How States Can Lead on Climate

New York’s strong institutions will make it especially insulated to uncertainties about federal climate policy in the coming years. It might not be a stretch to say that this strong foundation will leave New York in a position to innovate and lead the way in the absence of continued progress on climate at the federal level. There are a few existing programs that demonstrate just how powerful of a force state government can be for change on energy and climate.

The New York State Energy Research and Development Authority (NYSERDA) is the state’s incubator for clean energy technologies. It receives only small amounts of federal funding. Despite this, it has established successful ground-breaking initiatives such as the Clean Energy Communities Program, which creates easy ways for New Yorkers to switch from dirty energy to cleaner energy, creates jobs, and saves taxpayer money. Similarly, the New York Power Authority (NYPA) has independently pushed statewide initiatives including BuildSmart NY, which aims to make New York State owned buildings become 20% more energy efficient by 2020.

Richard Kauffman, a major player in New York’s green revolution and the Chairman of Energy and Finance for New York came to New York from the US Department of Energy in 2013, tasked with bringing our energy policies and infrastructure into the 21st century. One of his many accomplishments has been an initiative called Reforming the Energy Vision (REV). REV set out key environmental goals that must be achieved by 2030. One goal of the REV centers around reducing greenhouse gas emissions by 40% from 1990 levels by the year 2030. An additional goal includes generating 50% of New York’s electricity from renewables by 2030. A further goal is for a 23% reduction of New York’s total energy consumption by the year 2030 from 2012 energy consumption levels. Importantly, Kauffman’s actions have been independent of the actions of the federal government, and we’re already making progress towards the REV goals. REV demonstrates what states like New York can do by themselves to transition to renewable energy, a smarter grid, and a modernized utility sector.

The many environmental initiatives already in place in New York State prove that the results of the election will not hinder New York’s green progress. The Clean Energy Fund, New York Green Bank, and NY-Sun Incentive program all provide critical financing mechanisms to ensure that New York will remain resilient and continue creating ways to both ensure the well-being of the environment, and spur economic growth from private investments.

New York already has experience working collaboratively on innovative market-based solutions in the absence of federal action. The Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative (RGGI), for example, is a set of mandates amongst several states in the Northeastern US to curb Carbon Dioxide emissions from each state’s power sector. RGGI has shown that a regional cap and trade system can be wildly successful. Connecticut, Delaware, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, New York, Rhode Island, and Vermont has collectively joined together to reduce emissions form their energy sectors through auctions of carbon credits and by reinvesting the proceeds to promote renewable energy.

New York has also undertaken in other important environmental coalitions with other states beyond RGGI. The Multi-State Zero-Emission Vehicles (ZEV) Action Plan is an agreement between eight states towards allowing for more clean vehicles to hit the roads. The plan’s main aim is to achieve 3.3 million zero-emission vehicles on U.S. roads by 2025. These two programs only scratch the surface of the potential that states have to push strong environmental coalitions to tackle climate change.

States have even joined forces to collectively take legal action in initiating environmental measures. Earlier this year, a coalition of five Northeastern states, including New York, sued the EPA in order to control smog coming from upwind states. The main aim of this lawsuit is to significantly decrease the amount of smog pollution that is carried from states below the Northeast up into the air of Northeastern states. There are many coal-fired power plants located in the upwind states that create smog, and the wind pushes that smog to the Northeast, polluting the air of states like New York. The coalition of Northeastern states are acting as their own entity in trying to improve the air quality of not only their states, but the upwind states as well.

New York’s resiliency reminds us to not give up hope on the fight against climate change. New Yorkers from Long Island to Buffalo to Albany to Plattsburgh will all collectively lead the way in making more environmentally safe choices, and aid the state in achieving its environmental goals. The clean energy revolution will remain and continue, regardless of whether or not the federal government continues to promote it in the new administration. The states will need to push forth more individual and joint initiatives like REV and RGGI in the coming years to keep us on target to reduce our emissions 80 percent by 2050. But measures already in place in New York without significant federal aid prove that it is possible for the environmental movement to survive and even thrive post-election.