Another Voice: Aggressive climate measures in New York won’t make a dent

August 15, 2022

Michelle Hook | Jun 17, 2022

How much does it cost and what are we paying for? It’s the minimum level of transparency we expect our government to provide. But when it comes to New York’s climate law – the Climate Leadership and Community Protection Act, or CLCPA – Albany must do better.

Passed in 2019, the CLCPA calls for an aggressive reduction of carbon emissions, with a goal of reducing New York’s greenhouse gas emissions 40% by 2030 and 85% by 2050, from 1990 levels. 

The CLCPA does not mandate eliminating natural gas or banning fossil fuels. But that has become the focus of lawmakers, who insist it’s necessary to achieve the law’s goals. The problem is that a premature transition away from this heavily relied upon fuel source – nearly two-thirds of New Yorkers currently use natural gas – can cause reliability and cost issues. 

While there has been no discussion among elected officials about how New York intends to have all of this paid for, some state officials have voiced concerns. Public Service Commissioner John Howard said the cost to New Yorkers would be hundreds of billions of dollars, and that “the legislature, either through its silence or total lack of actions, has given this commission nearly the exclusive responsibility to reach into New Yorkers’ pockets to pay for the CLCPA mandates.”

State officials reacted first by dismissing Howard’s statement as both “incorrect and irresponsible” while also effectively confirming his estimate, saying inaction would be “more than $100 billion higher than the cost of investing in a clean energy future.”

This suggestion – that aggressive climate measures in New York will have a global impact that reduces severe weather damage by billions of dollars – has very questionable credibility.

If the plan Albany is pushing would actually stop the worst impacts of global climate change, New Yorkers might be willing to pay the price. But the CLCPA won’t make a dent. New York produces less than one half of 1% of all carbon emissions in the world. Even if we could snap our fingers and make it all disappear tomorrow, increasing emissions coming from the developing world – including China and India – would negate New York’s efforts in a matter of months.

Asked during a recent Assembly hearing about cost to New Yorkers versus results on global climate emissions, CLCPA member Robert Howarth responded that the international community is very excited about New York’s climate efforts. In other words, all of this cost and all of this work will – at best – have set a good precedent, but have no measurable impact.

The state is pushing forward with a plan that would cost billions of dollars while making virtually no impact on climate change. New Yorkers already struggling to pay their energy bills will be the ones feeling the pain. The very least we can ask of Albany is that they be honest with us while they do it.

Michelle Hook is the Executive Director for New Yorkers for Affordable Energy.