NY taking good steps, but bold climate policy is needed

Last year was a frightening one for our climate. Hurricanes and wildfires battered the country from Texas to Florida to California. Here in New York, thousands of homes and businesses have been plagued by flash flooding from Lake Ontario – which scientists say heralds more weather extremes to come. And nowhere has the devastation been felt more than in Puerto Rico, where 1 million of our citizens are still living without power, and over a thousand have lost their lives, not just from Hurricane Maria but from a long legacy of federal neglect and extraction.

 

As families in our respective communities begin to pick up the pieces, they are counting on our leaders to aggressively combat climate change, a problem that is visibly worsening before our eyes.

But while Americans suffer, President Donald Trump’s administration is the fox guarding the hen house, going so far as to censor the term “climate change.”

New York stands at a crossroads. Our course of action on climate could resonate for thousands of years, especially if we become a model for other states. Sadly, the state is falling short of Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s own climate goals.

According to a recent study from the University of Massachusetts, the state would need to invest $5 billion annually in the renewable transition to get us where we need to go.

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Theresa McGowan is a leader of the Rochester People’s Climate Coalition (RPCC). Elizabeth Yeampierre is executive director of UPROSE, Brooklyn’s oldest Latino community-based organization, dedicated to environmental and social justice.

That’s why the moment seemed ripe for a course-correcting climate proposal in the governor’s State of the State. And he did make many good announcements. The redoubled emphasis on offshore wind and energy efficiency, and the inclusion of equity concerns in the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative both represent real progress and deserve genuine commendation. But with an issue as grave as climate change — which, as we speak, is wrecking lives in both of our communities — we do not have the luxury of mistaking good steps for truly bold policies. When your car’s headed off a cliff, turning the wheels 50 degrees won’t cut it; you need to do a 180.

Cuomo should have used his podium to support the policies proposed by a coalition called NY Renews, of which we are both proud members. The coalition represents over 130 environmental, community, and labor groups from Long Island to Buffalo. NY Renews authored the Climate and Community Protection Act, a bill that commits New York to 100 percent renewable energy by 2050, and invests 40 percent of state clean energy funds in communities most impacted by climate change.

The coalition is also developing a proposal to put a fee on big polluters whose emissions damage New Yorkers’ health and destabilize our climate. The UMass study found that putting a moderate $35 per ton fee on carbon emissions would generate more than $7 billion and 150,000 new jobs for New York every year. That money could be invested in clean energy infrastructure, improving mass transit, supporting fossil fuel industry workers in transition, and sustaining communities disproportionately burdened.

Cuomo must move New York to 100 percent renewable energy by pricing pollution and funding solutions. In his general embrace of congestion pricing for New York City, he’s already demonstrated a willingness to do just that, albeit on a small scale. He will need to think bigger in 2018.