Pictured Above: New York State Senator Todd Kaminsky at a rally in support of the climate bill earlier this spring. Mr. Kaminsky, of Long Beach, was the Senate sponsor of the bill. Photo courtesy State Senator Todd Kaminsky.

As the federal Environmental Protection Agency unveiled its plans to roll back Obama-era reductions on emissions from coal plants Wednesday morning, New York solidified its commitment to climate protection by passing the Climate Leadership and Community Protection Act in the final hours of this year’s state legislative session.

The law sets some of the highest emission standards in the United States, mandating 85 percent greenhouse gas emission reductions by 2050, mandating that 70 percent of New York’s electricity comes from renewable sources by 2030 and that all electricity sources be carbon free by 2040.

The law requires the state to offset the remaining 15 percent of emissions by 2050, likely through capture of carbon being released into the atmosphere, which would make the state a net-zero source of atmospheric carbon by that target date.

The law also codifies Governor Andrew Cuomo’s commitment in his State of the State address this year to 9 gigawatts of offshore wind, 3 gigawatts of energy storage and 6 gigawatts of distributed solar.

“I want New York to have the most aggressive climate change program in the United States of America. Period,” Governor Cuomo told WCNY’s Susan Arbetter on Tuesday. “Our goal from day one was to reclaim New York’s legacy as the progressive capital that showed the other states and the country the way forward. I think climate change is the issue of our lifetime frankly, and the legacy that we leave our children.”

“Elections matter. Thanks to the new progressive shift in the Senate, led by Andrea Stewart-Cousins, the nation’s most aggressive climate justice legislation is about to become a reality,” said Sierra Club Atlantic Chapter Director Roger Downs. “This legislation bridges the strength of the Governor’s current energy policies and Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie’s passion for climate justice and combines the practicality of  ‘knowing what we can accomplish’ with the obligation of ‘knowing what we must do.'”

The law has the backing of 180 social justice, environmental, community and labor organizations forming a coalition known as NY Renews, which have helped steer a heavy social justice influence into the bill, which protects air quality in disadvantaged communities and provide funding to economically disadvantaged communities at the front lines of climate impacts.

Governor Cuomo had initially balked at the social justice influence, saying it was politically motivated.

“Taxpayers’ money is taxpayers’ money and if it’s taxpayers’ money for an environmental purpose, I want to make sure it’s going to an environmental purpose,” Mr. Cuomo said on Albany-based public radio station WAMC’s The Roundtable on Monday. “This transformation to the new green economy is very expensive and we don’t have the luxury of using funding for political purposes.”

The law as approved Wednesday requires a minimum of 35 percent of New York’s clean energy funds, mostly from utility ratepayers, be invested to benefit environmentally vulnerable low-income communities.

It also required the Department of Environmental Conservation to craft regulations to implement emissions reduction targets across the economy, including the electric sector, performance standards for buildings, industry and other sectors, and transportation sector emissions reductions programs, which include electrification of transit.

Assemblyman Steve Englebright and Senator Todd Kaminsky, both of Long Island, along with Governor Andrew Cuomo, worked together to get the bill passed in both chambers and signed by the governor as this spring’s legislative session came to an end today.

“While DC sleeps through a crisis, NY steps up,” Senator Kaminsky tweeted on Monday. “Dear Earth: Help is on the way.”

“No single issue threatens New York like the climate crisis and the legislature and Governor have responded,” said Mr. Downs, of the Sierra Club. “Beyond the growing frequency and intensity of severe weather events, New Yorkers will be facing the economic and social costs of dying oceans, agricultural blight, rapid changes to ecosystems, and rising sea levels.”   

The Sierra Club has been privileged to work with the over 180 environmental justice, social justice, and labor organizations that have brought this climate legislation to the forefront. The Climate Leadership and Community Protection Act will only be as strong as we make it over the next decade. It’s an invitation for all of us to roll up our sleeves and make a fossil fuel-free future a reality.”

Beth Young
Beth Young is an award-winning local journalist who has been covering the East End since the 1990s. She began her career at the Sag Harbor Express and, after receiving her Masters from the Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism, has reported for the Southampton Press, the East Hampton Press and the Times/Review Media Group. She founded the East End Beacon website in 2013, and a print edition in 2017. Beth was born and raised on the North Fork. In her spare time, she tinkers with bicycles, tries not to drown in the Peconic Bay and hopes to grow the perfect tomato. You can send her a message at editor@eastendbeacon.com

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