Albany – With state lawmakers set to leave this month, the nation’s strongest climate protection bill was expected to clear the Assembly, but remained without a sponsor in the Senate late Wednesday.
Several hundred people rallied at the Capitol to support passage of the Climate and Community Protection Act, which would require the state to push a massive shift to alternative energy and cut all greenhouse gas emissions from major electrical producers, large industrial factories and petroleum facilities by 2050.
The bill tracks aggressive greenhouse gas reductions goals – now focused in the electric generating sector – being pushed by Gov. Andrew Cuomo, who wants the state to get half of its total electricity from alternative sources by 2030.
But these goals are “not made into law, and could be dismissed by the next governor. … Climate change is the biggest challenge facing us today, and we have a moral obligation to reduce the pollution that fuels it,” said Peter Iwanowicz, executive director of Environmental Advocates of New York, an Albany-based lobbying group. “This bill codifies everything.”
The bill would apply to greenhouse gas emissions from power plants of 25 megawatts or larger, as well as any facility that emits 25,000 tons or more of greenhouse gases annually.
Under the bill, the state’s greenhouse gas emission limits would be tightened every five years, starting with 2020, when emissions could not exceed 1990 levels (230 million tons). In 2011, actual state emissions were about 181 million tons, according to a report from the New York State Energy Research and Development Authority, so the 2020 limit could allow a temporary increase.
In 2025, that limit would fall to about 172.5 million tons. It would continue to drop, to 115 million tons by 2030, to 92 million tons by 2035, to 69 million tons by 2040, to 46 million tons by 2045, before hitting zero in 2050.
A 23-member “climate action council” would be created to monitor the state’s progress toward the goals. The bill also would require money from the state Environmental Protection Fund be used to pay for alternative energy programs including solar arrays, heat pumps and wind turbines in public low-income houses.
Also, for energy projects larger than $10 million, or that receive more than $100,000 in assistance from the state, prevailing wages would have to be paid to workers.
The bill also would require the state Department of Environmental Conservation to craft other measures to encourage emission reductions from greenhouse gas sources like motor vehicles and smaller electric plants.
“The Climate Protection Act stands up for working families by demanding bold action not just on climate, but also on the creation of good jobs and healthy communities,” said Bill Lipton, state director of the Working Families Party.
He said organizers remain hopeful that a Senate sponsor can be found and vote held before lawmakers leave as expected June 16 for the summer.
The rally also included groups like the New York City Environmental Justice Alliance, Citizen Action, Align, and the New York State Nurses Association, as well as some union representation, mainly from service unions, like Communications Workers of America, New York State United Teachers, and Service Employees International Union.
Maria Castaneda, secretary treasurer of 1199 SEIU United Healthcare Workers East, said many low-income and minority neighborhoods will be harmed by ongoing climate change so “racial, economic and environmental justice are deeply interconnected. … Asthma, respiratory illness and severe allergies are all aggravated by pollution. Viruses like West Nile are already in our state and Zika is a serious threat, spreading more broadly and rapidly because of increasing temperatures.”
Continued climate change will “disproportionately strain working-class people and communities of color,” said Matt Ryan, executive director of Align, a coalition of union and academic groups.
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