Equilibrium & Sustainability

Environment group urges NY lawmakers to meet climate goals set three years ago

The New York city skyline
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A national environmental organization is pressing New York lawmakers to meet the climate and clean energy goals set in a statewide climate bill three years ago, in a digital ad campaign launched on Monday.

“We see the impact of climate change all around us,” a video campaign from the Sierra Club warns, against a backdrop of partially submerged suburban homes.

“It’s a scary sight. Roads and public transit flooded,” the campaign adds, as an L train pulls up to a subway station amid a deluge of Hurricane Ida flash floods.

Aiming to draw public attention to the public health harms exacerbated by climate change, the campaign is urging New York’s lawmakers to finalize the state’s climate “Scoping Plan,” as mandated by the Climate Leadership and Community Protection Act.

New York’s legislature passed the Climate Leadership and Community Protection Act in July 2019, with the goal of launching “a sweeping set of measures” to reduce the state’s carbon footprint and improve community resilience, according to the state’s Department of Environmental Conservation.

The bill’s passage led to the formation of the New York State Climate Action Council, a 22-member committee tasked with preparing a “Scoping Plan” that could achieve the state’s clean energy and climate targets.

In December, the Council voted to release its 300-page Draft Scoping Plan for public comment from January 1 through June 10 — declaring intentions to release the final scoping plan by the end of the year. 

But Sierra Club activists urged lawmakers to move forward with what they described as an “ambitious” and “time-bound” plan sooner rather than later, as New Yorkers continue to combat floods, heat waves and skyrocketing utility bills.

“A scoping plan with delays or half measures would be unconscionable — it’s now almost three years since the [law] passed,” Allison Considine, senior campaign representative for the Sierra Club, said in a statement.

“The Climate Action Council and Governor Hochul must be accountable to the people of New York, who have spent decades choking on polluted air and left with no option but to rely on fossil fuels at the expense of people and the planet,” Considine added.

The draft plan calls for an 85-percent reduction in greenhouse gas levels — in comparison to those of 1990s — by 2050, a 40-percent reduction in emissions by 2030, 100 percent zero-emissions electricity by 2040 and 70 percent renewable electricity by 2030, according to an overview accompanying the lengthier document.

Several key strategies are focal points in the draft plan, including energy efficiency, transportation electrification, zero-emissions electricity, the maximization of carbon sequestration in New York’s lands and forest and the elimination of fugitive methane emissions across waste, agriculture and energy sectors.

Achieving these goals, according to the draft plan, would require “action in all sectors,” as well as “critical investments in New York’s economy.” In total, about 1 million to 2 million homes would need to be electrified with heat pumps by 2030, while about 3 million zero-emission vehicles would need to be sold by that time, the plan estimates.

Even after accounting for the $290 billion investment required to reach the state’s goals, the draft plan concludes that net benefits would range from $90 billion to $120 billion.

Decarbonizing New York and thereby improving air quality could also result in health benefits equivalent to $50 billion to $120 billion from 2020 through 2050, the plan adds.

Recognizing the Climate Leadership and Community Protection Act as “a major turning point in New York’s reckoning with the climate crisis,” Considine urged state officials to “shake off the stranglehold the fossil fuel industry has on energy planning” and make the act’s “goals a reality.”

Without the approval of a final Scoping Plan, she added, the act “will just be an empty commitment.”

In response to the campaign, New York’s Department of Environmental Conservation said in a statement that the Climate Action Council is “on track to meet all statutory requirements and deadlines outlined in the Climate Leadership and Community Protection Act.”

“After two years and dozens of meetings of the Climate Action Council and the Advisory Panels that represents every sector of New York’s economy, as well as the Climate Justice Working Group advancing Draft Disadvantaged Communities Criteria to help guide the implementation of the Climate Act, the Council released its Draft Scoping Plan at the end of last year for public comment and review,” the statement added.

—Updated at 8:41 p.m.

Tags clean energy Climate change New York

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