On January 7th, Governor Andrew Cuomo gave his 2020 State of the State address, laying out his biggest priorities for this year’s legislative session and budget. There was plenty of good news for the environment even though the state is facing fiscal challenges.
Environmental Bond Act
The highlight of the speech is a $3 billion environmental bond act, which will go toward restoring natural resources with a special focus on measures that will make New York more resilient to the impacts of climate change. We look forward to making sure the strongest possible bond act is included in the adopted budget – then, this fall, voters will have to approve the bond act.
Though not part of the proposed bond act but of a piece with its commitment to stewardship, we are also enthusiastic about a new program to protect the Adirondack and Catskill Parks from overuse.
In order to meet the Climate and Community Protection Act’s goals of 70% renewable energy by 2030 and 100% clean energy by 2040, Governor Cuomo announced that the New York State Energy Research and Development Authority (NYSERDA) and the New York Power Authority (NYPA) will accelerate investments in renewable energy and the new transmission we’ll need to connect communities with clean power. These investments will also include green job tax credits, port investments to ensure the offshore wind industry creates jobs in New York, and assistance for communities that are economically reliant on fossil fuel plants so that they can take advantage of the green economy.
Clean energy is not just about greening the grid, but also about reducing the amount of energy we use in the first place. To that end, Governor Cuomo announced the $30 million Empire Building Retrofit Challenge, which will seek to develop deep energy building retrofits that can be scaled up. Rapid advances in new building technology and retrofits for older buildings mean that we now know how to make buildings that have almost no emissions associated with them. Unfortunately, these technologies are too expensive for many families and small businesses to take advantage of. Finding ways to bring down these costs so that everyone can afford to reduce their energy footprint is an underappreciated need in the fight against climate change, and we applaud the Governor for recognizing it.
The Governor also announced increased investments in electric vehicle infrastructure and a requirement for five public transit authorities to fully electrify their fleets by 2035. This is a step in the right direction for greening our transportation sector, and it can be complemented by joining the interstate Transportation and Climate Initiative and including a low carbon fuel standard in the executive budget.
We are very excited that Governor Cuomo committed to legalizing electric bikes and scooters. Giving commuters more carbon-free options is a common-sense public policy, and while we were disappointed to see standalone legalization legislation vetoed last year, we look forward to finally getting this done this year.
Sustainable Waste Management
Governor Cuomo is taking several important steps to reduce the amount of waste we send to landfills. First, New York will ban polystyrene foam, which is not recyclable or biodegradable. This builds on bans that are already in place in New York City and Long Island. Second, New York will establish extended producer responsibility (EPR) laws for mattresses and carpeting. Under EPR programs, manufacturers are responsible for their products over their entire lifecycle, meaning that they must responsibly recycle them or dispose of them, thereby keeping them out of landfills.
Governor Cuomo also announced the creation of a Center for Glass Innovation at the New York State College of Ceramics at Alfred University, which will among other things study new ways to produce and recycle glass. This is important because recycling glass can be difficult and expensive, so anything that finds new uses for recycled glass helps municipal recycling programs.