Climate plan gets mixed response
ALBANY — New York’s ambitious plan to slash greenhouse gas emissions and drive up reliance on renewable energy sources is getting a mixed reaction at public forums being held across the state.
The state Climate Action Council released its draft scoping plan — serving as a framework for bringing about 100% zero emissions electricity by 2040 — in January. The comments being registered at the forums will be reviewed by the council before the members turn the draft into a final document required to be completed by year’s end.
The strategies include a transition from heating buildings with oil and natural gas to electrification, more aggressive energy efficiency measures, embracing vehicle fleets powered by chargeable batteries and maximizing carbon sequestration of state forests and lands.
Written comments must be sent to the Climate Action Council by June 10.
All hands on deck
One appointed member of the council, Peter Iwanowicz, executive director of the nonprofit group Environmental Advocates, said public participation in the process is crucial.
“Unless we have tremendous public buy-in, it’s going to be really hard to come up with a final plan that the public will support and be a part of the implementation,” he said. “This law is going to require every New Yorker to participate. We’re going to move all of our vehicles and all of our homes and all of our businesses and all of our schools off of fossil fuels in the next 30 years. We need to have literally all hands on deck in this moment.”
The plan is expected to have impacts on many industries, including farming and waste disposal, as it calls for higher methane mitigation.
It argues that reaching the emissions targets will require a substantial reduction in the average number of vehicle miles traveled per capita.
“In all modeled scenarios, zero-emission vehicles and heat pumps will need to become the majority of new purchases by the late 2020s, and fossil fuel-emitting cars and appliances will no longer be sold after 2035,” the draft plan states..
Republicans have registered their opposition to the draft plan. Some are urging New Yorkers to speak out at the series of hearings which conclude next month.
“People are going to be shocked when they’re hit in the pocketbook,” said Sen. Tom O’Mara, R-Big Flats, ranking member of the Senate Finance Committee. “We need a fuller discussion of what these actions potentially mean in the important context of feasibility, affordability, and reliability.”
Buildings and transportation account for more than half of New York’s greenhouse gas emissions, Sarah Osgood, director of the Climate Action Council, said at Brookhaven last week when she explained the effort behind the scoping plan.
“Achieving these targets positions New York to meet the internationally established goals called for by the scientific community and also identified within the legislation,” Osgood said. “The Act empowers every New Yorker to fight climate change while improving our daily lives, through new job opportunities, improved public health, and more resilient communities and infrastructure.”
The draft plan has stoked the concerns of business advocates.
The Business Council of New York State, through its vice president Kenneth Pokalsky, said the state should keep open all fuel and technology options, including existing natural gas infrastructure.
At an Albany hearing this week, Pokalsky said, prior to the adoption of the state Climate Protection and Community Protection Act in 2019, New York had become the nation’s most carbon efficient economy.
As for the greenhouse gas reduction comments, Pokalsky said, “Achieving them will pose significant technical, financial and political challenges, and will take careful planning” to assure they are effective.
Activists: Plan will boost economy
Environmental activists and the draft plan itself say there will be great financial benefits from aggressively aiming for greenhouse gas reductions.
Citing a recent report from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, Liz Moran, New York policy advocate for Earthjustice, a group that has opposed the buildout of fossil fuel infrastructure, said: “It is abundantly clear that a dramatic drop in greenhouse gas emissions must take place before the end of the decade to avoid catastrophic impacts of climate change.”
“New York can’t afford to be suckered into policies that prolong reliance on fossil fuel,” said Moran, noting the Climate Action Council estimates the cost of “inaction” at more than $80 billion. The value of public health benefits from achieving the mandates could top $160 billion, she added.
The Climate Action Council has six remaining hearings on the draft plan, including the following dates and locations: April 26 in Syracuse, April 27 in Buffalo; May 10 in Tupper Lake, with virtual hearings slated for May 7 and May 11. There will also be a hearing May 3 in Brooklyn. Read more about the State Climate Action Council draft scoping plan online at: climate.ny.gov/Our-Climate-Act/Draft-Scoping-Plan.