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Gov. Hochul Drops Support for Watering Down State's Climate Law

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New York climate laws, Gov. Kathy Hochul, Local Law 97, carbon emissions, co-op and condo boards.

The new battle cry of the Biden administration, in Alaska and elsewhere, is "Drill, Baby, Drill!"

April 7, 2023

In the face of fierce backlash from scientists, environmentalists and lawmakers, Gov. Kathy Hochul has reversed her support for a proposal to water down the state's ambitious Climate Leadership and Community Protection Act, The New York Times reports.

Concerned about the looming costs of complying with the law, Hochul voiced support for a bill introduced just day's before the state's budget deadline. The bill proposed altering the time frame used to measure greenhouse gas emissions in a way that critics said would have benefited the energy industry. The proposal had won the backing of an airline industry group and Energy Vision, a nonprofit organization that champions the interests of the bioenergy and natural gas industries.

The element of the proposal that gained the most attention was the bid to substitute New York’s 20-year accounting method for greenhouse emissions with a 100-year accounting method. State officials argued that the current method, unique to New York and Maryland, would be costly for New York consumers. Environmentalists countered that the change would underplay the impact of methane, a potent gas that dissipates in the atmosphere more quickly than carbon dioxide.

Those objections were contained in a letter to Hochul from some two dozen scientists from Cornell University, Stanford University and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, protesting the governor's bid to “weaken” the measure. Hochul changed her stance the day she received the letter.

The governor now intends to focus on advancing the state’s cap-and-invest program, which would require fossil-fuel emitters to purchase allowances from the state, and addressing affordability through a rebate program already planned for the budget. 

The state law was passed in 2019, the same year the New York City Council passed the ambitious Climate Mobilization Act, which will require building owners, including co-op and condo boards, to reduce their buildings' carbon emissions under pre-set caps, beginning in 2024. If they fail to do so, they will face stiff fines. Under the state law, New York must reduce greenhouse gas emissions 40% below 1990 levels by 2030 and 85% by 2050.

Both laws are designed to wean New York from fossil fuels as the state moves toward an electric grid powered by renewable energy sources, primarily solar, wind, hydroelectric and geothermal. Nationally, however, the fossil fuel industry is enjoying a boom. The Biden administration recently approved the massive $8 billion Willow oil drilling project on Alaska's North Slope — a move seen by critics as a betrayal of his pledge to move the nation toward renewable energy. But an analysis of global data by the Times shows that Willow represents a small fraction of hundreds of new oil and gas extraction projects approved in the past year around the world, including many more in the United States. And in the coming months, dozens of additional projects are expected to be approved.

The U.S. is now the world's biggest producer of oil and natural gas. Which begs the question: "Is that climate leadership?" asks Michael Lazarus, a scientist and research director at the Stockholm Environment Institute, a scientific research group monitoring fossil fuel projects. "There is a fundamental contradiction there that has to be pointed out."

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