Dear Editorial Board:
We write to urge you to call upon Governor Cuomo to declare a climate emergency and to commit to a transition to 100% clean energy and zero carbon emissions as fast as scientifically possible.
We also urge you to call on the Governor to release the study he ordered NYSERDA to do two years ago to figure out – based on science, not politics – as to how fast New York could achieve 100% renewable energy for electricity, buildings, transportation, and agriculture. GELF had requested the study.
There is also the challenge of ensuring that whatever goals are agreed to that there are processes and resources put into place to achieve such targets. New York has a woeful track record over the last 15 years in meeting its climate goals (e.g., less than 5% of the state’s electricity comes from wind and solar). There need to be short timelines (two year intervals) and detailed activities and benchmarks with regular reporting, analysis and corrections.
There are three main climate proposals before the NYS legislature: The Governor’s budget language, with a deadline of 2040 for 100% clean energy for electricity, 70% by 2030; the Climate and Community Protection Act (CCPA – A3876 / S2992), which sets a deadline of 2050 for 100% clean energy from all sources and 50% clean energy for electricity by 2030; and the NY Off Fossil Fuels / 100% Renewable by 2030 (NY OFF – A5105 /S5908) which has a 2030 deadline for 100% renewable energy from all sources.
However, in recent decades, almost all climate action in New York has been done administratively by whomever was Governor. Gov. Cuomo’s recent climate announcements for instance are far more expansive than what he has put into the state budget (where he mainly seeks to create a Climate Action Council and plan that was already authorized by Executive Order in 2009.)
There is plenty of evidence that a 100% clean energy system is technologically feasible in a decade or so. The problems are primarily political will and resistance by the fossil fuel industry (with their campaign contributions). The state must commit to marshalling the resources and brainpower to make this happen.
Such transition should include a strong commitment to a Just Transition and environmental and economic justice – all called for by the Green New Deal (GND) which the Governor now supports. The GND proposal outlined by Cong. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez sought for the House to develop a plan in two years on how to go to zero carbon emissions by 2030. AOC and Sen. Markey are expected to introduce Green New Deal legislation shortly. Similar legislation may be introduced in New York. (GELF helped developed a GND proposal starting in 2010. http://gelfny.org/green-new-deal/)
The release of the draft on how fast we could achieve 100% clean renewable energy is now a year late. NYSERDA recently said it would not release it but instead incorporate some of its findings into the upcoming update of the State Energy Master Plan. One challenge is that the feasibility and speed of the transition is rapidly evolving, so their findings can quickly become out of date. But it would be very helpful to have a scientific analysis to help frame the policy debate – and to allow other scientists and climate experts to make corrections and suggest alternative approaches to speed up the process.
The United Nation’s IPCC (Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change) recently issued a warning that the world has 12 years left for an unprecedented world-wide emergency mobilization to halt greenhouse gas emissions and to save civilization as we know it.
Unfortunately, the IPCC is overly optimistic. Each of their prior reports have turned out to understate the speed and severity of climate change. Scientists by nature are conservative as to the level of proof needed for conclusions and recommendations. They don’t do well with overlapping issues and connections (such as feedback loops from methane releases from melting permafrost). The IPCC has to get countries like the US, Russia, Brazil and Saudi Arabia to sign off on the wording, with the Saudis being especially difficult in the last report. The IPCC report also admits that even with its call for an annual 9% reduction in emissions (emissions increased in the US last year), the world will fly well past their target of 1.5 C for global warming. They rely on developing a “miracle” technology in order to suck carbon out of the atmosphere, yet little progress has been made even after spending tens of billions of dollars in research.
Until the recent call by Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and others for a Green New Deal with a target date of 100% clean renewable energy by 2030, most climate proposals in New York and the US have focused on the decades old goal of capping warming at 2 degrees C and a timeline of 2050. This is true for the CCPA which the Assembly has been passing in various forms since 2009, and for Governor Cuomo’s proposals. There is a federal version of the OFF Act (HR3671) which has a goal of 100% renewable energy by 2035 for electricity and transportation; every Congressional Democrat from NY other than Paul Tonko endorsed it last session.
During the effort to ban the fracking of natural gas in New York, actor / activist Mark Ruffalo and others commissioned a study by Stanford (Jacobson) and Cornel (Howarth, Ingraffea) professors to show that it would be possible for the state to meet 100% of its energy need (not just for electricity) by clean renewable energy by 2030. The study called for 40% of the energy to be supplied by off shore wind, 10% by on-shore wind, and 37% by utility-scale solar. That study is the basis for the NY OFF Act which has about 30 legislative sponsors and 180 organizational endorsers.
The NYS OFF Act was re-written last session to add additional provisions related to a Just Transition and environmental justice (EJ), and to provide more details as to how the state should develop and implement a comprehensive climate action plan. It also requires state agencies, county governments and local municipalities greater than 50,000 residents to develop their own proposals. The plan would have firm timelines, activities and benchmarks in two-year intervals.
The first 90 to 95% of the transition to 100% renewable energy is relatively straight forward. It is the last 5 to 10% that will be the most technologically and financially challenging. So the NYS OFF Act uses the concept of net zero carbon emissions as a target. This means that 5 to 10% of the goal would be met by putting carbon back into the soil, starting with regenerative agriculture. The most recent IPCC report focused attention for the first time on the importance of agriculture reforms. NYS in recent years has invested some modest funding in studying how to promote regenerative agriculture. California is significantly further ahead.
Local planning is critical to address the present major roadblock that it takes a decade or more to site large-scale solar and wind farms. Local residents need to be mobilized to help direct how to make this happen, being sensitive to local concerns, protection of farmlands and fisheries, etc. In Europe, municipally owned renewable projects have been the driving force in their energy transition. Such projects are viewed as a public good and therefor more readily receive public acceptance; the public also feels that they are able to have meaningful input into the siting issues.
In contrast, both the Governor’s climate language in his budget and the CCPA largely seeks to put into statute the climate policies and planning process of Gov. Paterson’s 2009 climate Executive Order (which Cuomo re-issued). The legislature needs to do a lot more than enact ten-year-old existing state policies.
The CCPA does update the so-called 80 by 50 emissions reductions goal in the EO to 100%, while Cuomo maintains the 80% target. The CCPA however downgrades the climate plan to a scoping document. And the CCPA authors’ efforts to provide a right for citizens to enforce the law and to require state agencies to comply with the state climate plan were removed or weakened by the Assembly leadership before it was introduced three years ago. (The Assembly has passed a bill on the EO every year since 2009).
The Governor has proposed speeding up to 2040 his target for going to 100% clean electricity. We believe we can go faster. But we also need to set clear, fast targets for other energy sectors, especially buildings and transportation, each of which account for 1/3 of the state’s carbon footprints.
Like the NY OFF Act, the CCPA – and now the Governor – do incorporate important measures related to a Just Transition and EJ. The OFF Act is strongest on the Just Transition since it ensures that existing workers in the fossil fuels and nuclear industry are guaranteed employment and provides funds to assist communities dependent on property taxes from such facilities. The CCPA has strong worker standards in their bill for large renewable energy projects, provisions which the Governor has largely already implemented.
The CCPA does provide that if a carbon tax is enacted, that 40% of the proceeds would go to disadvantaged communities. There is no requirement however that a carbon tax be enacted. And most carbon tax proposals require that most if not all of the revenues be rebated to low and moderate income individuals. For instance, the state carbon tax bill (A107 / S2846) that GELF helped draft rebates 60%.
One huge difference between the NY OFF Act and Cuomo and the CCPA is that the former expressly requires the state to halt the development of new fossil fuel infrastructure. Halting any more fossil fuels is essential to reduce emissions. It is also a waste of money to build pipelines and plants that need to operate for 30 to 40 years in order to recover their investments.
Fossil fuel plants and gas pipelines (e.g., Williams) not yet built or operational need to be stopped. This includes the Governor’s proposal to install two new gas turbines on Sheridan Ave. in Arbor Hill to power state buildings. The permit for the CPV power plant in Orange County – which alone will account for a significant percentage of the state’s carbon footprint – should be yanked following the political corruption conviction of Cuomo’s top aide involving the facility.
There are merits to all three of the proposals. We should seek to enact the best of the various provisions. The Governor seems to grasp the importance of dealing with climate change and making New York a world leader on climate. We will only succeed in saving a future for our children and grandchildren by treating the climate as an emergency that requires a society-wide mobilization to build a clean energy future as fast as possible – faster than we think is presently doable.
Mark A Dunlea
Green Education and Legal Fund
518 860-3725, firstname.lastname@example.org
P.S. We would also appreciate your editorial support for the State Comptroller divesting the state pension funds from fossil fuels.