100s Rally at Capitol 100% Renewables, No Fossil Fuels

100% Renewables Now NYS
Jan. 14, 2016

Hundreds of climate change activists rallied in front of the state Capitol on Wednesday, then flooded the hallways to make sure legislative and political leaders understand that more is needed to be done on climate as they flocked to the Governor’s state of the state address. (Video from TU; photos here and also here. )

A copy of the news release here; a copy of the State of the Climate analysis here. (An op ed on climate change and Bill De Blasio by Mark Dunlea.)

Media reports estimated that 250 people participated, which would apparently be the single largest “climate change” event at the Capitol to date (though obviously the anti-fracking folks had several larger events). Hopefully this record will be surpassed several times in the coming months, particularly at an Earth Day Lobby Day.

While the call for 100% renewable energy as soon as possible (e.g., 2030) had been highlighted in the media and publicity leading up to the rally, the need for the Governor to halt the massive buildout of the fossil fuel infrastructure (pipelines, power plants, oil bomb trains, storage facilities, compressor stations) was most visible at the event, especially in the hallways of the concourse.

The third pillar of the State of the Climate event was the need for a Just Transition, to provide both jobs and a voice to those most impacted by climate change. This was addressed by Matt Ryan of ALIGN, who discussed the new Renew NY campaign, and Howie Hawkins of the Green Party (video) who laid out the Green New Deal. The Climate event also had posters linking the fight for climate justice with the Fight for $15 minimum wage; the latter issue brought thousands to the concourse.

While the Governor sought to suppress first amendment rights by sheltering his guests behind a massive blue curtain and penning protestors away from the convention center, climate change activists lined the crossroads area and the hallways from the LOB and Capitol to make sure our message was heard.

One speaker attracting media attention was actor James Cromwell, who was arrested a few week ago protesting the proposed CPV power plant in Orange County. Watch a video (six minutes) of his remarks with fellow activist Pramilla Malick. (Listen to WAMC / NPR interview before the rally, 23 minutes.)

Former Albany City Council member Dominick Calsolaro and a member of PAUSE (People of Albany United for Safe Energy) kicked off the rally talking about the fight to halt the oil bomb trains centered on the Port of Albany. Julia Caro of Citizen Action also addressed the issue.

Sandra Steingraber of We are Seneca Lake – one of the heroes of the anti-fracking fight – spoke out about the hundreds that  have been arrested protesting the proposed gas storage facility at Seneca. A busload of local protestors (video) came to the event and then delivered a thousand statements to the Governor’s office.

Fighting gas pipelines was addressed by many speakers, starting with Becky Meier of Stop NY Fracked Gas Pipeline. People were excited to hear that Attorney General Eric Schneiderman (who walked by us later) will be filing formal objections with FERC to the Constitution Pipeline beginning to clear cut trees before receiving the critical Water Quality Certificate from Albany.

Protestors also urged NYC Comptroller Scott Stringer to divest the city pension fund from all fossil fuels (not just coal) when he walked through as the rally organizers were setting up. During the rally Assemblymember Felix Ortiz discussed the state divestment bill he is sponsoring with Senator Liz Krueger.

We got extensive media play / radio interviews prior to the rally. A statewide radio report here. Covered on Capitol Pressroom and radio stations in Poughkeepsie, Binghamton, NYC and Syracuse.

In his State of the State, the Governor mentioned climate change four times and stressed the need for more action (though he felt short of what President Obama said the night before in the SOU). Much of his remarks repeated positions re renewable energy that he had announced in recent months; activists had hoped that he would go beyond his initial call for 50% renewables for electricity by 2030. While he said again that this would be a mandate, he did not say that he would pass legislation – or that he would require a comprehensive climate action plan detailing the timeline, steps and benchmarks for meeting the goals. Politico highlighted that the details of his renewable energy activities are still missing. (A new USA today poll shows that young voters by 80-to-10% support 100% renewable energy by 2030.)

The big news is that he committed to phasing out coal plants in four years – though still apparently providing hundreds of millions in annual subsidies to the coal plants. This was a big win for the Beyond Coal campaign of Sierra Club. The Governor did not mention his proposal to also provide subsidies to upstate nuclear plants

There unfortunately was no commitment to jumpstart the state’s offshore wind program. Advocates want the state to commit to purchase 5000 MW of OSW by 2025 and 10,000 MW by 2030. And no mention of the need to stop his drive to build out natural gas and the fossil fuel infrastructure.

Advocates had also wanted to hear that the Governor’s budget – which he released at the same time – would invest in building out recharging stations for electric vehicles (though the travel distance for such vehicles is increasing rapidly).

The proposed budget does include $32.5 million in new funding in the Environmental Protection Fund for climate change mitigation and adaptation, to provide funding for adaptive infrastructure, greenhouse gas management, and resiliency planning programs.

It also includes $15 million in funding for the Clean Energy Workforce Opportunity Program. In order to educate the next generation of clean energy workers, this fund will expand clean technology and renewable energy programs offered by SUNY. In partnership with clean energy businesses located on or near SUNY campuses, (It is believed that Gov. Spitzer made a similar proposal but unclear about its status / implementation.) Advocates may seek to increase the funding level for jobs in the adopted budget but it is a positive step to highlight the need for increased job training for the renewable energy industry.

The Renew NYS campaign is developing a comprehensive package re such investments.

What the Governor said:  “the problem of climate change is finally being recognized by most world leaders, anyway. Here in New York we have already been actively working to address it. Now, New York State has a business and an environmental opportunity. Let’s become the international capital for clean and green energy products. We have already attracted some of the largest solar manufacturers on the planet to New York State. We’ve already attracted some of the biggest research and development firms on the planet to New York. I now propose a $15 million Clean Energy Opportunity Training Program so SUNY and our community colleges can train the workers with solar technology and installation.

“I believe this is the economy of tomorrow and while we’re developing the business plan, we can also employ it in the state of New York. I propose installing solar in over 150,000 homes and businesses and converting SUNY facilities to renewable energy by the year 2020. We can do it and we should.

“My friends, this is the path for the future to ensure that the planet has a future — let New York lead the way once again on this important topic.”