Flawed NY Renews Bill: An Open Letter

This letter was circulated on September 28, 2016 to help clarify for those who might not have time and/or wherewithal to read and analyze a bill that was introduced earlier this year in the New York State Legislature–a bill whose stated intent is to help the state become more energy efficient and to cut its greenhouse gas emissions while providing clean energy jobs and protecting vulnerable communities.

The letter writers are environmentalists, medical doctors, grassroots activists and noted scientists who agree that this bill, the Climate and Community Protection Act (S8005), was not the landmark environmental legislation it claimed to be. They attempted for months to have these problems with the bill addressed by the drafters, a coalition called NY Renews, before a new iteration is drafted for the legislature to consider in 2017. However, there has been no reasonable response, and certainly no commitment to correct the many problems with the bill.

We hope this letter and the linked critique will help other activists and researchers, as well as the general public, understand the reasons this bill should be rewritten before it is reintroduced and acted upon. We all agree it cannot be supported unless it is corrected.

Please read and share widely.

Dear Friends,

You may recall that the “New York State Climate & Community Protection Act” (S8005) was introduced during the 2016 legislative session. It passed the Assembly but was not brought to a vote in the Senate and died. NYRenews, the organization that drafted the original bill, is lobbying to have similar legislation reintroduced in 2017. Unfortunately, this may not be the good news we wish it were.

At a glance, the 2016 bill is appealing. It seeks to expand renewables, eliminate greenhouse gas emissions, and bring relief to disadvantaged communities. Linking labor, social justice, and climate issues, the bill appears to offer an opportunity for disparate groups to unite. But good intentions do not necessarily make good legislation. For those reading past the first several pages of “legislative intent,” serious flaws become apparent—flaws that undermine the bill’s efficacy and could even derail recent progress on renewables.

The original bill contains a number of underlying and serious technical problems. It confuses the basic energy concept of capacity with actual electricity production, resulting in a 2030 renewable mandate far weaker than the New York Clean Energy Standard (CES) that was recently adopted by the Public Service Commission. Likewise, it attempts to mandate the total elimination of greenhouse gas emissions by 2050 but prescribes an unachievable schedule. Using New York State Energy Research and Development Authority (NYSERDA) estimates of emissions, the bill actually lets greenhouse gas emissions rise dramatically through 2020, then mandates that they be cut in half just ten years later. The bill also redefines legal terms already in use (such as “major source”) and offers a self-reporting scheme for documenting emissions that lets certain polluters off the hook—notably gas-fired power plants that emit up to 25,000 tons of greenhouse gas emissions per year—while holding those same facilities to weaker regulatory requirements.

This loophole should also be particularly troubling to those opposed to the reckless expansion of fracked-gas infrastructure in New York.

The original bill relies heavily on the efficacy of NYSERDA’s accounting for emissions, but that mechanism is severely flawed. NYSERDA’s inventory underestimates the fugitive methane emissions from using natural gas and instead largely reflects just CO2. If methane were accurately tallied, our greenhouse gas emissions would be far worse. A credible science-based inventory of methane as well as CO2 is a necessary first step in reducing our emissions. But whether NY properly assesses methane leakage or not, the expanded use of shale gas would be catastrophic for our state.

Another concern is that the original bill requires that 40% of funds from “market-based compliance” go to disadvantaged communities. Again, the intent is worthy, but there is no consensus that 40% is the correct percentage to achieve equity or that specifically directing such a mandate to “market-based” programs would be the best approach. The proper number may be larger or smaller than 40%, and we certainly would not want to constrain some fixed percentage of renewable installations to specific locations if the siting would make them inefficient. Moreover, many state programs that are likely to benefit disadvantaged communities—particularly as related to energy efficiency—are not necessarily “market-based.”

As a consequence, the bill goes soft on the biggest threat to renewables in New York’s emerging network of distributed generation and increases the likelihood that already-disadvantaged communities will bear the brunt of the pollution. Moreover, many state programs that are likely to benefit disadvantaged communities—particularly as related to energy efficiency—are not necessarily “market-based.”

Critically, the 2016 bill lacks statutory language necessary to succeed. Weakened by waivers and exceptions, the bill offers little more than a scoping plan, one-time rule-making, and an occasional review of results every few years.

We support the original bill’s lofty intent, but it’s clear that many organizations that signed onto it lack time or technical expertise to examine and analyze its details. A critique of the bill that more fully details our problems with it can be accessed here.

On August 16 representatives from grassroots organizations met with a few representatives of NYRenews to discuss these issues. Although we were told that the bill will change, no clear commitment was made to address the problems, and despite several requests, we were not told if changes would be shared before the bill’s reintroduction. Nonetheless, NYRenews is proceeding with a new sponsorship drive and publicity campaign, with eyes set on passage of a bill in 2017.

Climate legislation must be not only courageous, but also effective. NYRenews should share its planned revisions so that everyone can see exactly what they are being asked to support.

We urge all New Yorkers to oppose legislation that, intent notwithstanding, is unequipped to address the task ahead, tacitly condones greater dependence on fracked gas, or puts communities in harm’s way.

Jannette M. Barth, PhD, Economist, Managing Director, Pepacton Institute LLC

Michelle Bamberger, MS, DVM

James Cromwell, Actor, Activist; Member, SAG, AFTRA

Larysa Dyrszka, MD, Board-certified Pediatrician, retired

Bob Eklund, Solutions Grassroots Project

Norm Farwell, Partner, Equity Energy LLC

Mary T. Finneran, Public School Teacher; Member, NYSUT, NEA, AFT, AFL-CIO

Suzannah Glidden, Cofounder, Stop the Algonquin Pipeline Expansion (SAPE)

Dennis Higgins, Farmer; Retired Professor of Mathematics and Computer Science,
State University of New York, Oneonta

Robert Howarth, PhD, David R. Atkinson Professor of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology,
Cornell University

Anthony R. Ingraffea, PhD, PE, Dwight C. Baum Professor of Engineering Emeritus and
Weiss Presidential Teaching Fellow, Cornell University

Pramilla Malick, Chair, Protect Orange County

Keith Schue, MS Engineering, Electrical Engineer and technical advisor

Maura Stephens, Cofounder, Coalition to Protect New York and other grassroots groups

Yvonne Taylor, Cofounder and Vice President, Gas Free Seneca; Seneca Lake Guardian

Susan Van Dolsen, Cofounder, SAPE; Co-organizer, Westchester for Change

Suzy Winkler, Cofounder, People, Not Pipelines; Small Business Owner

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