It’s been a good year for the environment in Albany.
Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo and state lawmakers banned single-use plastic bags and offshore drilling in New York waters, and started a program to recycle food waste statewide. Awaiting Cuomo’s signature are bills to ban the pesticide chlorpyrifos and remove toxic chemicals from children’s products. The legislature also took the first step in a multiyear process to amend the state constitution to create a right to clean air and clean water.
Now comes the capstone — legislation to mitigate climate change. It’s up to the governor, Senate and Assembly to get it done. They’re talking. There are wide areas of agreement. It’s time to take the best of their proposals and meld them into a framework for action that is strong, aggressive and viable, in order to combat what they and many of their constituents agree is the most grave and pervasive crisis of our time.
Reducing greenhouse gases
The objective of lawmakers is to reduce the greenhouse gas emissions that are causing the atmosphere to warm. Good goals include mandates to get 70 percent of the state’s electricity from renewable sources by 2030 and 100 percent by 2040. Energy efficiency targets for utilities like Con Ed and National Grid should be codified in law.
Since emissions come from many sources, a comprehensive climate plan must include buildings, transportation, agriculture and manufacturing. A council of state agencies should be empowered to do the nitty-gritty work, with a goal of making the state’s entire economy carbon-neutral by 2050. That’s a realistic goal, allowing some carbon-reducing steps to offset emissions — for example, planting trees that capture carbon dioxide, or extracting biogas from agricultural waste. But some situations call for actual reductions, not offsets, as when a power plant is spewing emissions into the surrounding community; those should be spelled out in the plan.
With the finish line in sight, negotiators in Albany cannot let a debate over carbon-neutral vs. carbon-free sideline progress; even a bill with a carbon-neutral goal would be one of the strongest and most progressive pieces of climate legislation in the nation.
Urgency is clear
In years past, the Democratic-controlled Assembly would pass climate change legislation and the Republican-controlled State Senate would sit on its ever-warming hands. Now Democrats control both chambers. Now the urgency posed by rising seas, destructive storms, droughts, wildfires, unprecedented flooding and rainfall, and species extinction is not doubted. Data released just this week show carbon dioxide in the atmosphere has reached a level never seen in human history.
The environmental conservation committees in the State Senate and the Assembly have held hearings, eliciting data and ideas. Cuomo is about to make big awards for offshore wind farms that will serve to jump-start the effort. But these are not laurels on which to rest; they’re blocks upon which to build.
Albany can be a maw that chews up good legislation, especially in June as the session grinds to its “Big Ugly” close. We’re counting on Cuomo and state lawmakers to make sure the climate change bill is standing at the end.