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.”

Inside Scoop

On  Earth Day 2020, more than 300 people and organizations — including Scenic Hudson — came together virtually to advocate state leaders for increased public health and environmental protections. The day included a series of brief “conversations” with legislators about hot-button environmental issues in their districts and across the state.

Scenic Hudson Director of Public Policy Andy Bicking and Policy Analyst Althea Mullarkey got the inside environmental scoop from four valley legislators.

Assemblywoman Didi Barrett (Columbia/Dutchess counties)—“Carbon farming is a win-win-win for the environment because it takes carbon out of the atmosphere, where it’s toxic, and puts it in the soil, where it increases productivity and makes the soil healthier…. Even though it’s a time-honored practice that many farmers in this region probably practiced 300 years ago…it has been out of fashion. We’ve helped support its return.”

Assemblyman Kevin Cahill (Dutchess/Ulster counties)—“During my tenure as [Assembly] Energy Chair, we created Green Jobs-Green New York and developed a comprehensive and dynamic energy planning process for New York State. Several years later, after Green Jobs-Green New York was put into place, tens of thousands of people have been trained in green technologies, millions and millions of dollars have been distributed to people across New York State to conserve, to retrofit their homes to make life a little more comfortable and easier, and of course to reduce the carbon footprint.”

Sen. Sue Serino (Putnam/Dutchess counties)—“Before COVID, we were moving toward a greener economy. Moving forward, working with the business community — and bringing together people of all ages that are working — I think we can come up with some great ideas so we do protect our environment.”

Assemblywoman Carrie Woerner (Saratoga/Washington counties)—“Cleaning up the Hudson River, making it possible once again to dredge the Champlain Canal to a navigable depth, has the possibility to open it up to commercial shipping, which would be a benefit to all of the businesses up and down this section of the river. But even if we can’t get to a navigable depth, cleaning up the Hudson River opens up the possibility of additional tourism.”

Click here for more interviews.

Keeping the Hudson Open

Perhaps more than ever before, the current health crisis has demonstrated the power of nature to provide solace and a respite from stress, while also highlighting the urgency to stop plans that would limit public enjoyment of the region’s natural treasures. Permanently safeguarding long-cherished connections to the Hudson River and securing new places for people to walk, fish, launch boats and hunt along its shore are the goals of the new Hudson River Access Plan commissioned by Scenic Hudson.

Our new Hudson River Access Plan can be downloaded using the links below.

The plan provides perhaps the most comprehensive evaluation ever—and the first undertaken in more than 30 years—of existing public access along the river’s rail corridor between Poughkeepsie and Rensselaer. It also suggests locations for new shoreline access and recommends ways to improve crossing the rail lines safely.

By ensuring safe rail travel and continued, safe river access, the Hudson River Access Plan offers a “win-win” alternative to Amtrak’s proposal to erect new impasse fencing and locked gates at locations between Rhinecliff (Dutchess County), Stuyvesant (Columbia County) and beyond. In an unprecedented move, last year the leaders of 12 Hudson Valley municipalities that could be impacted by Amtrak’s proposal joined Scenic Hudson in signing a letter to the state Department of State urging it to object to the plan to construct eight-foot-tall fencing.

In total, the Hudson River Access Plan documents 64 current and potential future sites for waterfront recreation between Poughkeepsie and Rensselaer. In addition to identifying each location, the plan denotes its size, ownership, amenities and current crossing characteristics, and also suggests potential or desired crossing improvements.

The plan also outlines 11 recommendations, to be completed over the next five years, which would increase public access to the river and enhance rail safety along the corridor. They include amending state laws to require preparation of a comprehensive public access plan, expanding education programs to improve safety along the rail corridor and developing a pilot program to demonstrate technologies that enhanced safer rail crossings.

See this news release for additional details.

Victory in Athens

Athens, NY from the air

Great news: A developer has withdrawn its application to create a construction and demolition debris processing facility along the Hudson River in the Town of Athens. The operation would have handled 6.4 tons of waste each week at a 6-acre site on the waterfront of this historic and charming Greene County community. Most of that waste would have come from downstate building sites. Hats off to the local activists, Keep it Greene and Friends of Athens for this victory!

Athens, NY from the air
Athens, New York (Photo: Jeff Anzevino)

Scenic Hudson President Ned Sullivan strongly opposed the plan in this op-ed. He stressed how operations like this would set back efforts to make the  Hudson River the centerpiece of the region’s ongoing economic resurgence—case in point being  the opening last year of the Hudson River Skywalk. Our Board Chair Kristin Gamble also spoke out forcefully against the proposal at a March 1 community meeting in Athens that drew hundreds of concerned citizens.

Despite this victory, a great testament to the power of grassroots activism, there are still plans to create another facility that could hold 600,000 tons of construction waste in nearby Catskill. This would result in the creation of waste berms along the river in the hometown of Thomas Cole, whose paintings and essays warned of threats to the region from wanton development. The berms would also be visible from Olana, whose views help make it one of the region’s premier tourism destinations.

Not only could our region face adverse scenic and economic impacts; the environmental risks to the river and its tributaries from a flood of such facilities in our river towns could be a major setback to public health. 

We’ve called on the state to develop a comprehensive regulatory approach to construction and debris disposal. But one thing is clear: Facilities like this don’t belong on a beautiful stretch of the river recognized as the cradle of American art.

How N.Y. Has Benefited From Saying Bye-Bye to Plastic Bags

Americans use more than 100 billion plastic bags a year — and until recently, nearly a fifth of them were carted out of stores and restaurants by New Yorkers. According to American Rivers, three times more of these bags end up littering our nation’s forests and waterways than get recycled. And each bag is used only an average of 12 minutes.

Beginning March 1, 2020, those numbers began to decline greatly as New York’s plastic bag ban went into effect. New York is among 12 states that have banned plastic bags as of January 2024 — and now the results are starting to come in.

Each disposable plastic bag is only ever used for an average of 12 minutes, studies have shown. (Photo: Tapshooter / Getty Images)

A new report (copublished by three nonprofits, Environment America, U.S. Public Interest Research Group Education Fund, and Frontier Group) draws on government and industry data to conclude that bans like New York’s have eliminated 300 bags per person per year. The study drilled down on five representative state policies — and although New York’s wasn’t among them, the researchers found that neighboring New Jersey’s alone has eliminated a stunning 5.5 billion bags annually.

This has been not only good news for cutting down on litter: It’s a boon to our environment. Depending on thickness, plastic bags take anywhere from 10 to 1,000 years to decompose in a landfill, and all that time they’re leaching chemicals into the ground. Meanwhile, bags burned in incinerators release toxic gases like dioxins and mercury.

Plastic bags that escape into habitat are also a huge issue, especially in waterways. Together with plastic film, plastic bags cause more deaths of marine life like sea turtles, whales, and dolphins than any other kind of plastic. Birds often also ingest plastic bags, mistaking for food what can turn out to be a poison pill that can kill them.

(Photo: knelson20 / Adobe Stock)

And how has this impacted you directly? A study released last year by biologists at Canada’s University of Victoria concluded that Americans ingest somewhere between 39,000 and 52,000 microplastic particles a year from foods. That works out to consuming one credit card a week. The total of microplastic particles ingested climbed upwards of 70,000 once you factor in how much we inhale.

In other words, forgoing plastic bags and toting a cloth carry-all to the store continues to do us all a world of good.

Reed Sparling is a retired staff writer and historian at Scenic Hudson. He is the former editor of Hudson Valley Magazine, and he continues to co-edit the Hudson River Valley Review, a scholarly journal published by the Hudson River Valley Institute at Marist College.

Lynn Freehill-Maye is managing editor of Scenic Hudson’s Hudson Valley Viewfinder. She is also a Hudson Valley-based sustainability writer who loves to run, swim, and cycle outdoors. Her work has appeared in the New York Times, the Washington Post, Scientific American, Sierra, Civil Eats, CityLab, and beyond. 

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)

Stop Danskammer Now

While developers of the proposed new gas-fired Danskammer power plant in Newburgh insist in public that it will be much “cleaner” than the current facility, their application to the state Siting Board reveals the truth — the plant’s more frequent combustion of fossil fuels will vastly increase emissions that pollute the air with climate-warming carbon and chemicals directly linked to asthma.

Still, most state legislators have stayed silent on the project, or voiced support for it, despite wisely adopting one of the country’s most ambitious climate targets — achieving 100 percent carbon-free electricity by 2040. Now that the state Siting Board is reviewing the application, it’s time for our elected officials in Albany to speak out and join our campaign to block this white elephant.

We urge you to contact your Senator and Assembly member and ask them to lend their support to stopping this ill-conceived plan by (1) publicly expressing their concerns about it and (2) contacting the Siting Board and asking them to pull the plug on the project.

The Legislature has set New York on a smart and sensible course for combatting climate change. The Danskammer plant presents a roadblock in reaching their visionary goals and creating a healthy environment for our children and grandchildren. We need their help to put the brakes on it now.

Danskammer Power Plant

Home Grown

Local farms not only supply the freshest food — they’re part of an economic juggernaut. According to a recent report from the state comptroller, New York’s family farms generated $5.7 billion in revenue in 2017 and provided jobs for 55,000 people.

The report’s only downer: The number of farms and agricultural acreage continue to decline — meaning it’s more important than ever for Scenic Hudson to sustain our partnerships with farmers and fellow land trusts to protect the valley’s productive fields and orchards.

Ever innovative, we’re pioneering new strategies that will always keep the land affordable for new farmers and commit them to maintaining a required level of production — making sure the fresh food pipeline keeps flowing right to your table and favorite restaurant.