The heat is on, New York: A new climate law is a major landmark, but now requires work and sacrifice
[image: The heat is on, New York: A new climate law is a major landmark, but now requires work and sacrifice] They will have a future. (Theodore Parisienne/for New York Daily News)
New York became an instant global leader in the fight against climate change with the passage last week of the Climate Leadership and Community Protection Act.
No other state and no large country has enacted a law with the essential ingredients to meet the temperature goals of the Paris Climate Agreement: a legally binding legislative act to achieve an 85% reduction in greenhouse gas emissions by 2050 and a goal of net zero.
Years of dogged work by environmental, environmental justice and labor advocates — some behind the scenes, some loudly in the streets — paid off. So did the persistence of Assemblyman Steve Englebright, Sen. Todd Kaminsky and Gov. Cuomo. It was a political triumph all around.
The champagne corks are still popping. But the realization is dawning that implementing the new law will be really, really hard. New York is boldly going where no state has gone before. The goal can be accomplished, mostly with existing technology, but it will take a great deal of sweat and treasure (no one knows just how much), as well as a continuation of the political will that brought us to this point. PAID POSTWhat Is This? [image: South Africa Casino Expert Shares A Winning Trick]
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In a perfect world, serious action to lower emissions would have begun in the late 1980s when scientists rang the first loud warning bells. That didn’t happen. In a less perfect world, at least now we would have a Congress and a president willing to take serious action. Since we have neither, it is left to the states to act. California has long been the leader, but New York has now leapt into the front rank. [More Opinion] What you hold in your hands: Over the course of a century, what The News has given the city »
The new law will affect every sector of the economy. The most straightforward is electricity. By 2040, all the power used in the state will have to come from clean sources — none at all from fossil fuels. The last two coal-fired power plants in the state are already scheduled to close, but there are quite a few natural-gas plants that still have many years of life in them.
Someone will have to eat the cost of their early closure — whether it’s investors, ratepayers or taxpayers. To replace them, there will be a massive program to build offshore wind facilities, solar farms and storage; the law requires enough of these to add up to the equivalent of 18 nuclear power plants. [More Opinion] Who we are: Reflecting on a century of Daily News opinions »
There will also need to be a great deal more onshore wind, rooftop solar, solar arrays and transmission lines. Fortunately the costs of wind farms, solar panels and energy storage have been plummeting worldwide, and their all-in costs (capital plus operating) are often below those of fossil plants.
Not everyone will be thrilled to see wind turbines over the horizon from their beach homes in the Hamptons, or on top of their favorite mountains, or the transmission lines that will take the power to where it is needed. But a little bit of visual blight, if that’s what it is — some people think wind turbines are beautiful — is nothing compared to the ugliness that will envelope the planet if we do not act decisively to move away from fossil fuels.
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Electricity loads can be reduced by encouraging or mandating more energy efficient lighting (such as LEDs) and other equipment, but that will be more than overcome by the increased loads due to electrification of transportation and space heating and cooling. More on that in a minute.
Only 17% of the state’s greenhouse gas emissions is from making electricity. The largest portion, 33%, is transportation. Radically reducing that amount will require the conversion of almost the entire passenger vehicle fleet to electric. (Perhaps some cars will use hydrogen or other clean technologies.) [More Opinion] The year of our birth, 1919: The tumultuous moment that gave rise to the Daily News »
This won’t happen overnight. No one will be required to give up their current cars, though perhaps incentives will be provided, improving on 2009’s federal cash-for-clunkers program. But increasingly, and in time entirely, new cars and SUVs will have to be electric.
This will require federal cooperation, which hopefully will be available in a couple of years, because Washington sets national standards for vehicle emissions and fuel economy.
But the state must set up the infrastructure to charge the electric vehicles that will have to replace internal combustion engines. Instead of going to gasoline stations, people will fill up their batteries at home, at work, in parking lots or garages or in charging stations on the road. [More Opinion] The open secret about the secret-opener: How Bob Freeman treated women »
Many buses and some trucks are already electric, and as batteries become cheaper and hold higher charges, they will run even the heaviest trucks. This will also mean an end to terribly unhealthy emissions from gasoline and diesel, and much quieter streets.
For the vehicles that still use gasoline or diesel, the state may impose a low-carbon fuel standard that requires more of the fuel to come from biological sources, though care must be taken to ensure that this does not involve cutting down forests or reducing food supplies. Another possible energy source for heavy-duty vehicles is renewable natural gas from sources like food and agricultural waste.
We also need to reduce vehicle miles traveled. The congestion-pricing law that will take effect in Manhattan south of 60th St. in early 2021 will help there. The state and cities can further reduce auto use through better mass transit, bicycle paths and transit-friendly land use patterns. Telecommuting will also contribute. [More Opinion] De Blasio’s SHSAT learning curve: The city is fighting his reform plans; he and Richard Carranza should back down »
Residential and commercial
Residential and commercial uses add up to 26% of state greenhouse gas emissions. Most of this is from heating and cooling buildings; heating water; and cooking, mostly by natural gas and oil. This will be reduced mostly by retrofitting millions of buildings to make them more energy efficient.
Improvements to insulation, windows, HVAC systems, and other elements can greatly reduce buildings’ energy load. Old inefficient appliances will need to be replaced with new ones. Many buildings will need to have their heating and cooling converted to electricity and heat pumps. [More Opinion] Why won’t McDonald’s add a vegan burger to its menu? »
This is another huge lift. Keeping homes from Buffalo to Brooklyn warm in the dead of winter without using gas or oil will take an enormous amount of new electrical capacity. Delivering it, especially on days when the sun isn’t shining or the wind isn’t blowing very hard, is going to be a massive challenge.
Converting fossil-fuel-based heating systems to clean electrical ones costs a lot of money. That will require additional subsidies (some already exist) from governments or utilities — especially for the housing for the less affluent, and for small businesses. New York City got a jump start in April on these building efficiency improvements when the City Council passed a law requiring emissions reductions from large buildings.
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The economic costs are real; so are the opportunities.
Just retrofitting buildings in the New York City area has the potential to create 126,000 jobs by 2030 — architects, engineers, sustainability consultants, building tradespeople, HVAC professionals — according to Prof. David Hsu of MIT. (This is three to five five times as many jobs as Amazon would have brought to New York.) This will require massive job training programs to provide New Yorkers with the necessary skills.
Inevitably, some jobs will also be lost in the bargain; we can’t pretend otherwise. The law has detailed provisions for helping out workers displaced by the transition away from fossil fuels, and also for assisting those communities that have been disproportionately affected by pollution. [More Opinion] Lasak’s the one: Vote Greg Lasak for Queens district attorney »
Even as we marshal all our creativity and resources to transform our energy economy, some emissions will be completely beyond the power of the state to reduce. New York cannot bar out-of-state cars or trucks from coming into or passing through the state. New York has no control over airplanes, which are highly emitting.
Some industrial operations, such as cement and aluminum production, rely on processes that emit large quantities of carbon dioxide that are very difficult to control. [More Opinion] Now, nix the attitude: The Knicks pay a much-deserved $50,000 fine for freezing out the Daily News »
Some earlier bills had required absolute zero emissions, but that is not possible. Instead the final law allows up to 15% of statewide emissions to remain. Companies that still emit must entirely offset their greenhouse gases, mostly through natural methods that are subject to elaborate restrictions that may be difficult to meet.
The law gives state agencies the power to accomplish much of this, but it does not tell them just how to do it. It’s left to various committees to figure that out. As these committees are formed and the magnitude of the financial opportunities for some sectors and perils to others become clear, enormous pressures will be brought to bear to secure outcomes favorable to various groups; lobbyists will be among the first to enjoy an employment boom.
Our leaders will need to display the backbone to make sure the ultimate objective of net-zero emissions is achieved. [More Opinion] In his debt: Bernie Sanders just made Elizabeth Warren look moderate »
The costs of all of this will be very high. But one thing is clear: the costs of not acting, and allowing the seas and the temperatures to rise up without restraint, would eventually be far greater. Our grandchildren will not forgive us for imposing these costs on them rather than taking responsibility for the costs of our own pollution.
The world will be watching, and the reverse of the old adage will apply: if it can’t be done in New York, it can’t be done anywhere. New York already has the country’s most efficient transportation system (thanks to our subways, buses and commuter rail) and building stock (thanks to our density). We’re a state rich in money, brains and moxie. Let’s do this.
*Gerrard is a professor and director of the Sabin Center for Climate Change Law at Columbia Law School.*