $121 per ton estimated by NYS DEC as to the cost of carbon, rather than allowing polluters to set the price through auction. The auction price for RGGI is only $12 a ton. (The price of carbon today in the European Union is $90.)

Dunlea added that the State Legislature needs to treat the CLCPA as a floor rather than a ceiling. The emission reductions goals outlined in the CLCPA (e.g., 40% by 2030) are inadequate to keep global warming below the 1.5 degree C target. They reflect goals set before the Paris climate accord. 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. GELF said that NY should raise its emission reduction goals to at least 70% by 2030.

As the Secretary-General of the United Nations constantly warns the world’s governments, they are moving far too slowly to avoid climate collapse.

“The legislature should include a $1.5 million dollar appropriation in the budget this year to develop a plan on how to transition the New York State Capitol and Empire State Plaza to renewables. Let’s make our Capitol a symbol of New York’s rapid and just transition to a renewable energy future,” added Dunlea.

The transformation of the Capitol and nearby state buildings to 100% renewable energy in 3 years should be a model for how New York transforms its energy economy away from fossil fuels and toward meeting the greenhouse reduction goals of the CLCPA. The Sheridan Avenue Steam Plant (SASP), which heats and cools the ESP complex, has polluted the low-income Sheridan Hollow neighborhood for more than a century, first burning coal, then oil and now fracked gas. In light of this century of pollution of Sheridan Hollow and Arbor Hill, the state should also invest in making the neighborhood a pilot program for moving environmental justice communities to 100% clean energy, with quality jobs and job training for members of the impacted community.