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New York poised to take the lead on climate change

Act sets most aggressive carbon benchmarks in the country

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State Sen. Todd Kaminsky arguing on the Senate floor for the Climate Leadership and Community Protection Act. With passage in both houses of the Legislature, and a vow from Gov. Andrew Cuomo to sign the act into law, it would become the most aggressive plan to address climate change in the country.
State Sen. Todd Kaminsky arguing on the Senate floor for the Climate Leadership and Community Protection Act. With passage in both houses of the Legislature, and a vow from Gov. Andrew Cuomo to sign the act into law, it would become the most aggressive plan to address climate change in the country.
Courtesy State Sen. Todd Kaminsky

With passage in both houses of the State Legislature, and a promise last week by Gov. Andrew Cuomo to sign the Climate Leadership and Community Protection Act into law, New York state is poised to take the lead in the fight against climate change with the most aggressive bill in the country dedicated to tackling the crisis.

The goals set forth in the act are lofty, with short-term benchmarks to have 70 percent of the state’s electricity generated from renewable sources — such as wind, solar, hydroelectric and nuclear — by 2030, and an ultimate goal to reduce the state’s net carbon dioxide emissions to zero by 2050.

How the state gets there will be determined by a 22-member panel made up of department heads, appointees from state legislative leaders, as well as sub committees of energy and environmental experts. The group, called the Climate Action Council, will have until 2023 to hold hearings and draft a finalized plan, with a deadline of 2024 for state agencies to begin carrying out its components.

Lawmakers say time is of the essence as a growing consensus of climate scientists is in agreement that the window to slow or reverse the worst effects of climate change is rapidly closing.

“On the South Shore of Long Island this is existential,” said State Sen. Todd Kaminsky, chairman of the Senate Environmental Conservation Committee and the bill’s chief architect. “With sea-level rise, we are at the epicenter of this issue … That’s why we’re doing it this [legislative] session, because we don’t have time to lose.”

The effort will undoubtedly involve a transformation in all sectors of society, from electricity generation and construction to transportation, according to environmental advocates.

“This is the strongest climate-change legislation in America,” said Adrienne Esposito, executive director of Citizens Campaign for the Environment, a Long Island-based environmental advocacy nonprofit, which had a hand in helping to craft the legislation.

“There’s going to be a lot of challenges,” she said noting that the biggest will likely be within the transportation sector where faith in public transit has been shaken by rising fares and declining reliability in all areas that the Metropolitan Transportation Authority oversees.

Plus, Esposito said, “The suburbs love our cars.”

Kaminsky maintained, however, that while the act is aggressive in its goals, there would be room for businesses to have a say in how they are carried out.

“We have to deal with it in a measured way,” he said. “We have to involve businesses from the start. This can’t be a dictatorial process, but we have to set a framework in motion to start dealing with these issues.”

Advocates and lawmakers agreed that the primary impetus for the climate leadership act came from a retreat by the federal government under President Donald Trump on addressing the climate change crisis as well as the definitive science that undergirds it, with federal agencies going so far as to remove all mention of climate change from their websites.

“We need [the law] because we don’t have federal government leadership,” Esposito said. “So we need states to lead.”

She acknowledged that while New York is limited in what it can do alone, it can at least lead by example. “My hope is that other states will follow as they have in the past when New York is a leader,” she said. “ … Then we can see meaningful, and substantive change.”