By Roger Caiazza
The Framework for the Framework of the Climate Leadership and Community Protection Act (Climate Law) for the net-zero transition plan by 2050 has been developed over the past two years. A meeting of the Climate Action Council to vote on the New York State Climate Action Council’s Draft Final Scoping Plan will be held on Monday, December 19, 2022 at 1:00 p.m. This post describes my overview of the process and the likely outcome of the vote. I think it’s relevant outside of New York because it provides a template for implementing a net-zero transition program.
Climate law background
The Climate Law sets a “net zero” target (85% reduction and 15% offset of emissions) by 2050. The Climate Action Council is responsible for creating the framework plan, which outlines how “to achieve the state’s bold clean energy and climate agenda.” to provide emission-free resources. The integration analysis, prepared by the New York State Energy Research and Development Authority (NYSERDA) and its consultants, quantifies the impact of electrification strategies. This material was used by staff from various government agencies to create a draft scoping plan, which was released for public comment in late 2021. The Climate Action Council must complete the scoping plan by the end of 2022 for this meeting to take place in accordance with this requirement. If anyone has a masochistic desire to watch the meeting, see the Climate Act Meetings and Events page for details.
Laws enacting net-zero targets by 2050 are political tricks targeted at specific constituencies. The main narrative of the Climate Law can be found on their website:
With our future at stake, New York State has committed to the most aggressive clean energy and climate plan in the country. Each of us has a role in protecting our communities and ensuring a sustainable future for every New Yorker. If we all do our part, we will reduce harmful emissions in the air we breathe while transforming New York’s economy, creating new jobs and building more resilient communities.
The authors of the Climate Law believed that reaching the net-zero target was just a matter of political will. I believe any similar legislation will follow the script used in New York. Despite the apparent objectivity of the implementation framework, it is only a facade. The Climate Act established the Climate Action Council to guide the development of the Framework. It is made up of 22 members selected for ideology rather than expertise. There are 12 agency members: all appointed by the governor, and 10 general members: two non-agency representatives appointed by the governor, three representatives appointed by the speaker of the assembly, one representative appointed by the assembly’s minority leader, three representatives appointed by the interim president of the Senate , and a representative appointed by the Senate Minority Leader. Not surprisingly, the law was passed when both the Senate and Assembly were controlled by the Democratic Party, so all but two Council members are leaning in one direction. The forthcoming vote on the scoping plan must take place with an overwhelming majority of 15 votes, but is a mere formality due to the composition of the council. The only question is whether someone gives a symbolic “no” for approval.
Similar programs will make a fuss about public participation. The council has boasted about its stakeholder process and found that the comment period was longer than required. Public comment on the climate law spanned six months and included 11 public hearings, at which 700 people spoke. About 35,000 comments were received, but about 25,000 comments were “potentially the same or substantially similar”, i.e. form letters. That left on the order of 10,000 unique comments. It was obviously impossible for the council members to read them all, so agency staff had to read, categorize and summarize all the comments. This filter certainly influenced the response to the comments because they could choose which comments received attention.
In the presentations made by the Agency’s staff to the Council, the subjects of the comments were described very little in concrete terms.
The theme presentations were clearly biased – anything inconsistent with the narrative was belittled, downplayed, or ignored. I’ve recently found that the Climate Action Council’s treatment of stakeholder comments basically ignores anything that contradicts the climate law narrative. I suspect that any similar program will also have a false public participation process.
There is another problem that I think is common to other initiatives. The focus of the council was on the language in the draft scoping plan and not on technical issues. I’ve spent an inordinate amount of time this year evaluating technical issues related to integration analysis and have created a summary that includes all of my comments. At none of the Climate Action Council meetings were comments related to the technical methodology or flaws of the integration analysis discussed, and it is not clear whether Council members are even aware that specific integration analysis issues have been addressed. I have no illusions that my comments were necessarily important, but the fact that technical comments from organizations responsible for New York’s power grid were also ignored is beyond disturbing.
The political motivation for the climate law was that we must do something to address the existential threat of climate change. The political calculus was about setting a politically correct goal and ignoring implementation details. In New York, the biggest missing piece was funding all the necessary components of the net-zero transition. If something similar comes your way in your state, heed the bait and alternate between supportive legislation, subject to voter disapproval, and regulatory regulation, more or less at the whim of government.
Next year, the Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) will announce enforceable regulations to ensure that national GHG emission limits are met. The regulations are based on the Scoping Plan Framework. The plan does not include a feasibility analysis, so it is not clear how to legislate when the reliability, affordability and environmental risks of implementation are unknown. When questions arose about these ugly little details at council meetings, the response from leadership was that the scoping plan was only a draft and those issues would be addressed later. I fully trust that when the regulations are discussed in the public consultation process, the ugly little details will be ignored because the Hochul administration will say the scoping plan is a mandate from the legislature. The circular argument can only end badly.
The vote to approve the scoping plan in New York will take place on December 19. I expect the vote will be overwhelmingly in favor of approving the plan. Each council member is given the opportunity to express their views during the vote. I predict these statements will be emotionally charged and likely fact-free. I also predict that if the ideologues continue to control the implementation process, costs will skyrocket, there will be a catastrophic blackout causing death and destruction, and the covering of the state with windmills and solar panels will cause significant environmental damage will.
I will post an update with the meeting highlights when they post the link to the meeting recording.
Roger Caiazza blogs about New York energy and environmental issues at the Pragmatic Environmentalist of New York. More details on the Climate Leadership & Community Protection Act can be found here and an inventory of over 250 Climate Act articles is also available. This represents his opinion and not the opinion of any of his previous employers or any other company with which he was affiliated.
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