New York Passes Nation’s Most Comprehensive Clean Energy Legislation

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Welcome to The Real News Network. I’m Marc Steiner. Great to have you all with us. New York is the fourth most populous state
in the country and the third largest economy in the country. Now it’s poised to adopt the country’s
most ambitious climate bill you’ve seen, including 100% carbon-free electricity by
2040 and net-zero carbon emissions by 2050. New York passed this groundbreaking legislation
Thursday that will say it will be 100% carbon-free by 2040. It’s being called New York’s Green Deal. Well, now it heads to Governor Cuomo’s desk
where he is expected to sign it. This is the first legislation passed by any
major jurisdiction that’s directly linked with the recommendations of the Paris Climate
Agreement. Now, joining to talk about all this is Adrien
Salazar, who works with New York Renews and is Campaign Strategist on Climate Equity at
the think tank Demos. Adrien, welcome. Good to have you with us. Good to be here. So this has been interesting. I mean, when you watch the politics of New
York State that had this core of conservative Democrats caucusing with Republicans, they
were defeated— kind of, pushing Cuomo a little bit further to more progressive issues,
and now this has finally passed. It will go probably to the Senate and most
likely to sign by Cuomo. So talk a bit about the political coalition
that you all helped form that made this happen and how that happened. Right. So New York Renews is a coalition of over
180 organizations across the State— upstate, downstate, rural, urban— and they represent
a vast swath of the state’s population from environmental advocates to racial justice
organizations, to labor and faith-based groups as well. This coalition formed in 2014 after The People’s
Climate March in New York City, and had the interest in galvanizing that energy in this
state to develop an agenda for New York to lead on climate policy. The original bill that was developed, The
Climate and Community Protection Act, came out of that statewide organizing. And the New York Renews coalition, which centers
communities at the frontlines and the intersections of all of these constituents, is one of the
major reasons that this bill got that the momentum that it had and got across the finish
line this legislative session. Now let’s get in some brass tacks. There was a level of opposition here as well. Many called this bill “utopian.” The Business Council of New York State said,
for instance, that a zero-emissions mandate is unrealistic. And so, there are a lot of questions here. I mean, A—I mean, does New York have the
technology resources to actually change its grid off of fossil fuels by 2040? I mean, and completely by 2050? Some people would say this is not realistic. Where will the energy come from? How’s this going to be done? And New York is not alone. We’ll talk about that in a minute. There are other states around the country
who are also pushing this and pushing ideas similar to this. Talk a bit about that, what this battle is
over, the realistic and unrealistic nature of what it means to be fossil-free by 2050? Well, Marc, when you look at actually where
the politics aligned and who was advocating for the passage of this bill, you’ll find
that there was actually a political consensus to get New York to lead on addressing the
climate crisis. When you talk about the positions that the
Business Council has taken—You know, this bill was first introduced three years ago
or four years ago now. And when that happened, the Business Council
said getting New York to commit to a renewable energy target would result in the end of civilization
in New York State, which is a ridiculous statement. You have to look at the interests that the
Business Council represents, and the interests of the coalition and all of the people who
came out of the woodwork in support of passing this legislation, including our political
allies in the legislature. In the end, Governor Cuomo realized that the
crisis that we’re facing, the climate crisis, is urgent and that New York City has the opportunity
to lead by transitioning its entire economy to a renewable energy economy. That is how we got here, is by building a
political consensus, by organizing people on the ground— ordinary people like you
and me— and working with our legislative allies in the legislature who are ready to
get New York there. So let me ask, may I push that a tad further? I mean, when I read what was going on in New
York, clearly labor unions as an example were split on this— some unions for this, some
against. Historically, many labor unions have opposed
this legislation because— and I think they’re not totally incorrect about this— it has
an adverse effect on the workers they represent who make less money in renewables than they
would working in coal or anywhere else. I think that’s one of the biggest fears
that unions have, is that they will not be making $20-30 an hour. They’ll be forced to go to only $10 or 15
an hour, which is the norm in the solar industry. So talk a bit about that, what that argument
was, and what is the plan for the future to ensure these 150,000 jobs that people say
are going to be created, actually pay not just a living wage, but a wage you can live
on. Right. And so, I can’t speak specifically to the
position of labor because I don’t come from a labor organization, but I will say that
there were several unions who backed the bill and you’re right. There were some who didn’t speak up on it
but many who did, and that is because a good constituency of labor recognizes that in order
to get to a renewable energy economy to address the climate crisis, we’re going to need
to move the whole economy, and that’s going to generate jobs. A study from the University of Massachusetts
at Amherst found that if we transition in New York State to 100% renewable by 2050,
it’s going to create over 200,000 jobs. We want those jobs to be good jobs for the
people who will be, you know, working, putting the infrastructure in place for renewable
energy. The second point I’d make is actually the
original bill, the Climate and Community Protection Act, had very strong labor protections that
ultimately did not end up in the final version of the bill because of whatever was negotiated
in that 11th hour. Several of our labor allies, including those
who were part of the coalition, were upset about that. We really are going to continue to be fighting
to ensure that we have strong labor standards for the jobs that are created in a renewable
energy transition, that we have protections for workers, that we have good training programs,
and that those are high-quality jobs for working families. Yeah, I mean, I’m not going to belabor the
point because we have so much to talk about here— no pun intended [laughs]. But, I mean, that’s been one of the big
sticking points everywhere in the country. It has been the, kind of, economic impact
on working people’s lives this has had because, I mean, unions fought for certain wages and
that means a fight may have to happen again, but that’s another topic. So speaking in that vein, I mean, we know
that the fossil fuel economy has, kind of, had this disproportionate effect on poor and
working-class communities. So I mean, talk a bit about how this bill—Tell
us how this bill, kind of, deals with equity, ensuring that poor people aren’t taking
the brunt of the transition. Wind and solar are more expensive, I said
earlier, so talk a bit about how that investment and disinvestment is going to work, and how
clear is it? How’s it being defined? So you’re right, Marc, that we know that
the impacts of climate change layer on to existing inequalities in the state. The people on the frontlines of pollution
historically and the impacts of climate change are the most vulnerable, and we need to design
climate policy to invest in those communities. The original bill, the Climate and Community
Protection Act, set up a target of 40% direct investment from energy funds of the state
into what we call, disadvantaged communities. In the final bill, it was dropped to 35% of
the benefits of investment, a kind of ambiguous term that we’re a little bit concerned about. But still, the bill repeatedly addresses getting
resources to disadvantaged communities in this transition. You know, just like I mentioned before with
labor, we want to make sure that a transition to a renewable economy is a just and equitable
transition, and that means addressing inequality and investing in communities that have been
impacted and will continue to be impacted by climate change. There are several components of the bill that
continue to do that. So it sounds like there may be still a bit
of a struggle in this once it’s passed to make sure that this takes place adequately
and equitably. That’s right. There are several pieces that we had fought
for to ensure that there was equity, and some of them we got in the final version of the
bill. For example, there is an Environmental Justice
Working Group, a Climate Justice Working Group. These are about community engagement. These are about people helping make decisions
about the economic shift that we need to take. There is consideration of whole pollutants
which contribute to public health impacts, like PM2.5 particles and nitrous oxide. And then, there’s regulatory screens to
ensure that there aren’t any disproportionate impacts, equitably, on different communities. There are some pieces that we were able to
get into the final version of the bill, but definitely, this bill is not as strong as
the original bill was intended in directing more investments and in securing those protections
for labor because those pieces were left out of the final bill. So the bill also mandates 70% renewable electricity
by 2030. What would that look like? I mean, how can—What does that mean both
technically in terms of the work, what it means to have to change the grid? I mean, so talk a bit about that. I mean, that’s where the rubber meets the
road and that’s the nitty-gritty of the question about changing to clean energy. You’re absolutely right. So what the bill has done is set some targets
for the state. It’s set a 70% renewable energy target by
2030, 100% by 2040, and 85% emissions reduction economy-wide by 2050. What this means is in the next year actually
in the implementation of the bill, the state and its various agencies, like NYSERDA and
the DEC, are going to have to develop plans to enact those targets— including regulatory
measures, including proposing several programs. We anticipate that the agencies will set up
various programs and regulations that will incentivize transition to renewable, to solar,
to more development of wind, and that will curb the pollution emissions from existing
polluting industries. That means that over time, the incentives
will increase for us to transition the state to more and more renewable on a graduated
target timeline. So in the time we have left, I just want to
define some terms here. The bill calls for net-zero emissions by 2050. Just for all of our edification, I mean, what’s
the difference between zero and net-zero? What does that mean? Yes. This was a fight that we also were, you know,
we didn’t end up winning what we wanted to get. We wanted the state to commit to zero emissions
by 2050, full stop, and we got 85% because there were several interests— including
from industry, including some of our legislators, including Governor Cuomo— who were arguing
that the state cannot reach 100% by 2050, that it’s too fast of a timeline, and there
are some industries that just cannot get there with existing technology. My argument, and our argument as a coalition,
is that that is not true and that we can actually incentivize the development of technology
by setting a strong target. But in the end, the final bill had some wiggle
room and that’s what net-zero means. It means that for some of those industries
that will have difficulty meeting that target, instead of actual emissions reduction, they
can invest in what we call negative-emissions technologies that capture carbon from the
atmosphere, for example, in order to offset their existing emissions. For us, that’s problematic because it basically
gives a loophole for continued pollution, and we want to make sure that New York gets
to 100%. There is a goal in the bill for 100%, and
we hope that New York can commit to that in the future. So, very quickly here, in the minute or two
that we have left. I’m curious, you know, when you look at
New York, California, Colorado, New Mexico, New Jersey Maine, earlier in Hawaii, have
already pushed this agenda really hard. It’s as if it’s also resistance to the
Trumpian illogic of, as he did this week, opening up coal again to the world and opening
up our lands to coal and gas in the west. How do you see this in the entire political
battle around energy in the future taking a hold, all these other states doing things
similar to New York? Well I’ll say, Marc, that though we had
a few pieces that we fought for that we didn’t win, while this bill is weak on some of the
climate justice elements, this is an incredibly strong climate bill in its emissions reduction
target, and it’s one of the strongest pieces of legislation that’s moved in the nation. And so, we are anticipating that this bill
sets a new standard for the rest of the country. You know, where we saw some shortcomings of
the bill, we hope other states rise up to the challenge and say we can do better than
New York. But at this moment, we have passed one of
the strongest pieces of climate legislation in the country. An economy-wide target is one that is ambitious
and one that very few states—I would say maybe New York is the only state that has
set an economy-wide target into legislation to get the entire economy to shift to renewable
energy, and that is one of the pieces that’s going to really help transform the discourse
around what we need to meet the climate crisis in this moment. Well, the fight for equity and justice in
poor communities is always the one that seems to be the hardest battle to get through in
all these things. It calls for, I guess, we just have to keep
organizing and fighting. Adrien Salazar works with New York Renews,
Campaign Strategist for Demos on Climate Equity. Thank you for your work, Adrien, and thanks
so much for joining us here today on The Real News. It’s been a pleasure. Thank you for having me, Marc. And I’m Marc Steiner here for The Real News
Network and you know this is one of our major topics. We’ll continue. Take care.

29 comments

  1. Kudos to New York, you should be proud as punch for leading the way in cleaning the city up and Kudos to the young people for staying woke and active! 👏👏👏👏💙

  2. Fossil Fuel Energy Matters Too!

    You said "Not just a living wage but a wage you can live on" do you not see the stupidity of that comment?

  3. Yeah, but they all ran on passing the NYHA (single payer) and then stabbed progressives in the back once elected!

  4. No mention on some of the “fixes” such as hundreds of speed cameras that will mail you a ticket automatically… one of the reasons the French people have been protesting on the streets for 6 months now. It sounds good, just wait till YOU start paying for it. The devil is in the details not mentioned here. How can we be so gullible ?

  5. It this realistic? What will it cost? You will need several new and large nuclear power plants. Charging you electric car for a 200 mile run will cost what? $150.00 . Yes there are nice thoughts here but might cost to much.

    Create jobs? Really. Doing what? Picking up garbage? How productive is that? Will that make us rich? And if China can make our batteries and solar cells cheaper we are more screwed.

    Keep dreaming. Eventually you will wake up.

  6. This is interesting. What they don't address is that coal, and oil, are labor intensive. Solar is passive. Once it's set up, maintenance is a minor factor. After this
    transition is complete, where will people work?

  7. Not good enough if scientists gave us 11ish years and, like with any modern regulatory law, implementation will be delayed or watered down by lobbyists

  8. climate change is bs its not man made, now see ny business implode. since when do we listen to 2year olds? your taxes going up. get ready for bankruptcies to go up too and a mass exodus to ensue. real globalist news channel!

  9. Even if energy workers make less money, they will keep more of it and live longer than they will paying the medical costs of their current jobs.

  10. Marc Steiner wind and solar are not more expensive. Many of these jobs pay better wages than fossil fuel jobs. There are more renewable energy jobs now than fossil fuel jobs. Wind and solar are cheaper than fossil fuels now. Get your facts straight

  11. It's cute but the real pollution comes from the freight ships docking in NY/Connecticut/NJ, and the ridiculous amount of air traffic OVER the area which is among the busiest on earth. Even when hyou take out the cars completely and the power plants were 100 percent clean it would be negligible at best and likely politics will just make this a moot point regardless since Republicans and big oil have so indoctrinated the country into financial panic every time gas prices move.by the year 3000 NY will be Venice and Trump and his moron crooks will be remembered as tools of the petroleum cartels.

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