On December 12, 2015, the United States and 195 other countries signed the Paris Climate Agreement (“Agreement”). This Agreement seeks to (a) limit the increase in the average global temperature to “well below 2 degrees Celsius” and attempt to limit a rise in temperature to 1.5 degrees Celsius; (b) obtain a commitment from each country in agreement to reduce its greenhouse gas emissions; and (c) achieve a net of zero greenhouse gas emissions by 2050.
Recently, however, President Donald J. Trump announced that the United States would head in a different direction, pulling out of the Agreement. Despite this executive reversal, the shift in the country’s federal environmental strategy has not changed that of most states. New York, in particular, intends to take a very different path forward.
New York has announced plans to implement its Reforming the Energy Vision (“REV”), an initiative to advance clean, reliable and cost-efficient energy in New York State. Under REV, Governor Andrew M. Cuomo plans a decrease in energy sector carbon dioxide emissions over the next decade, while also increasing the amount of green energy produced in the State during that time.
To that end, Governor Cuomo has announced a plan to eliminate coal energy in New York State by 2020. According to Governor Cuomo, New York will shut down its remaining active coal plants—Kintigh Generating Station in Somerset, Cayuga Power Station in Lansing, and Kodak Park in Rochester—thereby eliminating all coal energy produced in the State. While this may seem like an aggressive undertaking to some, it is more likely a politically motivated proposal. In fact, coal only generates approximately 3 percent of New York’s electricity. This is in stark contrast to other states, and more generally the United States, which require coal energy to address substantial portions of those states’ and the country’s energy needs. For instance, in 2016, a significant portion of electricity was generated by coal in Arizona (38 percent), Arkansas (56 percent) and the United States as a whole (40 percent). Comparatively, the benefits from Governor Cuomo’s plan to eliminate coal energy in New York State will most likely be limited.
Along with Governor Cuomo’s plan to eliminate coal energy, potentially negative financial and other impacts are expected on municipalities, school districts and counties due to increases in tax revenue. Governor Cuomo, therefore, intends to use New York’s $19 million mitigation fund to address the financial burdens placed upon those impacted by the coal-free initiative. In addition, rather than allowing the employment of current coal industry workers to be terminated, the Governor is looking to keep these workers employed by training them for jobs in the clean energy industry. Furthermore, Governor Cuomo’s plan also calls for 300 wind turbines to be built throughout the State, resulting in the creation of new infrastructure jobs. Finally, the State University of New York will play a role in this process as well. The University will receive $15 million to develop a clean energy training program so that coal workers can transition to jobs in the solar and wind energy sectors. At this point, however, it is unclear how the Governor plans to implement these mitigation measures.
While Governor Cuomo and New York State plan to eliminate all coal energy produced within the State by 2020, New Yorkers will still utilize coal energy beyond 2020. For example, New York power companies buy and sell energy in a regional wholesale market, and the plan does not call for a ban on importing coal energy from other states. Despite this, the Governor’s initiative to eliminate the production of coal energy within the State sets New York apart as a leader in the clean energy industry.
All in all, there will be continued efforts at both the national and state level to mitigate the negative impacts of climate change on our communities. The continued inquiry, however, will be on the means, and not the ends, that will shape the responses.
Alexander D. Vilardo also assisted in the development of this article.