This week, New York State legislators are likely to approve a new climate bill, negotiated with Gov. Andrew Cuomo, that aims to drastically cut all greenhouse gas emissions by 2050 through various measures.
The bill called the Climate Leadership and Community Protection Act, would require the state to reduce its heavy air pollution by 85% of 1990 emission levels by 2050. The state would partially achieve this by generating 100% of the state’s electricity from renewable resources by 2040 — five years ahead of similar legislation in states California and Hawaii.
“This is going to change the way every New Yorker lives,” Todd Kaminsky, state senator and a sponsor of the bill, said. “We are going to be deriving our power from clean energy sources, running our cars on renewable energy and going to work in buildings that do not emit carbon.”
The additional 15% of state emissions would be required to be offset by carbon-reducing actions, such as planting trees, restoring wetlands, and carbon capture and storage — a process through which carbon dioxide is contained at large emission sites, transported and stored well under the earth’s surface. Reducing emissions produced by certain industries, like cement mixing, jet fuel, steel fabrication, and airplanes, are still difficult to achieve, likely making carbon-reducing measures necessary to meet the bill’s goals.
If passed, New York will be one of several states to pass environmental protections against greenhouse gas emissions. California, Colorado, Hawaii, Nevada, New Mexico, and Washington are all making to counteract the rollback of regulations on power plants and vehicle emissions by the federal government.
While some of the bill’s goals were established by Cuomo under administrative law, they will become more difficult to soften or overturn by future legislators once signed into state law.
“It feels like we have begun the most important mission of our generation,” Assemblymember Steve Engelbright, who also sponsored the bill, said.
“We’re going to empower the people of these communities and engage them in the process of reducing greenhouse gas emissions. That will lead the way for success across the entire state," he added.
Under the bill, a climate action council of high-ranking state officials and experts in various aspects of environmental issues will meet in working groups to provide recommendations within the next two years. The council will address how to carry out the new climate plan and successfully achieve its goals. State agencies will then enforce their recommendations.
Successful adoption of the bill would establish a net-zero economy, which environmental activists have been pushing governments to work towards. NY Renews, a coalition of 180 groups dedicated to environmentally related issues, has been heavily involved in lobbying for legislative environmental protections.
"We hope the commitment we won for New York encourages other states to follow our lead in setting economy-wide, legally mandated emissions targets," NY Renews said in a statement.
However, the group also expressed their concern over parts of the bill that were altered or dropped completely and joined other activists in declaring that the plan doesn’t go far enough.
"This legislation would move New York in the right direction, but much too slowly," Eric Weltman, senior organizer at Food & Water Watch, said. Weltman believes that the regulations should have included bans on new fossil fuel power plants and pipelines. "The climate crisis demands that New York do more and faster."
The bill also poses various challenges. A recent report showed that New York was only able to cut emissions by 8% in a 25-year period starting in 1990. The new measure aims to reduce greenhouse gases in the atmosphere by 10 times in the next 30 years.
Transportation emission will likely be harder to curb due to federal efforts to loosen vehicle efficiency regulations and restrict state power in establishing their own rules. While the bill seeks to reduce costs to the environment, swapping fossil-fuel run heating systems in buildings and offices with cleaner alternatives will be a high expense. Similar legislation in New York City which enforces energy efficiency on huge skyscrapers costs over $4 billion.
Aside from its environmental impact, the bill would benefit New Yorkers in other ways. It would create a demand for a robust green workforce to make the necessary high-efficiency changes to the state’s infrastructure and help low-income communities of color that have been disproportionately impacted by the effects of climate change and pollution.
In the coming days, the state Assembly is likely to vote on the “most ambitious climate bill in the country,” as it is being touted.
“I think climate change is the issue of our lifetime, frankly,” Gov. Cuomo said in an interview on Tuesday. “And the legacy we leave our children.”