Opinion

D.C.'s climate deniers provide reason to support New York's renewable initiatives

By Heather Leibowitz |  

April 20, 2017 |  

(Kevin P. Coughlin/Office of the Governor)

President Donald Trump’s executive order to undo the Clean Power Plan and other Obama-era climate policies is a major disappointment for millions of New Yorkers who value clean air and their children’s future. The last three years have consecutively gone down in history as the hottest on record. And 2017, too, has been no stranger to broken heat records across the eastern United States. Here in New York, warming-driven sea level rise has already made Sandy-level storm surges twice as likely.

With Washington D.C. headed in the wrong direction, state and local governments must lead. To address the climate crisis, we need to swiftly move to 100 percent renewable energy and eliminate the pollution that is causing our planet to warm. Here in New York, Gov. Andrew Cuomo can take an important step forward in the coming months by doubling the strength of our best regional clean air and climate protection program, the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative.

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The overwhelming majority of New York residents supports setting strict limits on dangerous carbon pollution from existing power plants and speeding the deployment of clean energy technologies like wind and solar power. The Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative does just that. It requires polluters to reduce their emissions over time, and makes them pay for every pound of pollution they emit. That cleans our air and drives important investments in clean energy and energy efficiency.

This program has already delivered impressive benefits for New York. In the last decade, it has helped cut global warming pollution from power plants by nearly 50 percent – the equivalent of shutting down almost eight dirty coal-fired power plants. It has helped clean our air, saving more than 130 lives and reducing the burden of asthma amongst adults and children. It has helped to dramatically improve our energy efficiency – electricity use is down, even as our economy grew by over 12 percent. And it has boosted renewable energy deployment, with both wind and solar power generation more than doubling in the last 10 years.

These benefits matter for our communities. For example, the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative-funded New York Green Bank helped Hunt Country Vineyards in New York install more than 300 solar panels. This prevents as much pollution as almost 3,000 cars emit annually, while saving the winery thousands of dollars per month on electricity. 

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Now imagine making the program twice as effective. A new report by Environment New York Research & Policy Center shows that Gov. Cuomo could deliver double the benefits of reducing power plant pollution through the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative by making it stronger. He could cut dangerous global warming pollution from power plants in half again by 2030. Across the region, that would be equivalent to installing solar panels on more than 1 million homes. At the same time, making the program stronger would enable New York to double its investment in clean energy – enough to weatherize more than 7 million homes, or almost every household in New York state.

We all can benefit from less pollution and more clean energy. Gov. Cuomo, and all the governors in the Northeast and Mid-Atlantic states, should embrace this golden opportunity to lead by doubling the strength of the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative. The faster we cut dangerous carbon pollution, the healthier our families, our climate and our future will be.

At a time when the federal government is looking backwards, New York must lead. We’re all counting on you, governor.

Heather Leibowitz, Esq. is the director of Environment New York, a statewide advocacy organization. 

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