New York needs to commit to 100% clean, renewable energy by 2030. Enact a Green New Deal. Halt new Fossil Fuels.
Climate change poses an existential threat to humanity, not only from global warming and extreme weather but from its role in the sixth mass extinction of species in the planet’s history. Green energy would help reduce the climate crisis and is a path to full employment and lower energy prices.
GELF worked with 350NYC and the Divest NY campaign to convince both the NYC and State pension funds to divest from fossil fuels, a process which NYC has completed. GELF supports the ongoing campaign to divest the NYS Teacher’s Retirement System from fossil fuel. (more below)
Putting Out the Planetary Fire: An Introduction to Climate Change and Advocacy
GELF has published an introductory book to the science and politics of climate change. It is available on our website through the above pull- down menu or at this link (which includes the index and link to each chapter). (See praise from Bill McKibben, Dr. Mark Jacobson, Elizabeth Kolbert, Ralph Nader, Dr. Alice Green, Dr. Jill Stein, Judith Enck, and others). A paperback version can be purchased here through Amazon Books.
The first part of the book provides a brief overview of the key aspects of climate change. This includes examining issues related to developing solar and wind power, energy conservation and efficiency, carbon pricing, timelines for transition, buildings, transportation, agriculture, environmental justice, climate reparations, military, and a Green New Deal. It examines the role of fossil fuels, including both the use of and the industry’s political and economic power. It addresses what many call false climate solutions, such as carbon capture and sequestration, bioenergy, and blue hydrogen.
The second part addresses the theory and practice of social change. It outlines the various strategies and techniques that can be used to persuade governments and other decision makers to take the rapid action needed to prevent climate chaos. It examines the role of the legislature, executive branches, courts, and international bodies (e.g., IPCC, COP) in determining climate action. It provides an introduction to lobbying, public education, the role of the media, protest, and direct action / civil disobedience.
Green New Deal – A COVID 19 Economic Stimulus
The first call in the US for a Green New Deal was done by the Green Party in 2010 (greens in Europe had launched the effort several years previously). The original GND, an economic stimulus recovery response to the global financial collapse, combined a rapid ten-year transition to 100% renewables, zero-emissions with the implementation of an Economic Bill of Rights (guaranteed living wage jobs, universal health care, housing, education) as FDR had called for in his last two State of the Unions. It also supported major cuts in the Pentagon budget as a principal way to fund the effort, along with a robust carbon tax. (Here is an outline of differences between the Green’s ecosocialist Green New Deal and the various versions promoted by Democrats and other climate groups.)
Presidential Executive Orders on Climate Change
In addition to calling for the enact of a Green New Deal at the national and state level, GELF supports the call for President Biden to take executive action on climate change without the need for Congressional approval (see climatepresident.org). We need to act like It includes setting a goal of moving to 100% clean electricity by 2030. It embraces a commitment to environmental justice for frontline communities and a Just Transition to ensure that all individuals benefit from the changes. Most importantly, it calls to keep fossil fuels in the ground, including a halt to new fossil fuel infrastructure. And a ban on fracking.
GELF opposes the push to invest tens of billions in carbon capture technology, viewing it as corporate welfare greenwashing designed to allow the continued use of fossil fuels.
Read GELF’s analysis of the Inflation Reduction Act Congress adopted in August 2022 as a very slimmed down version of Biden’s initial Build Back Better proposal, which itself was far weaker than the Green New Deal proposed by the green movement.
Campaign for 100% Renewable Energy by 2030, Ban on New Fossil Fuels – CLCPA Implementation
In 2015, GELF decided to try to implement the study done by Stanford and Cornell professors during the successful fight to ban the hydrofracking of natural gas that showed that NY could meet its energy needs through renewable energy rather than natural gas. A major focus was the expansion of offshore wind off of Long Island. GELF drafted legislation (The OFF Act) to move New York to 100% clean renewable energy (no nuclear) by 2030 with net zero greenhouse gas emissions (using regenerative agriculture for offsets) with a halt to new fossil fuel infrastructure. The law would also have required local governments to develop and implement climate action plans.
in June 2019 Governor and State legislature instead adopted the Climate Leadership and Community Protection Act (CLCPA) which has a much slower timeline (net zero by 2050, with only an 85% reduction in emissions.) The law fails to call for a halt to fossil fuel infrastructure. It largely enacted the existing Executive Order from 2009 on climate including a process for a state climate plan by 2023. The final bill stripped out the labor protections activists had sought, failed to fund a Just Transition for impacted workers and communities dependent on fossil fuels, and weakened the requirement to invest climate funds in environmental justice communities (a goal of 35% for new funding).
The bill did set a goal of 70% renewable energy for electricity (about a quarter of emissions) by 2030, and 100% from clean energy (i.e., with nukes) by 2040. It also set goals for Off Shore Wind of 9,000 MW by 2035.
Climate Scoping Plan by Climate Action Council is far too slow
The Climate Action Council, primarily members of the Governor’s administration with some members appointed by the State Legislature, finally adopted the climate scoping document required under the CLCPA in December 2022. (See GELF’s comments on the initial draft.)
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. New York will continue to avoid making the hard choices while climate change and extreme weather continue to accelerate. The UN has warned that the window to act to avoid climate collapse is rapidly closing, with at best another five to seven years before it is too late – assuming we haven’t already passed that point. (Read GELF’s response to the scoping plan.)
A critical question is whether state lawmakers will finally step up to the plate after 30 years of inaction on climate and energy, rather than leaving it in the hands of the Governor. Lawmakers should speed up the timetable. They need to raise a lot of money quickly. They need to reject the false climate solutions, greenwashing, and corporate welfare that played a major role in the Hochul (Cuomo) administration.
While the CLCPA set much weaker goals than the bill drafted by GELF and has even slower timelines for renewable energy and greenhouse emission reductions adopted by the Biden administration, most observers doubt that the state will achieve even the reduced goals. The state has a long history of failing to meet its climate goals. Twenty years after Governor Pataki first set goals to significantly expand renewable energy, the state gets less than 6% of its electricity from wind and solar. Most of its renewable energy comes from hydro projects built during the New Deal of FDR.
NYS Legislature Fails to take action on climate
Climate Can’t Wait was a collaboration of 40 climate groups in NY which urged the NYS legislature to take action on 12 legislative proposals and policy issues. Almost all of them failed to pass, the third year in a row where state lawmakers punted on climate. Climate also did not fare well in the state budget, with the request for $15 billion in funding for climate action was ignored. (See GELF budget testimony)
The legislature did pass a 2 year moratorium on the expansion of proof-of-work cryptocurrency mining due to their high emissions levels from running computers, but the All Electric Buildings Act and the Public Power (NYPA to build renewables) were defeated despite much campaigns. Both will be pushed in 2023. Legislation to expand geothermal did pass as well as a bill to require that permits for polluters look at the cumulative impact in local communities.
GELF endorses the Renewable Heat Now campaign, which includes using air heat pumps and geothermal energy to heat and cool buildings rather than natural gas or other fossil fuels.
Divest from Fossil Fuels
On December 9, 2020, the NYS Comptroller, after an eight-year campaign by 350NYC and DivestNY, of which GELF was an active participant, announced that he had agreed to divest the $230 billion state pension fund from the riskiest fossil fuels and to decarbonize the entire fund by 2040. NYC officials had made a similar announcement three years previously. (See media coverage.)
100 state legislators had signed on as co-sponsors to the divestment legislation before DiNapoli made his announcement. The failure to divest over the last decade had cost the state more than $22 billion in lost value has fossil fuels have been the worst performing sector on Wall Street. The fund had held over $12 billion in fossil fuels, including more than $1 billion invested in ExxonMobil alone. DivestNY had pointed out that it was morally wrong for the state to seek to profit from the burning fossil fuels which threatens the future of life on the planet.
DivestNY Teachers is focusing on the New York State Teachers’ Retirement System (NYSTRS), which has an estimated $4.5 billion invested in climate destroying fossil fuels with over $500,000,000 invested in Exxon Mobil alone.
Stop the Money Pipeline is a similar campaign to stop the financial sector (banks, insurance companies, assets managers) from funding, insuring and investing in the climate crisis. For instance, JP Morgan Chase is the world’s top banker of fossil fuels, providing $196 billion in funding to fossil fuel companies since 2016.
State Carbon Tax and Carbon Pricing
A carbon tax is an “upstream” tax on the carbon content of fossil fuels (coal, oil and natural gas) and biofuels. A carbon tax is the most efficient means to instill crucial price signals that spur carbon-reducing investment. The biggest obstacle to clean energy is that the market prices of coal, oil and gas don’t include the true costs of carbon pollution. (read more).
In 2015, GELF helped write a state carbon tax that would require polluters to pay for the damages caused by burning fossil fuels. NY Renews has also developed the Climate and Community Investment Act which they refer to as a polluter penalty bill. This bill seeks to raise $10 billion a year but NY Renews has largely stopped pushing it to due to opposition by the Governor and lawmakers. NYPIRG and others have developed a scaled-back polluters pay bill called the Climate Superfund Act, seeking to raise $3 billion annually from the state’s largest greenhouse emitters.
The climate scoping plan does call for the state to enact an expanded cap-and-trade program (termed cap-and-invest), though there are few details. This is similar to the existing regional cap-and-trade program (RGGI) for electricity producers, Cap-and-trade programs however are strongly criticized on equity grounds by environmental justice groups. The Congressional Research Service concluded that RGGI’s direct impacts on emissions reductions have been negligible, partially because the price of carbon ($12 a ton) is so low and the cap on emissions is too high.
The NY ISO, which regulates the wholesale electricity market, has developed their own carbon pricing proposal in response to Governor Cuomo using the social cost of carbon as the legal basis for his $7.6 billion bailout of three upstate nuclear plants. (An overview of national ISO carbon pricing proposals.)
Some groups such as Food and Water Watch oppose a carbon tax as a market device that enable polluters to continue to burn fossil fuels. They advocate instead for mandatory emissions reductions.
Shut Down the Norlite Hazardous Waste Incinerator in Cohoes
Lights Out Norlite is a project of GELF.
Norlite is a toxic waste incinerator located in Cohoes, NY. For more than fifty years Norlite has released toxic pollution on the New York Capital Region and beyond. Saratoga Sites, a public housing complex home to 70 families, is just 400 yards from Norlite’s stacks. Those families are now being relocated because of Norlite’s pollution. Norlite has been fined repeatedly for violating environmental regulations, including for mercury, heavy metals, VOC’s, and toxic dust emissions. VIEW NORLITE’S TOXIC TIMELINE.
In December 2022, GELF and LON, filed papers in State Supreme Court in Albany to intervene in the lawsuit New York State, led by the State Attorney General (AG), has filed against the company. In the complaint, the plaintiff brings tort claims against Norlite, whose permits to operate expired two years ago, for its wrongful operation of the Facility and a cross claim against DEC for a declaratory judgment that allowing the Facility to continue to operate violates Plaintiffs’ right to clean air and a healthful environment. The plaintiffs want the plant shut down.
Community Choice Aggregation
GELF helped initiate Community Choice Aggregation in the Capital District. 13 municipalities with 80,000 households have agreed to buy electricity together to reduce the cost of obtaining 100% clean energy. While CCAs only started in Westchester County a few years ago, they are a major energy supplies out West such as California. Unfortunately, the project stalled in 2020 due to the COVID crisis and the wild fluctuations in energy prices. Capital District Community Energy was set up to work to promote CCAs, renewable energy and climate action.
Halt Single-Use Plastics
The proliferation of single-use plastic around the world is accelerating climate change and should be urgently halted, a report warns. Plastic production is expanding worldwide, fueled in part by the fracking boom in the US. Plastic contributes to greenhouse gas emissions at every stage of its lifecycle, from its production to its refining and the way it is managed as a waste product.
Ethane cracker plants are the fossil fuel industry’s latest attempt to lock us into a dirty energy economy, bringing extensive and expensive infrastructure that fills our air and water with toxic chemicals while contributing to the climate crisis and slowing the transition to renewables. The worst part is that these plants aren’t just bad for the planet. They’re bad – really, really bad – for our health, spewing all kinds of dangerous chemicals into the air. According to the American Chemistry Council – the industry is looking to invest over $200 billion on new ethane cracker facilities and projects in order to capitalize on the abundance of cheap natural gas.
Single-use plastics are a glaring example of the problems with throwaway culture. We produce 300 million tons of plastic each year worldwide, half of which is for single-use items. That’s nearly equivalent to the weight of the entire human population. Reducing plastic use is the most effective means of avoiding this waste (and the impacts linked to plastic production and use).
Over time, sun and heat slowly turn plastics into smaller and smaller pieces until they eventually become what are known as microplastics. These microscopic plastic fragments, no more than 5 millimeters long, are hard to detect—and are just about everywhere. They end up in the water, eaten by wildlife, and inside our bodies. For wildlife, microplastics can be particularly dangerous; when eaten they can easily accumulate inside an animal’s body and cause health issues,
GELF works with Beyond Plastics. It supports the federal Break Free From Plastic Pollution Act.
A major legislative fight this year was over the issue of Extended Producer Responsibility to both make those who produce waste take responsibility (pay) to dispose of it and to reduce the amount of waste generated. No action was taken, nor did lawmakers expand the bottle bill on its 40th anniversary.
GELF operates a community radio station in Albany (WOOA) as part of the Hudson Mohawk Radio Network affiliated with the Sanctuary for Independent Media. You can listen to climate stories here.
December 30, 2022
Green Education and Legal Fund Inc.
GELF is a 501(c)(3)nonprofit dedicated to promoting the green values of nonviolence, ecology, democracy and justice.
Organized in 1998, the purposes of GELF include conducting research and education in furtherance of the green principles of ecology, grassroots democracy, non-violence, social and economic justice, decentralization, community economics, feminism, respect for diversity, personal and global responsibility, and future focus.