New York State Reaches Landmark Deal On Green New Deal-Style Climate Bill

If enacted, the bill would make New York the second big state — after California — to go for 100 percent carbon neutrality by midcentury.
The Manhattan skyline peers over a rooftop covered with solar panels at the Brooklyn Navy Yard in New York.
The Manhattan skyline peers over a rooftop covered with solar panels at the Brooklyn Navy Yard in New York.

New York lawmakers reached a deal late Sunday night to pass one of the most ambitious climate bills in the nation, setting the Empire State on a course to shape what the Green New Deal could look like at a state level.

The agreement to pass the so-called Climate & Communities Protection Act calls for New York to eliminate 85% of its overall planet-warming emissions by 2050, while offsetting or capturing the other 15%. The deal mandates 35% of state energy funding go to low-income, polluted communities, but sets a goal of investing 40%. The final legislation requires all state-financed energy projects to pay union wages.

“I believe we have an agreement on the climate change bill,” New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D), who initially opposed the bill, said on WAMC radio on Monday morning.

The breakthrough came just minutes before midnight on Sunday, stopping the bill from becoming ensnared in the procedural web of end-of-session negotiations, where activists said the legislation, widely touted as the country’s sharpest state-level climate proposal, risked being dulled.

Now lawmakers are expected to pass the bill, known by its acronym CCPA, in a vote Wednesday, when the three-day aging period between when legislators in Albany complete a deal and hold a formal vote ends. Once passed, the legislation would make New York the sixth state to adopt a 100% clean electricity target after Hawaii, California, New Mexico, Nevada and Washington. Puerto Rico and Washington, D.C., set similar targets.

“New York has a larger economy than some countries, so we can have a big impact, not only reducing carbon dioxide in the atmosphere, but showing other states the way forward,” state Sen. Todd Kaminsky, a Long Island Democrat and the bill’s lead sponsor, told HuffPost by phone. “It’s the beginning of a Herculean effort to transform the economy.”

Protests urging the passage of the CCPA three years ago.
Protests urging the passage of the CCPA three years ago.

The CCPA’s passage will mark the most transformative vote yet in a legislative sessions where Democrats, in control of the entire Legislature for the first time in years, cleared a lengthy backlog of progressive goals. Lawmakers swiftly enacted new protections for abortion, undocumented immigrants and voting rights. Last week, legislators agreed to rules offering historic new safeguards to renters, bucking the powerful real estate lobby that dominates New York politics.

But the CCPA, like the crisis it aims to address, uniquely touches on every aspect of the New York economy. In that sense, the bill’s scope is more ambitious than the 100% clean energy bill California passed last year. The Golden State’s legislation set a 100% zero-emissions electricity goal by 2045, and an executive order from the governor broadened the vision to include climate pollution from transportation, the biggest source by sector.

The CCPA goes further, requiring New York to generate 70% of its electricity from renewables by 2030, and completely eliminate utility emissions by 2040.

The bill, first introduced in 2016, passed repeatedly in the Democratically controlled Assembly, but the Republican majority in the Senate refused to hold a vote and Cuomo, who governed as a conservative Democrat for his first two terms, refused to back it.

But, this year, the stars seemed to align.

Democrats, including a new cadre of democratic socialists, secured a solid majority in both houses in the 2018 election. Cuomo won a third term and recast himself as a liberal reformer following a vicious left-wing primary challenge from activist and actor Cynthia Nixon. And climate change, long a backburner issue for voters, finally surged into the national consciousness as mounting natural disasters added exclamation points to a series of grave scientific projections.

A power struggle ensued at the start of this year. In February, Cuomo unveiled his own climate plan, which he dubbed a “Green New Deal for New York.” The proposal aimed to shift New York to zero-emissions electricity by 2040 ― five years earlier than California, and 10 years ahead of the power-sector target the CCPA originally set. But the plan circumvented the transportation sector, the nation’s largest source of climate pollution, and skirted the CCPA’s most progressive provisions.

Big green groups, including the Citizens Campaign for the Environment, Natural Resource Defense Council, and the New York chapters of the Audubon Society, the League of Conservation Voters and the Nature Conservancy, sought to rectify the governor’s proposal with the CCPA, picking the provisions from each. But activists worried some changes would weaken the bill.

New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D) has recast himself as a liberal reformer, vowing to sign as progressive of bills as legislators can pass on rent laws and climate change.
New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D) has recast himself as a liberal reformer, vowing to sign as progressive of bills as legislators can pass on rent laws and climate change.
Getty Editorial

Those changes include setting a target for “carbon neutrality” instead of eliminating emissions, a semantic tweak that could open the door to offsetting, rather than ending, the state’s greenhouse gas output. But the final version sets strict rules on offsets and carbon capture technology, excluding emissions from power plants and requiring reviews every four years.

“Essentially it’s built to be phased out,” said Arielle Swernoff, a communications coordinator for New York Renews, the nonprofit coalition of environmentalists, labor unions and community groups that formed to pass the bill. “By and large, this is a very big victory.”

The CCPA drew strong national support from Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D) and Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D), New York’s two U.S. senators; New York Reps. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D), Nydia Velazquez (D) and nine others; and even Democratic 2020 presidential contender Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), an unmistakably accented Brooklyn native.

But, with the legislative session ending on Wednesday, the CCPA faced a logjam if lawmakers failed to agree on a final bill before Monday morning. If negotiations lasted into the final three days of the session, the bill would have required Cuomo to issue a special “message of necessity,” which would allow legislators to circumvent the waiting period but also grant a skeptical governor new leverage to shape the final bill. A second option would have forced lawmakers to include the CCPA in the massive, end-of-session omnibus bill New York politicos call the “Big Ugly.”

That could be the fate of at least three other policies on Democrats’ wishlist this session. The legislative majority failed to agree on bills to raise prevailing wages and legalize adult use of recreational marijuana. Another bill to give undocumented immigrants drivers licenses passed only in the Assembly so far. Another bill to decriminalize prostitution looked likely to be delayed until the next session, Cuomo said.

The CCPA deal comes just two months after the New York City Council voted to pass legislation, billed as a Green New Deal, mandating sweeping emissions cuts from large buildings, the city’s largest energy users. The council is now considering a trio of bills that would set the stage to turn the infamous jail complex on Rikers Island into a wastewater plant and solar farm, making it easier to shutter the two dozen gas- and oil-burning power plants in the five boroughs.

This story was updated to include comments from Kaminsky.

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