Too far, or not far enough: Draft NYS climate action plan sparks lively debate

April 27, 2022

By Jacob Fries [email protected]

New York State recently unveiled its long term plan for addressing climate change and meeting the terms of the Climate Leadership and Community Protection Act of 2019.

What CLCPA looks to do is bring New York state to a carbon neutral economy by 2050. This involves achieving net-zero carbon emissions, growing and overhauling the state’s electricity grid, and, along the way, ensuring that the benefits of such measures are felt in an equitable manner to typically disenfranchised groups, such as impoverished communities and communities of color, which historically have been most adversely affected by environmental problems.

The state Climate Action Council was tasked with mapping the way forward. Its “scoping plan” puts heavy emphasis on transitioning New Yorkers to ZEVs (Zero Emission Vehicles) and creating the infrastructure that’s necessary to sustain them, i.e. a network of electric vehicle charging stations.

One particular measure that’s discussed in the plan is establishment of a “feebate” program, which would offer direct rebates for ZEV purchases, with the money coming from fees imposed on the purchase of new gas-powered vehicles. The fee could be waived on lower priced vehicles. Also, lower to middle income buyers could get higher rebates on ZEV purchases, as well as additional rebates with financing options. The plan also states that incentives for selling ZEVs would be provided to dealerships.

Too much too soon?

The plan indicates that the state’s clean energy policies will help generate a net benefit of up to $120 billion, and create 10 jobs for each one that could be lost from inaction. The plan estimates inaction could cause $90 billion in environmental damages and cause job losses primarily in agriculture.

The 300-plus-page plan, which can be accessed online, has received criticism both from those who feel that it’s too ambitious and runs the risk of alienating the average citizen, and those who feel that it’s not ambitious or expedient enough to address the increasing threats from climate change.

State senate minority leader Robert Ortt, R-North Tonawanda, has voiced his opposition and recently sent out a mailer encouraging his constituents to voice their concerns about it. He argues that the draft of the current plan is written too bureaucratically, and that the plan itself runs the risk of harming the average citizen, particularly in its aim to scale back natural gas usage. The plan would end investment in gas infrastructure and prohibit utilities from providing new gas service to existing buildings.

“New York’s residents are experiencing an energy affordability crisis, surging inflation, rising home heating and electric bills, and severe pain at the pump. Now is not the time to completely rid the state of this dependable energy source,” Ortt said in response to a question about that mailer.

Randy Atwater of Barker, a small business owner and Barker school board member, believes that the plan is applying too much pressure in some areas, and not enough pressure in others. He cites information he received from attending a webinar with New Yorkers for Affordable Energy, an organization that advocates for low energy prices and common-sense environmental reform.

“My concern is that when the state pursues progressive policies more aggressively than anyone else, there can be a backlash to that,” Atwater said. “There can be negative impacts to the business community, and therefore to the entire economic structure of the state if we push too hard and too fast.”

Atwater believes that the goals are shortsighted in the sense that they could drive up the price of electricity exponentially in New York, and that storing energy generated by sun and wind power in industrial batteries can only go so far. This can be an issue in the winter when heating costs are at their highest and solar energy generation is more difficult, he observed.

A glaring omission?

Atwater also finds fault with the absence of any measures in the plan to regulate the mining of cryptocurrency. Crypto mining has drawn criticism from environmentalists due to the process consuming large amounts of electricity as computer run constantly to generate unique blockchain codes. Theoretically if it was being done on a power grid that emits no carbon, crypto mining wouldn’t be as bad. However, considering the state hasn’t made this shift yet, crypto mining poses a danger to the environment.

Katie Marshall, a co-founder of the Rochester hub of the Sunrise Movement, a national youth climate activist group, believes that the state’s plan is strong, but lacking specifics on how the transition will be funded and how equity for marginalized groups will be realized.

“I think that large scale efforts like this are the thing that’s actually going to lead us to a livable future,” said Marshall, “but the plan needs to include specifics of how this shift is going to happen, because it’s a large-scale shift for individuals, businesses, and our economy.”

Marshall agrees that crypto mining should be addressed.

“Even now a lot of people don’t understand the climate impacts … and it should be addressed in the plan along with transportation and building decarbonization. We banned fracking in New York, I don’t see why we can’t ban crypto mining.”

Maureen Leddy, the state Department of Environmental Conservation’s director of the Office of Climate Change, said crypto mining has become a concern for the state’s environmental agenda, but it only came to their attention while the current draft of the climate plan was nearing its completion.

What about the nuclear option?

New York’s climate action plan takes nuclear energy into account, but not to the degree it does wind and solar energy, which occupy most of the discussion of renewable energy. The state has had a Zero Emissions Credit policy for nuclear power since 2016 and it will remain in effect until 2029. 

The issue of nuclear energy is highly debated in environmentalist circles. While nuclear power doesn’t emit greenhouse gases, it has drawbacks related to safety, such as waste and the broader dangers in the event of an accident.

The plan advocates that the analysis must be made by 2029 as to whether nuclear power should be subsidized further, taking into account whether it’s reliable enough, as well as its impacts on health, safety, community and the environment. Three nuclear power plants are operated in New York state and generate almost one-third of its power.

Atwater believes a positive re-evaluation of nuclear energy is in order.

“There’s no free lunch in the energy business. Every form of energy has its risks and its environmental costs,” he said. “If our priority is emissions, then I think we have to look at state of the art nuclear power plants, that with today’s technology would have better controls than Chernobyl (Ukraine) or Fukushima (Japan), or anywhere else there’ve been issues in the past.”

Various ways to weigh in

Currently the state is hosting a public comment period on the climate scoping plan, through which members of the public may share their thoughts with the Climate Action Council.

Public forums are a mix of online and in-person. The nearest in-person forum is scheduled for 3:30 p.m. April 27, at the Mason O. Damon Auditorium  of the Buffalo & Erie County Public Library, 1 Lafayette Square, Buffalo.

Virtual forums will be held at 10 a.m. May 7 and 4 p.m. May 11. To participate, register at

Comments can also submitted online at, emailed to [email protected], or mailed to: Draft Scoping Plan Comments, NYSERDA, 17 Columbia Circle, Albany, NY 12203-6399.

The public comment period will close on June 10.

A PDF of the scoping plan can be downloaded at .