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New York’s Climate Act: Short on Details, Long on Mandates & Costs

By Will Barclay

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A basic element of well-crafted legislation is details. Well-written bills detail what parts of existing law will change, how the change will impact people, penalties if they apply, and include estimates of their fiscal impact. Such details, however, were nowhere to be found when New York’s so-called Climate Leadership and Community Protection Act passed the state legislature with Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s message of necessity at the end of the session. On July 18, the governor signed the bill into law.

New York is responsible for only 0.5 percent of the world’s total greenhouse-gas emissions. Currently, we have aggressive goals to reduce carbon emissions even further. This new legislation mandates that the state reduce greenhouse emissions to 15 percent of the state’s 1990 levels by 2050. While these goals may sound great on paper, the legislation provides no detail or costs for how this is going to be accomplished. One thing is known — the law’s consequences will be broad and far-reaching, will impact everyone in the state, and will almost certainly handicap all sectors of the economy. Legislators raised these points and more during debate on the bill, but were brushed aside. In fact, when asked how much it will cost to achieve the emissions goals or if new taxes would be created as a result, the law’s sponsor admitted on the floor during debate he had no idea how much money it will cost. But he added that whatever funds the state can muster to meet these new goals will be considered.

In an effort to lower overall greenhouse-gas emissions, the law mandates, without any basis in scientific reality, that 70 percent of the state’s electricity will have to be produced by renewable sources like wind and solar by 2030. How the state will achieve this target is unclear and even if it is scientifically possible without causing massive electricity shortages, studies conservatively estimate the cost of achieving this renewable target will cost billions of dollars a year. Generators of renewable energy make up about 23 percent of New York’s electricity production. However, hydropower comprises 18 percent of that overall production while wind, solar, and other renewables like geothermal make up only 4 percent. That number has actually declined despite massive government subsidies. Because expansion of hydropower is unlikely, in order to get to the goal of 70 percent renewables by 2030 massive increases in wind and solar will be needed. However, as most people know, wind and solar are intermittent sources of energy — that is, they only generate when the wind blows or the sun shines. Because they are intermittent, to rely on them to power our electricity needs will require battery storage. Though battery storage is improving, the science and economics of battery storage have a long way to go before large-scale battery storage is practical. To put this into perspective, before this law passed, the state had a goal to install 1,500 megawatts of battery-storage capacity by 2025 at a cost of about $200 million. Compare this to the approximately 30,000 megawatts that are needed at peak demand each day.

Putting aside the practicality of the new legislation, another concern is the fact that the law empowers an unelected council to make incredibly impactful decisions on greenhouse-gas emissions that will affect the lives of all New Yorkers. The new law empowers a new 22-person council — the majority of whom are appointed by the governor — to decide emission limit rules and regulations on everything from transportation to housing, agriculture, and land use. The council has three years, once it convenes, to submit a detailed plan on how to achieve the goals of the legislation. It grants unlimited authority to the New York Department of Environmental Conservation to determine what entities are subject to comply yet it is unclear what will be enforced or how limits on greenhouse-gas emissions will be determined for each sector, so there is almost no way to anticipate or prepare for the plan the council will create.

It is estimated that in order to meet the goals outlined in the law, the state will need unprecedented levels of investment and near-complete electrification of transportation, residential, and commercial sectors. Home heating methods, such as heating oil, are in now in the state’s crosshairs. Even decisions that will impact the use of lawnmowers at home residences are not off the table. This new law’s passage, coupled with the fact that New York already has among the highest energy prices in the nation, will further cripple our state. It will affect how each of us live and work. And yet after all of this regulation, in the end, even if we are successful in lowering New York’s greenhouse-gas emission to the goals set forth in this legislation, the impact on global greenhouse emissions will be negligible at best.        

William (Will) A. Barclay is the Republican representative of the 120th New York Assembly District, which encompasses most of Oswego County, including the cities of Oswego and Fulton, as well as the town of Lysander in Onondaga County and town of Ellisburg in Jefferson County. Contact him at barclaw@assembly.state.ny.us or (315) 598-5185.

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