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Cuomo Promises Progress on Clean Energy, Environment in 2018

NRDC Expert Blog by Rich Schrader 

In his 2018 State of the State agenda unveiled this week, and in his live address today in the Capitol in Albany, Governor Andrew Cuomo announced plans to significantly ramp up energy efficiency in the state and tackle a host of important environmental issues—from toxic PCBs polluting the Hudson River and traffic congestion in New York City. He announced plans to move forward with offshore wind power and to reduce power plant pollution.

As the Trump administration continues an all-out assault on public health and the environment, leadership like this at the state level is more important than ever.

Here is brief summary of some of the Governor’s key environmental and energy proposals unveiled as part his State of the State agenda.

Congestion Pricing

One hot topic Governor Cuomo mentioned in his State of the State speech is the drive to create a congestion pricing program for New York City. This is a mechanism that has long been needed to provide monies for the region’s distressed subway, bus and commuter rail network. Congestion pricing would also take on the problem of Manhattan traffic, in which drivers often crawl across town and which costs the city $20 billion a year in lost economic activity. As if that weren’t enough, congestion pricing could also: slash motor vehicle emissions, which are worsened in stalled traffic; rationalize the current, illogical system of tolled river crossings; and provide equity to low-income New Yorkers by generating funds to help subsidize transit fares for those who need a helping hand.

In his State of the State address, the Governor highlighted the need to improve the city’s beleaguered subway system, with its 40-year old transit cars and 80-year old signal system. He recognized that having the State Legislature advance a congestion pricing scheme would not be easy. But, as he noted, “difficult choices do not get easier by ignoring them.” He concluded this section of his speech with a welcome reaffirmation that “funding must be provided … this session.” NRDC staff was encouraged by Governor Cuomo’s remarks, even as we await his detailed congestion plan, which we hope is included in his executive budget.

PCB Cleanup in Hudson

The Governor also repeated his call on the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to require more clean-up of toxic PCB contamination in the Hudson River. If they refuse, he strongly warned, New York State will take the federal government to court. His announcement comes while EPA is assessing whether a multi-year, but inadequate, cleanup of PCBs from the Hudson River’s sediment by General Electric (GE) can be considered “complete.”

GE dumped more than one million pounds of hazardous PCBs directly into the river from the 1940s through the 1970s, and as a result the Hudson is now the largest federal “Superfund” site in the country. While GE had scooped out some of the PCBs in the river under an EPA-mandated clean-up plan, state environmental officials have concluded that the “that the dredging remedy is currently not protective of human health and the environment… and that EPA should undertake all necessary actions to ensure that the remedy becomes fully protective to the benefit of the people of New York State.” As we have written before, NRDC stands ready to join New York State in federal court if the Trump administration signs off on GE’s partial cleanup in the River.

Climate and Energy

In a State of the State advance proposal released yesterday, the Governor announced an important new commitment to lead on energy efficiency, which is fundamental for climate progress. The governor called on state officials to establish an energy efficiency target by Earth Day, recognizing that more must be done to harness the benefits of energy efficiency, including cutting energy bills, reducing harmful emissions, and creating good local jobs. To transform New York into a national leader on energy efficiency, the state must follow through on this commitment by announcing a concrete and ambitious target on Earth Day, coupled with a comprehensive program to reach that target. NRDC stands ready to work with the Governor’s office and other stakeholders to achieve this important goal by April 22nd. More details on the Governor’s energy efficiency can be found on NRDC’s blog here.

In the same State of the State proposal, Governor Cuomo also announced progress on the state’s climate and clean energy leadership on other areas. In a bold move, the Governor called on the NYS Common Fund, the pension fund for over 1 million New Yorkers, to cease all new investments in entities with significant fossil fuel-related activities, and to develop a decarbonization plan for divesting from all fossil fuels. He also called for an offshore wind procurement of 800 megawatts by 2019—enough clean, renewable offshore wind power to light 400,000 homes—and committed to invest $15 million in offshore wind workforce development and infrastructure. On top of that, the governor committed to reducing climate pollution from power plants by moving forward with strengthening the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative, reducing power plant pollution in low-income communities of color and closing the last coal-fired power plants in New York.

We applaud the Governor and his staff for these proposals, and look forward to working with the administration in the months to come to implement these important initiatives. 

Republished with permission from the Natural Resources Defense Council's expert blogs

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