With Proposed Green New Deal, New York Looks to Join California in Leading US Action on Climate Change

As record low temperatures swept across the United States last week, this latest dip in the “polar vortex” arctic winds served as yet another reminder of the ongoing threat of climate change, and the extreme weather events that it can cause. Furthermore, the stretch of brutally cold temperatures demonstrated the need for the country to take strong action on climate change, and for New York to be a leader on this pressing issue. The most important step that the state can take to mitigate climate change is to substantially reduce fossil fuel emissions and increase its production of renewable energy.

In 2014, Governor Cuomo launched New York’s Reforming the Energy Vision (REV), a comprehensive emissions reduction strategy that established a national model. However, both the planet’s physical climate and the country’s political climate have changed in the past five years, and it has become clear that we need to do more. Last month, Governor Cuomo announced an ambitious Green New Deal for New York State. The proposal greatly accelerates the state’s goals for transitioning to renewable energy, most notably mandating that New York be powered by 100% carbon-free electricity by 2040. As Cuomo and the newly elected state legislature hash out the details of the proposal in the coming months, they can look to California to learn how a friendly competitor is meeting similarly ambitious goals.

Last September, former governor Jerry Brown signed SB-100, the strongest emissions-reduction bill that any U.S. state has passed. The bill mandates that the state have 100% carbon-free electricity by 2045, with several specific provisions that make it particularly effective legislation. California’s plan has intermittent targets for the percentage of the state’s energy produced by renewable energy, which is critical for keeping the transition on track. Cuomo’s proposed Green New Deal does the same, taking into account both what is physically possible to build, and what is and economically feasible as the market for renewable energy rapidly changes. Furthermore, California’s bill and Cuomo’s proposal both identify the specific types of technologies that need to be used for both changing energy production infrastructure, and improving energy efficiency. For New York, this means investing upwards of $200 million into offshore wind power. In order for New York State to meet its long-term emissions reduction goals, these types of specific provisions must be written into this year’s budget.

Another reason that California has been so effective at transitioning to renewable energy is that is has a well-run “cap-and-trade” market. In simplest terms, a cap-and-trade market is a system in which a government sets a cap on the total amount of carbon that can be emitted per year, and then auctions off permits for emitting carbon that can be traded among polluters. California’s cap-and-trade market gradually brings down the cap on emissions each year, so that the state’s emissions are reduced in-line with its renewable energy targets.

New York does not have its own cap-and-trade market, but it is part of the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative (RGGI), a group of Northeastern states that auction off a decreasing amount of permits each year. RGGI is the most robust program for reducing emissions on the East Coast, and further reductions in its cap will be crucial for achieving New York’s Green New Deal.

California’s cap-and-trade market also works to bring down industrial emissions, an even bigger source of the state’s emissions than producing electricity. This classification includes industries such as hydrogen production, oil and gas extraction, refineries, and cement production. Emissions from these industries have remained high in recent years largely due to the state’s robust economic growth over the past decade, but they will decrease as the California Air Resources Board issues fewer permits each year. Local governments in major cities such as Los Angeles and Oakland have also taken action to reduce industrial emissions, as air pollution can be detrimental to public health near these types of point sources of pollution, many of which are in low-income neighborhoods.

Cuomo’s proposal also seeks to reduce industrial emissions in New York, calling for the creation of Climate Action Council, which would be made up of experts from a wide range of industries and government agencies. A major goal of this council would be to work with surrounding states and the RGGI to substantially reduce industrial emissions across the Northeast. To help advance this goal, Con Edison, New York’s largest power utility, is also looking to invest $484 million into modernizing its infrastructure to bring down its carbon footprint. Furthermore, the council would work to bring down the high carbon footprint of New York’s many large buildings, through actions such retrofitting buildings to increase energy efficiency, and lowering emissions from the production of building materials like cement.

Lastly, the biggest distinction between New York and California’s emissions are from their vastly different transportation sectors. 39% of California’s emissions are from transportation, because almost the entire population drives as their primary way of getting around. However, California is leading the country on the usage of electric cars, and is planning to invest upwards of $750 million into the industry with the goal of 5 million electric cars on the road by 2030.

On the other side of the country, New York’s emissions from transportation are much lower because so many people use public transportation every day, but millions of residents outside of New York City still need to drive to get around. For that reason, New York’s Green New Deal would invest $250 million into the electric car industry. Wider usage of electric cars, combined with electric buses and using renewable energy to power the subways would drastically reduce the carbon footprint of the state’s massive transportation sector.

As a record number of pro-climate senators and assembly members begin their terms in Albany, they have a perfect opportunity to follow California’s lead, and pass strong legislation in this year’s budget with the goal of 100% carbon-free electricity by 2040. If it passes, New York can expect other states in the region to follow its lead, reducing nation-wide emissions even further. The NYLCV strongly supports Cuomo’s goal of 100% carbon free emissions by 2040, and will fight for its passage in this year’s budget and its strong implementation going forward.