Roosevelt Institute | Cornell University

New York’s Ambitious Climate Change Path

By Daniel WrennPublished February 1, 2021

In June of 2019, the New York State Legislature passed the most ambitious bill for combating climate change, The Climate Leadership and Community Protection Act (CLCPA). This piece of legislation, signed into law by Governor Cuomo, sets historic benchmarks that are legally enforceable, making New York the country’s leader in climate action. However, these benchmarks have not been progressed by the mechanisms outlined in the legislation, rather by Governor Cuomo’s independent policies in an effort to get started now, not years from now. 

The CLCPA outlines New York’s goals for the next thirty years, which include New York cutting total greenhouse-gas emissions (from 1990 levels) by 85% by 2050. The remaining 15% of emissions will be offset by reforestation, restoring wetlands, carbon capturing or other environmental initiatives . Another mandate is to produce 70% of the state's electricity by renewable sources, primarily wind or hydro-electic power by 2030. The law also requires 35% of certain clean-energy funding to go toward low-income communities disproportionately affected by pollution, known as environmental justice zones. However, the legislation did not outline the roadmap and process to meet the goals, meaning it failed to outline and structure the means to meet the law’s ends. 

This process will be decided by a newly created panel, The New York State Climate Action Council, which will take three years to design the roadmap that will recommend a variety of environmental policy changes the state can make to meet the outlined goals. Further, the second committee, the Climate Justice Working Group was formed, which will guide the state in carrying out its ambitious climate targets by ensuring that the environmental justice provisions of the CLCPA—such as clean energy spending, green jobs, and affordable resources — are enforced and distributed equitably to low-income communities of color. From there, it is up to the state agencies to implement the new rules to cut pollution and slow climate change. Now, more than a year later, what changes have been implemented?

The most notable progress thus far is the member appointment of the panels which completed in August of 2020. These appointees consist of representatives from public, private, academic, environmental and community groups covering six economic sectors — transportation, energy efficiency and housing, agriculture and forestry, land use and local government, energy intensive and trade-exposed industries, and power generation. Since this panel has been newly established, it will soon begin deliberating and investigating the best course of action for New York. Yet, to account for the layover time in the law and work from the Climate Action Council, Governor Andrew Cuomo has taken measures to begin meeting the CLCPA requirements.

The headliners of his actions have been the largest combined solicitations for renewable energy in the United States. His solicitations, just this past summer alone, sought up to 4,000 megawatts of renewable capacity, totalling $400 million in both public and private funding. A majority of this investment has been placed in the hands of off-shore wind development, utilizing untapped resources like never before, aiming to have 9,000 megawatts of offshore wind energy produced by 2035. Governor Cuomo has also called for a statewide framework to invest roughly $1 billion through 2025 to advance energy efficiency in low-to-moderate income households. He additionally requested  $2 billion more invested in energy efficiency building electrification initiatives. However, the most sweeping call for action from the Governor has come to combat the largest greenhouse gas emitting sector — transportation. 

 The program to accelerate New York’s transition to cleaner mobility is expected to stimulate $1.5 billion in new investments and to provide more than $2.6 billion in consumer benefits and economic opportunities like tax incentives and green jobs. It includes initiatives to accelerate the deployment of more than 50,000 charging stations by 2025 and sets $206 million aside to benefit low-income and disadvantaged communities, including $85 million to fund three innovative clean transportation prize competitions. Finally, to directly tackle the transportation emittance problem, Governor Cuomo is enacting initiatives to encourage electric vehicle usage.  It is estimated that New York needs about 850,000 electric vehicles on the road to cut pollution from transportation to meet the new clean car Zero Emission Vehicle standards. So, the state has introduced rebates for electric vehicle purchases both privately and commercially. The state also is aiming for the installation of over 100,000 public and workplace charging stations and over 4,000 Direct Current Fast Charging stations to support that number of electric vehicles. By installing more charging stations, the challenges of owning an electric vehicle will ease, making it more practical.

New York’s CLCPA laid out ambitious goals for the state to meet within a relatively short time period. In the first yeast of this being law, little progress has been made by the Climate Action Council, given the bureaucratic nature of its establishment. Instead, Governor Cuomo is picking up the slack, spearheading the progress that needs to be made in the fight against climate change and bringing New York to the forefront of this battle. Going forward, it will be intriguing to see whether Governor Cuomo or the Climate Action Council will take the lead initiative in meeting the goals outlined in the CLCPA to fight climate change.