Cuomo Should Declare Climate Emergency
Climate activists are urging Governor Cuomo to declare an emergency climate mobilization in New York in response to the recent report by the United Nations that we have only 12 years left to avoid catastrophic climate change.
Cuomo is expected to preview his 2019 legislative agenda, including on climate, in a speech on Monday.
"Cuomo's climate efforts over the last 8 years have left NY with only 4% of its electricity coming from wind and solar. Even less progress has been made on transportation and heating / cooling of buildings which have even bigger carbon footprints. Cuomo's reliance upon tweaking the markets has been a climate disaster. He needs to step up and be a true climate hero by committing to saving life on the planet by launching a full-scale emergency mobilization," said Mark Dunlea, chair of the Green Education and Legal Fund (GELF).
The Greens want Cuomo to support 100% renewable energy / net zero carbon emissions by 2030; an immediate halt to any new fossil fuel infrastructure (e.g., gas pipelines, power plants); a robust state carbon tax; renewable heat for buildings; increasing funding for mass transit; a goal of all new vehicles by 2025 being Zero Emission; and comprehensive state and local climate plans with detailed benchmarks and timelines.
Dunlea said that a declaration of an emergency is needed not only to better marshal and target state resources to avoid a climate disaster but to increase the state's legal authority to take stronger action. London recently became the 11th city to declare a climate emergency, joining Hoboken NJ and half a dozen in California.
New York needs to dramatically speed up the siting of large-scale renewables. The Green Party has called for increased public ownership of the energy system including providing state funds to any community that agrees to site major solar, wind and geothermal projects.
The Greens called upon Cuomo to release the draft of the study started two years ago by NYSERDA on how fast the state could technologically move to 100% clean energy.
"We need science not politics to drive the effort to avoid climate disaster. This study is already a year late. Cuomo needs to put out what NYSERDA has come up with and then allow other scientists and climate groups to help refine it. We need to use it as a starting point for immediate state action," said Dunlea.
More than 180 groups have called for the state to commit to 100% clean energy (from all sources) by 2030 along with an immediate halt to any further buildout of fossil fuels (The Off Fossil Fuels Act, A 5105 / S5908). The bill calls for all new buildings to be net zero carbon emissions and to set a goal of all new vehicles to be Zero Emissions by 2025 (though this would require California setting a similar goal). The bill requires the state, counties and local governments above 50,000 residents to adopt enforceable climate action plans.
Cuomo in contrast has called for just 50% of the state's electricity to come from renewables by 2030, which is the same goal included in the CCPA bill (A8270 / S5791) that has passed the Assembly in recent years. California is expected to hit that goal by 2020.
Every democrat in the House of Representatives from NY other than Paul Tonko is a cosponsor of the federal Off Fossil Fuels Act (HR 3671) which calls for 100% renewable energy for electricity and transportation by 2035. Congressmember-elect Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez has proposed a Green New Deal that would go to 100% clean energy by 2030, with a strong Just Transition / economic justice program. (see GELF's more detailed version of a GND).
"The importance of a Green New Deal is its commitment to both a rapid transformation to a clean energy future and to economic justice. Climate funds need to be targeted to those communities most hurt by fossil fuels and climate change. The GND embraces the economic bill of rights proposed by FDR in his last State of the Union address, including universal health care (single payer), a guarantee of a living wage job, education and housing," added Dunlea. Cuomo's speech in NYC on Monday is sponsored by the FDR Center.
GELF said that Cuomo should seek to transform the anemic regional cap-and-trade program (Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative or RGGI) into a robust carbon tax. The states should establish an initial polluter fee of at least $40 a ton of carbon-equivalent and expand it to all fossil fuels, including gasoline. Cuomo used this level of carbon pricing to justify his $7.6 billion bailout of three old failing upstate nuclear plants. (The Dec. 5, 2018 carbon price under RGGI was a minuscule $5.35).
Dunlea helped draft a state carbon tax bill (A107 / S2846) three years ago; the tax would eventually rise to $185 a ton. 60% of the revenues would be rebated to low-and-moderate income households to offset the regressive nature of any energy tax. The rest would be invested in renewables, mass transit, and climate resiliency.
Dunlea, who was the Green Party's 2018 candidate for State Comptroller, has been helping to coordinate efforts through DivestNY to get New York to divest (A3712 / S4596) its state pension funds from fossil fuels. Worldwide 1,000 institutions with nearly $8 trillion in assets have now agreed to divest. Climate groups want Cuomo, who announced a year ago that he supports divestment, to include divestment in his state budget. DiNapoli as the sole trustee continues to oppose the effort.
Greens want Cuomo to recognize the negative climate impact of natural gas and stop promoting it as a so-called "bridge fuel". They have urged the state to improve its tracking of greenhouse gas emissions, particularly the leakage of methane. Groups want Cuomo to halt NYPA's proposal to power the state buildings in Albany by installing more gas turbines in low-income Arbor Hill and instead use geothermal, wind and solar for the project.
GELF also supports a statewide ban on plastic bags, combined with a fee on single use bags.
Mark Dunlea is chair of the Green Education and Legal Fund (GELF) and was the 2018 Green Party of New York State Comptroller candidate.