Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D) said yesterday he has reached an agreement with legislative leaders over a bill to slash New York’s greenhouse gas emissions, setting the stage for one of the most significant state climate victories since President Trump took office.
The announcement, coming just days before the close of the legislative session, represented a big victory for climate activists, who have spent three years pushing for major legislation to curb greenhouse gases in the Empire State.
Lawmakers were still working on final amendments yesterday, but the outlines of the deal were becoming clear. The legislation calls for reducing emissions by 40% from 1990 levels by 2030 and 85% by 2050. The remaining 15% of emissions would be offset, making the state carbon neutral. The bill would also require that all electricity generation come from carbon-free sources by 2040. A Climate Action Council would be established to ensure the state meets its targets.
“I believe we have an agreement, and I believe it is going to pass,” Cuomo said in a radio interview on WAMC.
The comment ended months of speculation over the fate of climate legislation in New York. Democratic lawmakers, who seized complete control of state government when they took over the state Senate last fall, had been pushing a bill called the “Climate and Community Protection Act.” The bill would spend 40% of the state’s clean energy revenues on energy efficiency measures and renewable installations in disadvantaged communities.
That drew repeated public objections from Cuomo, who said he wanted to ensure that environmental revenue was spent on environmental programs. Ultimately, the two sides settled on a compromise: At least 35% of revenues would go to disadvantaged communities. That funding could rise as high as 40%, which would amount to $370 million in fiscal 2018-19.
“It was a question of the distribution of the funding,” Cuomo told WAMC. “I understand the politics on these issues. Everyone wants to make all these advocacy groups happy. Taxpayers’ money is taxpayers’ money. And if it’s taxpayers’ money for an environmental purpose, I want to make sure it’s going to an environmental purpose.
“This transformation to a new green economy is very expensive. We don’t have the luxury of using funding for political purposes.”
Business interests had urged Cuomo and Democratic lawmakers to slow down, saying the legislation threatened 40,000 manufacturing jobs in the state. The Business Council of New York State called zero carbon emissions “unrealistic.”
But Democratic lawmakers forged ahead, working through the weekend to iron out a deal with Cuomo before a filing deadline for legislation Sunday. They argued that the risks of climate change, coupled with the benefits of a green energy economy, outweighed the potential costs.
“It means that on Father’s Day, when I see my grandchildren next year, I’ll have a lot less uncertainty about their future than I did yesterday morning,” said Democratic Assemblyman Steve Englebright, a champion of the climate legislation. “It means we are going to be in the vanguard among states, tackling a problem that will affect every jurisdiction here and around the globe. New York will lead the way.”
State Sen. Todd Kaminsky (D) said New York’s action would send a major signal to markets, helping companies plan for a cleaner future. But ultimately, he said, lawmakers were responding to voters.
“Our constituents told us, ‘Don’t come back without doing something on climate,'” Kaminsky said. “The future is now. I think we’ve taken that important step.”
‘Policy mandate with teeth’
Republican control of the state Senate meant climate policy in New York had been centered in the governor’s office until this year. Cuomo has pumped out executive orders banning hydraulic fracturing, calling for the closure of the state’s remaining coal plants in 2020 and targeting a 40% reduction in emissions by 2030, among other things.
The legislation enshrines many of Cuomo’s targets into law, ensuring they will outlast the current governor. The new Climate Action Council would be required to issue recommendations on how to install 6 gigawatts of distributed solar by 2025, 9 GW of offshore wind by 2035 and 3 GW of energy storage by 2030.
But the law also represents a power shift of sorts. Environmentalists have long criticized Cuomo for failing to follow through on many of his environmental objectives. His environmental agencies have yet to produce a climate action plan, despite an executive order directing them to do so. And his coal regulation arrived earlier this year, when only two coal plants remained (Climatewire, May 10).