Statement of GELF on Governor Cuomo’s Announcement of a Green New Deal
Governor Cuomo deserves applause for his recent announcements on the Green New Deal which positions New York as a national leader on climate. (GELF’s GND version here)
He has made a significant commitment to expand renewable energy, particularly off shore wind, solar, storage and efficiency. He has made commitments to a Just Transition and Environmental Justice, which is critical. He stated support for regenerative agriculture to restore carbon to soil.
The challenge remains to flesh out the details – and to aggressively implement it so that the state’s climate goals are achieved (it has consistently failed to do so in the past). The state needs to declare a climate emergency.
While Cuomo’s announcements were a strong positive step, New York must further accelerate its efforts to move to 100% clean renewable energy as soon as possible (faster than 2040 where possible) from all sectors (including buildings, transportation, agriculture), not just electricity. This must be combined with similar timelines to eliminate greenhouse gas emissions (including methane). The commitment to clean energy should embrace true renewable energy primarily built and operated in NY, and avoid the use of carbon offsets and cap-and-trade schemes.
The Governor should require NYSERDA to release its long-delayed draft study on how fast it is scientifically possible for New York to move to 100% clean energy. While we expect we would disagree with some of its conclusions, it would be helpful to have this as a baseline and to provide the opportunity for other scientists and climate experts to respond to the state’s assessments. The State legislature should also hold hearings on the study and the state’s overall plan for climate action.
The Governor needs to embrace a true carbon tax to impose penalties on polluters to compensate for the damages they cause from burning fossil fuel. The carbon tax needs to be set at a high level (unlike RGGI) to further accelerate the end of fossil fuels and promote clean renewable energy. A good starting point would be $40 a ton, with annual $10 to $15 increases. The Governor’s plan should also commit to a timely phase-out of dangerous and unclean nuclear power.
Critically missing from his announcement was a commitment to reject new fossil fuel infrastructure. The Governor needs to formally reject natural gas as a bridge to our clean energy future and instead acknowledge it is gangplank to climate disaster.
The Governor needs to clean up his own house and order NYPA to halt any efforts to install new gas turbines on Sheridan Avenue in Albany to power the Capitol and Empire State Plaza (or fossil fuel plants anywhere). Instead he must commit to finding renewable energy solutions based on geothermal, wind and electricity.
GELF has long advocated the need for a strong climate action plan with clear benchmarks and timelines, so we welcome the Governor’s support for this. However, the state already created a Climate Action Council back in 2009 (see Executive Order, which Cuomo re-issued) and charged it with the creation of a climate action plan. (see draft here.) The Plan drafted was very weak however, especially since the energy industry was allowed to shape most of it; their role needs to be limited to providing technical assistance in identifying and overcoming barriers.
The Governor and his staff should review the NYS Off Fossil Fuels / 100% Renewable Energy by 2030 which has many measures stronger than he outlined yesterday. This includes requiring the counties and local governments in excess of 50,000 to develop their own climate action plans.
Local climate action plans would help address the huge problem related to the difficulty of siting large-scale renewable energy systems. One of the reasons that NYS gets only 3% of its power from wind while Texas gets 17% is that the permitting process in NY takes 10 years while in Texas it takes less than a year. All plants should be sited to minimize environmental problems (including loss of farmland) and to meet community needs. Having local governments begin a process of determining how and where to build out their own 100% clean energy systems will help with the siting process.
New York needs to expand the role of public ownership of renewable energy to accelerate its development, address the siting challenge, and lower costs. Public ownership has proven critical in European countries in increasing public acceptance of such facilities as they are viewed as a common good. NYPA’s mission and leadership should be re-directed to focus on a commitment to renewable energy.
We applaud the Governor’s commitment to divesting from fossil fuels, and welcome his efforts for the state to internally divest and to reinvest in renewable energy. We recommend that he include language in his 30-day budget amendments to divest the state pension funds from fossil fuels.
Finally, a Green New Deal is a combination of treating climate as a public emergency with rapid action along with a commitment to implement an economic bill of rights as articulated by FDR in this last state of the union. New York should enact single payer universal healthcare; guarantee a living wage job; strengthen rent control and expand quality public house; and increase funding for education, including free college tuition.
We applaud the Governor’s proposal to expand the bottle bill. We recommend that his proposal to ban plastic bags be extended to all single-use plastic while adding on a fee for the use of other single-use bags like paper.