Climate zealots vs. N.Y. homeowners and workers

May 2, 2022

John Samuelsen and Constance Bradley | May 02, 2022

A draft proposal to cut greenhouse emissions would be a job-killing disaster that also will zap residents and homeowners with sky-high energy costs.

The proposal, drafted by the state’s Climate Action Council created under the Climate Leadership and Community Protection Act, recommends dozens upon dozens of regulations to be adopted by the state Department of Environmental Conservation. One of these calls for homeowners and business owners to convert, at significant expense, from gas to electric for heating, cooking and other energy needs.It would prohibit new gas hookups for existing buildings and new construction starting in 2024. In a phase-in starting in 2030, when existing gas furnaces, boilers, hot water heaters, stoves or washer-dryers break down, buildings will have to begin switching over to electric appliances.

If the recommendations become regulations, the jobs of thousands of blue-collar workers providing natural gas to millions of residents and businesses in the metropolitan region would be wiped out. Welders, mechanics, pipeline inspectors, meter installers, plumbers, laborers and other types of workers would be callously thrown into unemployment.

Homeowners will incrementally have to retrofit their homes for electricity and electric appliances to replace gas service, which will easily cost more than $20,000. Most homes don’t have the electrical capacity for electric-powered heating, cooking, and other energy needs. According to industry figures, an electric heat pump for heating a single-family home will cost about $14,700. There will be another $6,400 minimum in expenses on insulation and other efficiency measures.

That’s just the capital costs. Electric heating will cost homeowners approximately 40% moreto operate than gas.

Are we trying to make New York more unaffordable?

TWU Local 101 supports a saner, more common-sense climate protecting plan put forth by National Grid, the utility that employs 1,600 of our members working in Brooklyn.

The National Grid plan would completely phase out the use of natural gas, a fossil fuel, by 2050. The current infrastructure would not be abandoned but used to provide carbon-free energy — produced by solar, wind, green hydrogen — and renewable natural gas. RNG comes from landfills, farms and wastewater facilities. This is waste converted into energy. That’s as green as it gets.

This would protect jobs, provide an energy option that is cheaper and more efficient than electricity, and help meet the goals in the law: to reduce economy-wide greenhouse gas emissions 40% by 2030 and no less than 85% by 2050, from 1990 levels.

The “electrify everything” approach has other fatal flaws. The electrical grid would implode. We already endure power outages, and sometimes major blackouts, every summer. Homes go dark. Businesses close. Subway riders are stuck on trains in tunnels.

Even if the state had billions upon billions of dollars to upgrade the power system, a hybrid system that includes RNG would allow homeowners to choose the type of appliances they want in their homes and avoid higher energy costs, not get smacked with government mandates that they cook with electric stoves and buy electric boilers. National Grid’s plan maintains the current infrastructure, which is more reliable and resilient than the electrical system. The underground pipe infrastructure isn’t affected by the high temperatures that prompt everyone to turn on air-conditioners and stress the electrical system. It doesn’t get knocked out by lighting or heavy rainfall.

The common-sense plan also would maintain the blue-collar jobs that are vitally important in working-class communities like Brownsville and Gerritsen Beach in Brooklyn; South Jamaica and Ozone Park in Queens; South Shore and Stapleton on Staten Island. These are jobs that enable people to put food on the table, pay the rent or mortgage, put their kids through college, and then retire with dignity and live their senior years in comfort.

Lots of people don’t go to college and then land suit-and-tie careers, for a variety of reasons, including it’s insanely expensive and a lot of families aren’t blessed with generational wealth.

Approximately 2.8 million working-age men and women in New York City don’t have a four-year college degree.

The CAC draft makes vague promises of utility workers getting retrained or “reskilled” for other jobs. Yeah, right. Tell that to all the factory and manufacturing plant workers who have seen their jobs shipped overseas after the North American Free Trade Agreement.

Tell that to all the workers who have lost their jobs in the latest wave of automation. According to an analysis by Ball State University, that wave, or tsunami, has swept away nine out of 10 manufacturing jobs in the U.S. since 2010.

The notion that a boiler installer or someone who has worked on high-pressure gas lines for 20 years is going to take a few courses at a community college and get a job sitting next to a tech-savvy millennial is a bad joke.

The National Grid plan is a better plan. It’s a common-sense plan. Our elected officials should embrace it.

Samuelsen is international president of the Transport Workers Union. Bradley is president of TWU Local 101 in Brooklyn.