Together with The Nature Conservancy in New York, NRDC New York, and Audubon NY, NYLCV president Julie Tighe testified before the New York State Assembly about the need for urgent action this session on climate. She stated that we must reduce our net greenhouse emissions as close to zero as we can and that climate legislation should include carbon-neutrality and a clean electric grid. The full NYLCV testimony is below and more information is available in this press release.
Testimony of Julie Tighe, President, New York League of Conservation Voters
Before the New York State Assembly Committee on Environmental Conservation
May 17, 2019
Thank you, Chairman Englebright, 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 you and the many who have been championing the Climate and Community Protection Act, which sets firm statutory goals for economy-wide GHG reductions.
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 this hearing to ensure that the legislation that moves forward is meaningful, sets aggressive goals and objectives, and is achievable. NYLCV believes that 2019 is the year we all must get together to enact a bill that will set us on a path to achieve significant emissions reductions across all sectors.
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. On a legal level, there are GHG emission sources that New York State does not have regulatory authority over, including all forms of interstate travel and shipping. On a practical level, there is a baseline level of GHG emissions associated with human civilization, such as those from agriculture and waste, that we cannot get below. And there are industries that provide significant jobs in our state for which there is currently no way to eliminate all emissions such as steel recycling and aluminum manufacturing. 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.
There are several principles for carbon neutrality that we believe should be enshrined in law or regulation. First, carbon offsets should not be available for any GHG emission sources where it is economically and technically feasible to eliminate the emissions in question – period. Second, carbon offsets should not be permitted for electricity generators in environmental justice communities. Third, carbon offsets should be strictly regulated in a transparent manner. The decision to allow carbon offsets rather than direct emission reductions should be taken carefully and frequently revisited; direct emission reductions that are not economically or technically feasible today may well be tomorrow.
The CCPA wisely focuses on the need for a just transition for environmental justice communities. NYLCV strongly supports a just transition and 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 support establishing in law an advisory or working group that provides meaningful input into any plans developed to meet energy generation and economy wide emission reductions and making significant, smart investments in communities at risk.
While 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, it 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 achieve net-zero GHG emissions that a litany of agencies, including the departments of Transportation, Health, Agriculture and Markets, Housing and Community Renewal, and others, must be clearly empowered to promulgate policies and regulations that are necessary to implement and specified by the scoping plan.
Over the past few years, Governor Cuomo and the Public Service Commission have advanced ambitious goals on renewable energy and energy efficiency that dovetail with the goals of the CCPA. Since we can’t guarantee that administrative actions meant to be implemented over an extended time period will be advanced by future administrations, NYLCV would like to see some of these goals protected in statute through the CCPA. Specifically, the CCPA should enshrine the goals of 70% clean energy by 2030 and 100% clean energy by 2040 into law, and codify aggressive energy efficiency targets.
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 this legislative session because we do not have time to wait. NYLCV stands ready to work with the legislature to get nation leading climate legislation done now to continue our progressive legacy. Thank you for this opportunity to testify.