Photo Credit: Inside Climate News

In July, Governor Cuomo signed the Climate Leadership and Community Protection Act (CLCPA) into law.  The Act sets new environmental emission standards, including major reductions in greenhouse gas emissions, and targets greater use of renewable energy to tackle the effects of climate change.

The CLCPA targets “net zero” carbon emissions by 2050, with an interim target of 40 percent reductions from 1990 emission levels by 2030.  Note that the Act requires “net zero” emissions, not “zero” emissions.  That means that some of the reductions (15%) can come from carbon offsets, although the bulk of the reductions (85%) still will come from energy and industrial emissions.  Offsets include practices like reforestation, restoring wetlands, carbon capturing and even other green projects.  These offsets also have to be within 25 miles of the purchaser and benefit the local environment.  Only emissions that currently are technologically infeasible to reduce are eligible for these offsets and electricity generation is specifically excluded from offset eligibility. 

While some might have preferred a pure zero emissions target, the net zero compromise probably makes the Act’s targeted goals more achievable.

The CLCPA also pushes renewable energy.  It mandates that by 2030, 70% of the state’s electricity must be produced by renewable sources like wind, solar or hydro power.  For perspective, in 2018, just over a quarter of the electricity created in the state came from renewable sources.  The Act requires 6,000 MW of solar energy generation to be installed by 2025 and 9,000 MW of offshore wind generation to be installed by 2035.

The Act does not lay out exactly how emissions will be reduced.  Instead, it creates a 22-member Climate Action Council, comprising heads of various New York state agencies, along with political appointees.  Over the next two years, the Council, with the aid of stakeholder advisory panels, will develop a scoping plan to examine how to achieve de-carbonization across all sectors of the economy.  It will look into sectors like transportation, energy-intensive industries, land use and local governments, housing and energy efficiency, power generation, farming and forestry and offer recommendations on how to achieve reductions. The scoping plan will be updated every five years.

Additionally, the CLCPA now requires all state agencies to decide whether their actions are consistent with the state’s goals of reducing greenhouse gases.   If an agency determines that an action is inconsistent with this goal, it must justify the need for that action and identify alternative measures it can take to reduce greenhouse gases.

Finally, the Act also addresses environmental justice.  It includes a requirement that directs at least 35% of certain clean-energy funding to go toward low-income communities historically disproportionately affected by pollution.

In layman’s terms, this is groundbreaking stuff.  The CLCPA is the most ambitious legislation of its kind in the nation.  Whether these benchmarks will be achieved and other states will follow suit with similar targets and goals remains to be seen, but there is no doubt that for now that among the states, New York is arguably the lead actor in combating climate change.