New Regs May Help N.Y. Meet Its Big Climate Goals

Danskammer Energy

Last year, New York State established itself as a leader in climate action when the Legislature passed and Gov. Andrew Cuomo signed the Climate Leadership and Community Protection Act. The law, which the New York Times called “one of the world’s most ambitious climate plans,” establishes aggressive carbon-reduction goals and ensures that process will benefit the populations that suffer the most from climate change.

The measure, signed by Cuomo on July 18, 2019, requires the state’s electricity system to be carbon-free by 2040. It also requires greenhouse gas emissions from human sources to be reduced 40 percent below 1990 levels by 2030 and 85 percent by 2050. And it requires a minimum of 35 percent of investments from the state’s clean energy and energy efficiency funds benefit disadvantaged and vulnerable communities, which typically suffer the most from pollution, heat, and other climate impacts.

Danskammer Energy power plant in Newburgh, NY (Photo: Jeff Anzevino)

Now comes the hard part. While the law establishes the goals and a framework to form advisory councils that will create the plans, it does not specify what steps must be taken in order to meet those goals. Now, the state is beginning the work on that sticky question.

It all begins with some accounting. On Aug. 19, the state Department of Environmental Conservation took a first step when it issued proposed regulations for greenhouse gas emissions. To start, the regulations establish how the state is going to calculate the 1990 baseline that will be essential in measuring progress in the coming decades.

That baseline includes all statewide sources of greenhouse gas emissions, as well as emissions associated with imported electricity and fossil fuels. The DEC estimates that figure to be 401.38 million metric tons of carbon-dioxide equivalent coming from four sectors:

  • Energy, including fuel combustion,  fugitive emissions, electricity transmission, imported fuels, and imported electricity
  • Industrial processes and product use, including mineral, chemical, metal, and electronics industries
  • Agriculture forestry and other land use, including livestock, land use and aggregated sources
  • Waste, including solid waste disposal, biological treatment of solid waste, waste combustion and wastewater

That means that in order to meet the carbon reduction goals, CO2-equivalent emissions from those sources would need to fall to about 241 million metric tons by 2030 and 60 million metric tons by 2050.

The proposed rules do not impose any requirements or penalties on carbon-emitting entities, private or otherwise. Rather, they create standards that other state agencies will use when issuing permits, licenses, or other determinations. This, the DEC said in its announcement of the regulations, enables the state “to apply a flexible, stakeholder-driven approach for the annual accounting of net emissions.”

The regulations also do not address the CLCPA’s energy or social equity goals. 

Danskammer Energy power plant in Newburgh, NY (Photo: Jeff Anzevino)

 “Achieving the dramatic CO2 reduction targets set by the CLCPA would help us avoid the catastrophic impacts of climate change, and the standards set forth in the DEC’s draft regulations are essential to meeting those goals,” Scenic Hudson Director of Advocacy Hayley Carlock says. “Getting these rules right would be a huge step forward in mitigating climate change. This is an important opportunity for the public to weigh in and make sure New York stays on track to reach our climate goals.”

The regulations are open to public comment until Oct. 27. An online public hearing webinar will be held on Oct. 20. Instructions on how to join the webinar and provide an oral statement will be published by Oct. 7 in the DEC’s electronic Environmental Notice Bulletin. Scenic Hudson expects to provide comment, and encourages the public to do so as well. Stay tuned!

Beacon Shines

Main Street, Beacon, NY

The City of Beacon (Dutchess County) continues earning its stripes as a beacon for a sustainable future. It is one of fewer than 40 municipalities across the state to receive bronze certification as a Climate Smart Community. Its commitment to embracing renewable energy includes partnering with a developer to create a solar farm on the site of its former landfill. And now it has become just the second municipality in New York (after NYC) to adopt the state’s new Stretch Energy Code, dubbed NYStretch.

As its name implies, NYStretch helps cities and towns expand (or “stretch”) energy efficiency by adopting more stringent construction standards for new and renovated structures. Taking this voluntary step offers a win-win — supporting efforts to combat climate change while cutting down on energy costs. The New York State Energy Research and Development Authority, which developed NYStretch, estimates that cost savings from adopting the code could exceed 10%.

“While some of Beacon’s new projects already use more energy efficient construction, adopting NYStretch for all new buildings and renovations will both improve our environment and save residents money over time,” says Mayor Lee Kyriacou. “Beacon is proud to be a New York leader in addressing climate change and environmental sustainability.”

Celebrating Youth Climate Activists

Alexandria Villasenor

This week, in honor of Earth Day’s focus on climate action, we’re celebrating youth activists who have made it their mission to fight for our future. Learn more about them and other grassroots environmentalists in our People Who Make a Difference virtual gallery tour.

From shifting weather patterns to rising sea levels, climate change and its global effects can be seen everywhere we turn. Headlines about major floods, extreme weather, wildfires and rising global temperatures are becoming all too frequent.

Locally, we’ve already begun to see the effects of climate change. New York State has experienced increased annual temperatures, more frequent heavy rainfall and decreasing winter snow cover. As sea levels rise along New York’s coast, homes and businesses are left more vulnerable than ever to major flooding events. If we stay our current course, these effects will continue to increase.

Thankfully, more and more young people around the world are using their voices and their platforms to combat climate change and find solutions for a sustainable future.

Meet Alexandria Villaseñor: School Strike Climate Activist

During a family visit in California, Alexandria Villaseñor witnessed the 2018 Camp Fire, the most deadly and destructive wildfire in California history. Suffering from severe asthma, the wildfires made the air around Alexandria toxic and caused her to become physically ill.

When Alexandria learned that increasing temperatures due to climate change had contributed to the wildfire’s severity, she decided to take action.

Inspired by Greta Thunberg, 14-year-old Alexandria began a solitary school strike in front of the United Nations in New York City to protest the failures of the UN’s Climate Change Conference. “When I go out and protest, it’s one of the ways that I feel like I have a say in what’s going to happen,” Alexandria says.

Now Alexandria uses her voice to convince global legislators to take action on climate change. Through her organization, Earth Uprising, Alexandria leads by example, and inspires youth around the world to take a stand for the environment and for their futures.

Meet Felix Finkbeiner: Founder of Plant-for-the-Planet

At the age of nine, Felix Finkbeiner had an idea: if kids in every country planted one million trees, they could offset global carbon emissions all on their own.

Inspired by Wangari Maathai’s Greenbelt Movement in Kenya, Felix started Plant-for-the-Planet, an organization that plants trees and supports kids around the world to organize and do the same.

At 22, Felix has given speeches around the globe, relaying the seriousness of climate change and explaining how planting trees can help save our planet.

Felix says, ““When we children come together, we can really make a difference. One mosquito cannot do anything against a rhinoceros, but a thousand mosquitoes can make a rhinoceros to change its direction. When the kids unite and plant trees all over the world, then we act as global citizens to change the world.”

Meet Xiuhtezcatl Martinez: Indigenous rapper and activist

Xiuhtezcatl Martinez, has been speaking on behalf of the environment since he was six years old. Now 19, Xiuhtezcatl is one of 21 young people suing the United States government for failing to take appropriate action on climate change.

These young people believe that the results of climate change are robbing them of their futures. As a rapper, Xiuhtezatl uses his music to spread positive messages and act as the voice of the people.

Songs like “Young” and “One Day” call on youth to rise up, be themselves, and stand up for what they believe in. “Not everyone is outspoken, but we all have a significant part to play. So channel your fear, channel your hurt and channel your hatred into action,” says Xiuhtezcatl.

Alexandria, Felix, Xiuhtezcatl and other young people like them are doing their part to fight the effects of climate change and hold global governments responsible for their role. These young people inspire us to make a difference for our climate and we hope you will join them in fighting for a better climate for all.

Learn more about these youth climate activists and other change makers in our People Who Make a Difference collaborative poster project that celebrates inspiring grassroots environmentalists who may not have always been recognized—including people of color, women, youth, Native Americans and members of other indigenous groups. Take a virtual gallery tour of posters honoring these extraordinary people created by graphic design students from Dutchess Community College.

Global Deal for Nature

Binnen Kill

UN researchers estimate that 1 million plant and animal species face extinction. Meanwhile, January 2020 was the warmest in the 141 years of record-keeping. Hoping to roll back alarming statistics like these, a group of scientists have suggested making 30% of the planet a nature preserve by 2030, with an additional 20% to secure our terrestrial carbon sinks and promote climate resilience.

Their ambitious plan, called the Global Deal for Nature, has garnered wide-ranging support since its proposal last spring. Nearly 3 million people worldwide have signed a petition backing it, while several nations—from Costa Rica to Senegal—have begun taking steps to help reach the target.

Binnen Kill (Photo: Robert Rodriguez, Jr.)
Binnen Kill (Photo: Robert Rodriguez, Jr.)

But would it work? In terms of replenishing habitat, signs definitely point to yes. Animals don’t seem choosy about the lands they occupy, even if they have been degraded by humans. For example, in the decade since residents around the site of Japan’s Fukushima nuclear disaster were forced to leave their homes because of health concerns, more than 20 wildlife species—from Macaques to pheasants—have begun thriving.

“We know from many studies all around the world that when we give space to nature, she comes back spectacularly,” says National Geographic’s Enric Sala. “And we know that when nature comes back, all the services that nature provides for us come back, too.” Those services include sequestering carbon, which is essential for combatting the climate crisis.

The thornier question: Is the Global Deal for Nature doable? About 15% of the Earth’s land mass and 7% of its oceans are currently protected, so there’s a long way to go in a little time. And the forces lined up against its success—timber, large-scale commercial farming and mining industries (groups eager “to make money in the casino of the Titanic after hitting the iceberg,” according to Sala)—have deep pockets and powerful lobbyists. 

Still, proponents of the Global Deal for Nature remain optimistic for the very reason that the planet’s future depends on it. “Even if [our energy system] went 100% renewable,” notes Sala, “we still need forests and wetlands and healthy ecosystems to help us absorb all the CO2 we’ve put in the atmosphere… There is no solution to climate without biodiversity.”

1.5C scenario graph. (Photo: Karl Burkart, One Earth)
1.5C scenario graph. (Credit: Karl Burkart, One Earth)

Flying Forestry

Flash Forest

Could drones play a role in halting climate change? A company in Canada thinks so.

Toronto-based Flash Forest has proposed using drones to plant more than 1 billion trees worldwide by 2028. It maintains that its specially outfitted gizmos could sow more than 22,000 seeds a day — over 10 times what humans can plant in that time — and at 20% the cost of traditional reforestation. Scientists agree that planting more trees is one of the cheapest and most efficient methods for combating climate change. On average, a single tree absorbs about 40 pounds of carbon annually.

Under the high-flying reforestation plan, a device on one drone would fire pods into the soil that contain pre-germinated seeds and nutrients to enhance their growth, while a following drone would spray the ground with additional nutrients. Scientists involved with the project also will make use of drones to conduct aerial mapping that will allow them to determine the best planting sites and check up on the seedlings’ progress.

“The timber industry has engineered and mastered efficient harvesting technologies, capable of quick clearing with minimal human involvement,” Flash Forest says. “Tree planting, on the other hand, still operates with bags and shovels.” The company states that this technology disconnect has caused a huge imbalance — each year, the Earth loses 13 billion trees, but only regains about half that amount.

“We started Flash Forest with one clear goal: healing our planet’s lungs,” notes the firm. “Until that job is done well, no other job matters.”