At the end of a typically frantic legislative session, New York passed a climate bill that Governor Andrew Cuomo is boasting is the strongest in the nation: the Climate Leadership and Community Protection Act.
But it’s essential to acknowledge that the new law falls dangerously short in several very important ways—and that our work to hold Cuomo and the legislature accountable has only just begun.
For several years, the New York Renews coalition pushed the Climate & Community Protection Act (CCPA), which called for 50 percent renewable electricity by 2030, and reaching a 100 percent carbon free goal economy-wide by 2050. The legislation also contained strong labor standards and significant funding for environmental justice communities to make a just transition to renewable energy.
Days before the end of legislative session, Governor Cuomo unveiled his own bill. The governor’s version, which was passed by the legislature, seeks to reduce greenhouse gases to 15 percent of 1990 levels by 2050. The electricity goals call for 70 percent renewable sources by 2030, and 100 percent carbon neutral electricity sources by 2040. And, in a big blow to backers of the original bill, it eliminated many of the provisions for workers and environmental justice communities.
A ban on new fossil fuel infrastructure is necessary--and missing
The biggest problem with the Climate Leadership and Community Protection Act is something that is simply missing altogether: A ban on new fossil fuel projects. Although New York has banned fracking, there are fracked gas pipelines and power plants already under construction, and more proposed across the state. A new study published in Nature found that in order to achieve the emissions reductions necessary to stave off the worst impacts of the climate crisis, no new fossil fuel infrastructure can be built. Between this reality and the goals of the new law, any new dirty energy infrastructure should be blocked by Cuomo.
The transition must be much faster
Unfortunately, the new legislation’s timeline for transitioning to renewable energy is much too slow. The recent shocking report by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) that has galvanized the climate movement set a stark goal for avoiding the most intense impacts of the climate crisis: Global greenhouse gas emissions must be cut nearly in half by 2030, and reach net zero levels by 2050. That means states like New York should be moving on a much faster timeline: 100 percent clean energy by 2030, with no offsets or other market gimmicks.
85 is not 100
While some of the rhetoric around the CLCPA talks about 100 percent clean energy or 'eliminating' carbon emissions, the new law actually does not get all the way there. The goal is to reach an 85 percent reduction in greenhouse gas emissions by 2050.
Moreover, the bill that passed allows polluters to use offsets in lieu of eliminating emissions entirely. This is troubling, since many existing offsets programs are often difficult to verify and rife with corruption. This was a significant shift away from stronger goals laid out in earlier versions of the legislation.
Will New York actually follow through?
Setting bold goals is one thing; actually following through is another matter entirely. Like other states, New York already had ambitious clean energy and emissions reductions goals. The Cuomo administration has fallen well short of its own targets. Some climate activists have criticized the law for not including more interim benchmarks, which would help hold the state accountable. Similarly, the law does not include any legal mechanism for residents to sue to ensure proper enforcement.
The law also lacks any mechanisms for funding. While the cost of renewables is dropping, reducing emissions will require significant upfront investment. The state will need to identify progressive sources of revenue to help defray the costs of this shift.
Just as importantly, the commission charged with crafting the state’s climate plan can modify or suspend the key obligations if it finds there are safety issues related to the provision of safe and adequate electricity. This is a significant loophole that could result in utilities getting out of emission requirements by claiming safety or supply issues.
The passage of the Climate Leadership and Community Protection Act is not a final victory for New York’s robust climate movement. As state agencies flesh out the various plans that will be necessary to bring the law into reality, activists must continue to push forward to accelerate the transition to clean energy, and fight to stop new fossil fuel infrastructure projects that would put the state’s new climate goals out of reach.
The only way to ensure the state makes real progress is with a grassroots movement demanding swift action to drastically lower the state's emissions. It's going to take all of us, working together, to hold Governor Cuomo and other state leaders accountable to these goals. Our work has just begun.