Opinion

After Paris climate agreement exit, here's how New York can lead

By Jeff Merkley and Steve Englebright |  

June 19, 2017 |  

Flooding along Lake Ontario in Greece, New York. (Darren McGee / Office of Governor Andrew M. Cuomo)

On June 5, the country's boldest statewide climate legislation, the Climate and Community Protection Act, was reintroduced in the New York state Assembly. The Assembly, under the leadership of Speaker Carl Heastie, passed the CCPA when it was first introduced last spring, and we applaud his leadership. Now it is up to the state Senate and Gov. Andrew Cuomo to do their part in finally ratifying this critical piece of legislation and signing into law its bold and equitable vision for a fossil fuel-free economy in New York state.

With the Trump administration exiting the Paris Accord – jeopardizing global stability and forfeiting American leadership in the burgeoning renewable energy market – now it is up to states like New York, the world’s 12th largest economy, to lead the way for the rest of the country.

Some of the most promising leadership, in New York and other states, is being driven by grassroots campaigns that are forging a new kind of politics, one that unites climate goals with the fight against inequality and racial injustice.

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The CCPA is backed by NY Renews, a statewide coalition of more than 100 member organizations, with environmental justice groups on the front lines of climate change joining forces with organized labor and economic justice groups, as well as more traditional environmental groups.

NY Renews and the CCPA are exemplary for the kind of bold, equitable and people-centered climate action we need all across the country. This is a vision that we both share, and a vision that is embraced by the federal 100 by ‘50 Act, which one of us, U.S. Sen. Merkley, introduced in April, along with Senators Sanders, Markey and Booker. The 100 by ‘50 Act is a bold framework that for the first time lays out a detailed set of national policies to transition the United States to a completely fossil fuel-free economy, while ensuring a just transition for workers and low-income and disadvantaged communities.

Much like the federal 100 by ’50 Act, the CCPA mandates a shift to 50 percent renewable energy by 2030, and 100 percent by 2050, across all sectors. This is critical, as much of New York’s progress to date has focused on the electricity sector, though buildings and transportation also represent huge sources of emissions.

If the bill becomes law, New York state will be doing its share of the clean energy transition framework put forward in the federal 100 by ‘50 Act.  In the process, New York would create over 100,000 new jobs per year for the next few decades, vastly accelerating employment trends that are already demonstrating the economic benefits of clean energy. But setting the state’s renewable energy goals in law will be critical to reaping these benefits; laws are needed to ensure the goals’ durability over the next 33 years, and to lend certainty to clean energy investors.

Crucially, the CCPA and the 100 by ‘50 Act have something else in common. When the 100 by ’50 Act was unveiled outside the U.S. Capitol on April 29, the first advocate to speak at the press conference announcing the bill was Elizabeth Yeampierre, a NY Renews leader and director of the environmental justice organization UPROSE based in Sunset Park, Brooklyn. As Yeampierre urged, “Policy makers on the state and federal levels must follow the lead of communities on the frontlines of the climate crisis – low-income communities and communities of color – and put justice at the core of their agenda.” Both the 100 by ’50 Act and the CCPA do exactly this.

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Embracing the proposals of grassroots leaders, each bill requires that at least 40 percent of public investment is targeted to ensure that the transition benefits disadvantaged communities.  Further, all publicly-supported investment dedicated to the transition must adhere to high-quality workforce standards, ensuring that workers share in the benefits of the transition.  

Whatever else it means, the result of the election of 2016 surely means that the best – and maybe the only – way we can do our part to mitigate the self-made crisis of climate change is by winning bold policies at the state and local level, state by state and city by city. Protecting the planet from catastrophic climate disruption is a huge responsibility; it is also a huge opportunity for investment in our communities. But the opportunity will be tragically lost if our elected leaders do not do their part, which is exactly that – to lead. By passing the CCPA, New York state leaders can inspire New Yorkers, our nation and people everywhere at this critical turning point for people and planet alike.

Jeff Merkley is a United States senator from Oregon and the author of the 100 by '50 Act. Steve Englebright, chairman of the Assembly's Environmental Conservation Committee, is the lead sponsor of the Climate and Community Protection Act.

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