GELF Statement on Signing of the Climate Leadership and Community Protection Act

From Mark Dunlea, Chairperson, Green Education and Legal Fund

With the signing of New York’s climate change bill, the real work for Governor Cuomo in avoiding climate chaos has only just begun. The Governor must accept the challenge of dramatically accelerating New York’s build out of large amounts of renewable energy while halting any further investment in fossil fuels and related infrastructure. New York must increase its investment in energy efficiency and conservation.

Governor Cuomo’s lasting political legacy must be his dedication to doing what is necessary to save life on the planet. This is when New York residents most need him to be a micromanager, daily providing leadership to overcome the multiple barriers that impede the state moving to 100% renewables, zero greenhouse gas emissions. We have not seen that from any of New York Governors over the last 17 years as NY has managed to only get 5% of the state’s electricity from wind and solar since Pataki first set climate goals in 2002. We now have to match or exceed that output annually.

The IPCC’s warning that the world has 11 years left for dramatic unprecedented mobilization to avoid catastrophic climate change was overly optimistic. CLCPA is a step in the right direction but far bolder action is needed.

The Governor must move forward on a much faster timetable than outlined in the CLCPA. He needs to call for radical changes in how large scale renewables are sited in New York. He must recognize that any new investment in fossil fuel infrastructure – whether for new project or to maintain existing one – is a wasteful expenditure that undercuts the likelihood that we will avoid climate disaster.

New York needs to enact legislation that halts the expanded use of fossil fuels, including natural gas. The Governor must recognize that the use of natural gas is a gangplank to climate disaster. New York needs to declare a climate emergency, committing to marshalling all of the state’s public and public resources to transform the state’s economic and energy systems to rapidly slash greenhouse gas emissions.

That State should follow California and mandate that new buildings are net zero carbon emissions by 2022. It needs to dramatically expand energy retrofits of existing buildings, starting with making the Green Jobs Green NY program actually works as intended. It needs to prohibit the expansion of fossil fuels in buildings while increasing its financial incentives for renewable heat (air heat pumps, geothermal).

Also missing from lawmakers’ recent climate negotiations was any agreement to raise the tens of billions of dollars that will be needed in the near term to propel the energy transformation. Certainly the fossil fuel industry, their financial backers and others who have profited from the burning of fossil fuels must be required to pay for the damages their pollution has caused. A regional carbon tax including transportation should be adopted.

To save life on the planet the Governor must stand up to the power and campaign contributions of all those that financially profit from the use of fossil fuels. He must tell the business community that business as usual is over with, that they must embrace sustainability rather than maximization of profit as their guiding principle.

Cuomo’s support for a Green New Deal must extend to investing in environmental justice and strong labor standards, two issues he significantly weakened in the final climate deal. It is important that all New Yorkers believe that their economic and security needs will be front and center to New York’s response to the climate crisis.

It is time for the Governor and the renewable energy advocates to acknowledge the need for a strong public / worker ownership component to renewable energy and to mandate democratic control of our energy system. Throughout his tenure the Governor has promoted “realigning the markets” to guide the transition to renewables. This has been a spectacular failure. The concept of the public good needs to replace the drive for profits as the centerpiece of our economy.

Green Education and Legal Fund Statement on the Climate Leadership and Community Protection Act

For Immediate Release: June 18, 2019
For More Information: Mark Dunlea, 518 860-3725

“The disappointing CLCPA was a missed opportunity for New York to be a ground-breaking climate leader. The timelines for renewables and ending greenhouse gas emissions are inadequate to avoid climate catastrophe. While taking action on energy for the first time in decades, the legislature largely just put into law the Governor’s existing climate policies,” said Mark Dunlea, chair of the Green Education and Legal Fund (GELF).

The final deal struck out provisions added by the Senate for short-term targets as the state seeks to get to 70% of its state’s electricity from renewables by 2030. Also struck were labor standards. Missing was funding to protect workers and communities through a Just Transition. The bill did incorporate the Governor’s renewable energy goals which were stronger than the CCPA.

The climate bill fails to give citizens the right to sue to enforce the climate law, which has been critical to the success of climate action in California. The bill is also weak in its requirements for state agencies to comply with state climate plans.

GELF said it was disappointed that the final deal continued to weaken the requirement to target climate funds to disadvantaged communities. Not only was the target reduced to 35%, but the scope of funds covered was reduced, limited to only future funds not already committed, and the communities eligible for such funding was significantly expanded.

The bill calls for an 85% reduction in greenhouse gas emissions by 2050 – 3 decades from now – compared to the goal adopted in 2009 of 80% by 2050. The bill unfortunately creates for the first time a process to use carbon offsets to meet the state’s climate goals.

Dunlea said that the state should have at least gone on record supporting the halt of any new fossil fuel infrastructure even though the federal government has lead oversight over much of such projects. “This bill does not make clear that we have to end the use of fossil fuels as soon as possible and that includes natural gas, which is the single largest energy source in the state. Methane is 80 times more potent as a greenhouse gas short term than carbon,” noted Dunlea.

GELF and other climate activists expect to make halting fossil fuels a major focus in the state legislature next year.

GELF is also concerned that the bill now pushes back the development of a climate plan for three years – even as the IPCC says we only have 11 years left to act.

The legislature failed to enact a state or regional carbon tax or to divest the state pension funds from fossil fuels. There were hardly any specific recommendations for buildings and transportation which account for two-thirds of the state’s carbon footprints.

GELF helped write the OFF Act (A3565 / S5526), which has a goal of net zero emissions and 100% renewable energy by 2030 with an immediate halt to new fossil fuel projects. It wanted the climate plan to be updated every two years – not 5 as the deal calls for. It calls for new buildings to be zero emissions by 2022 and for all new vehicles to be zero emissions by 2025. It would require local governments to all adopt climate action plans. It would phase-out nuclear power plants by 2025.