Testimony of Julie Tighe, President, Before the New York State Senate Committee on Environmental Conservation
Thank you, Chairman Kaminsky, and members of the committee for holding this hearing. I appreciate the opportunity to testify on behalf of the New York League of Conservation Voters (NYLCV) on the need for climate change legislation. Under my leadership, addressing climate change is our top priority, with a focus on expediting the siting of renewable energy, reducing emissions, in particular from the transportation and building sectors, and making our state more resilient.
We have known about the threats posed by climate change for decades, and last year both the International Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) and the Fourth National Climate Assessment warned that we are running out of time to avoid catastrophic climate change. Simply put, we have less than 12 years to sharply reduce our greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions and about 30 years to reduce our net GHG emissions as close to zero as we can get. In short – we need to stop talking about acting on climate change and actually take action.
In many ways, New York State is already moving ahead while Washington, DC ducks. New York is leading the charge on climate through the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative and numerous administrative efforts, including NY Sun, RechargeNY, eVolveNY, and last year’s energy efficiency mandate. It has made commitments to offshore wind, the U.S. Climate Alliance, and participation in multi-state programs, and has been having conversations about addressing emissions from the transportation sector including the Zero Emission Vehicle initiative. We have long had goals of getting 50% of our electricity from renewable energy by 2030 and reducing emissions 40% by 2030 and 80% by 2050. These actions are laudable and serve as a platform for achieving more aggressive climate objectives.
But until now, there has been no serious path forward toward a statutory framework to achieve these goals. Today, we are in a very different place, thanks to the many who have been championing the Climate and Community Protection Act, which in many ways serves as the foundation for the Governor’s proposed Climate Leadership Act.
For the first time, the Senate, Assembly, and Governor all have a desire – and the political will – to collectively make New York the national leader on climate change. I commend you for holding these hearings to ensure that the legislation that moves forward is meaningful, sets aggressive goals and objectives, and is achievable. It is NYLCV’s strong hope that 2019 is the year we can all get together to enact a bill that will set us on a path to achieve significant emissions reductions across all sectors.
There are many commonalities between the CCPA and Climate Leadership Act that provide the necessary basis of any comprehensive climate legislation. First, both have the critical provision of firm statutory goals. It is clear that the power sector has a path forward to achieve zero emissions and putting that in the statute at this time makes sense. In addition, both bills call for the need to address anthropogenic emissions from the rest of the economy – which is imperative. We need to find paths to achieve net-zero emissions from the transportation, building, agricultural, manufacturing, and other sectors in order to meaningfully do our part to slow the pace of climate change.
While NYLCV strongly believes that we should strive to reduce our emissions as close to zero as we can, it is not physically possible to have zero anthropogenic GHG emissions. What we can strive for, and what the legislation should enshrine in law, is to get our emissions low enough that the remainder can be offset by natural and working lands and negative emissions technologies. We must continue to build up our community resilience by expanding the Community Risk and Resiliency Act. We need interim goals to ensure that progress is being made and that we are on a glide path to meeting those objectives – or offer an opportunity to make a course correction should we be falling short.
I would note that to accomplish these ambitious but achievable goals, we need to improve the Article 10 large-scale power plant siting law. While intended to streamline the review process, only one renewable energy project has received its certificate since Article 10 was re-established in 2011, and just this week another project withdrew. We need to expedite the review process and clear the path for renewable energy projects to advance. We support the Governor’s request for additional staff at the Department of Public Service for this purpose and urge you to review Article 10 and advance reforms where necessary.
Both the CCPA and the Climate Leadership Act acknowledge the need for a just transition for environmental justice communities. NYLCV strongly supports a just transition and a focus on protecting the communities that are most vulnerable to climate change and who have been overburdened by the pollution of our industrial past. In order to most effectively meet these goals, we agree with establishing an advisory or working group that provides meaningful input into any plans developed to meet energy generation and economy wide emission reductions. NYLCV supports the intent of this legislation and commends the Legislature for your leadership.
As both the CCPA and Climate Leadership Act recognize, it makes sense for the Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) to be the lead state agency in fighting climate change, as it has been for decades working closely with the New York State Energy Research and Development Authority (NYSERDA). However, DEC, or DEC and NYSERDA, cannot be solely responsible for issuing regulations to achieve non-electric GHG emissions reductions. Achieving net zero GHG emissions will require instituting increasingly strict building codes and retrofitting almost every existing building in the state; eliminating the use of the internal combustion engine; diverting all organic waste from landfills; altering land-use patterns to encourage density and preserve currently undeveloped land; expanding and improving mass transit; and expanding climate-smart farming techniques to most farmland in the state, among other actions.
DEC is full of extraordinarily talented people, but it is not the right agency to oversee all aspects of the CCPA. So many parts of daily life would be impacted by a plan to zero out GHG emissions that a litany of agencies, including the departments of Transportation, Health, Agriculture and Markets, Housing and Community Renewal, and others, must be empowered to promulgate regulations that are necessary to implement the scoping plan.
NYLCV also encourages and supports exploring regional approaches to addressing these issues. Regional cooperation will ensure our economy is not only protected but also enhanced by efforts to address climate change, and they will also result in more meaningful reductions in harmful emissions. New York can and should lead these efforts, in particular on the eastern seaboard.
I urge the legislature to work with the Governor to come to an agreement on climate legislation as part of the budget process because we do not have time to wait. Thank you for this opportunity to testify.